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Pure Nonfiction: Inside Documentary Film

If you love documentary films, hear from the top storytellers on Pure Nonfiction. Host Thom Powers is well-connected in this world as a documentary curator for the Toronto International Film Festival, DOC NYC, and SundanceNow Doc Club. He leads conversations that are frank, funny and revealing. Listen to interviews with Oscar-winning filmmakers Barbara Kopple, Alex Gibney, and Roger Ross Williams; as well as the directors of “Making a Murderer,” “Weiner” and “OJ: Made in America.” Often the stories behind the scenes are as dramatic as what’s on the screen. On Twitter, Facebook, Instagram: @purenonfiction. Subscribe now.

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139: Sonya Childress & Jesse Wente on Making Change

Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviewed Childress and Wente in September 2020 by teleconference for a panel titled Creating a Better Documentary Industry at the TIFF Industry Conference. This podcast excerpts the heart of the conversation as they confront questions of capitalism, journalistic objectivity and how to create meaningful change.

33mins

2 Sep 2021

Rank #1

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138: Nanfu Wang on “In the Same Breath”

In the Same Breath is a strikingly original analysis of the early days of the pandemic as it unfolded in China and the United States. Filmmaker Nanfu Wang draws upon multiple sources of footage to study how governments shaped the messaging about coronavirus and how they missed opportunities to limit the virus.

32mins

26 Aug 2021

Rank #2

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137: Sonia Kennebeck on “Enemies of the State”

“Enemies of the State” looks at the strange case of Matt DeHart, a member of the hacktivist group Anonymous who was prosecuted for child pornography. He claimed the charges were a cover up to seize his computers containing government secrets. Director Sonia Kennebeck and producer Ines Hoffman Kanna spent years trying to untangle the knotty mysteries of his case.

57mins

11 Aug 2021

Rank #3

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136: Fran Lebowitz on “Pretend It’s a City”

Fran Lebowitz is one of New York’s great conversationalists. Martin Scorsese's new Netflix series “Pretend It’s a City” lets her talk at length about her five decades of living in New York City. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews Lebowitz about working with Scorsese and her long friendship with Toni Morrison to whom the series is dedicated. Lebowitz also shares her opinions on the New York mayoral election and discusses her mother Ruth.

33mins

16 Jun 2021

Rank #4

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135: In Praise of Lewis Erskine @editorsavant

Documentary editor Lewis Erskine died last week at age 64. He was cherished by colleagues as a storyteller and a teacher. His Twitter handle was @editorsavant and his credits include Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, Freedom Riders and Jackie Robinson. In the days after his death, Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers spoke to three of Lewis' colleagues. Filmmaker Stanley Nelson describes first meeting Lewis when they worked for WNET public television and how they collaborated for over two decades starting with The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords. Sabrina Schmidt Gordon, who was Lewis’ assistant editor on The Black Press, celebrates his legacy as a mentor. Shola Lynch describes how she met Lewis working together on Ken Burns’ Jazz series, then later turned to him for help on her films Chisholm 72: Unbought and Unbossed and Free Angela and All Political Prisoners.

32mins

9 Jun 2021

Rank #5

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134: Astra Taylor on “You Are Not a Loan"

“Movements are messy,” says Astra Taylor. She knows this not only from studying activist history, but also from personal experience as a co-founder of the Debt Collective. Their work succeeded in canceling over $2 billion of student debt. Astra’s new short documentary You Are Not a Loan (free on The Intercept) brings together students and professors to discuss changing the cost of education. She’s also published a new book of essays Remake the World. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers talks to Astra about both new works. She reflects on the legacy of Occupy Wall Street and on her friend David Graeber, author of Debt: The First 5000 Years and Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, who died last year

49mins

20 May 2021

Rank #6

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133: Remembering Leon Gast & “When We Were Kings”

“When We Were Kings” director Leon King died on March 8 at age 84. He took over twenty years to make his Oscar-winning documentary about the boxers Muhammad Ali vs George Foreman, filmed in Zaire in 1974 and completed in 1996.

42mins

18 Mar 2021

Rank #7

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132: Telling the Story of Fred Hampton

The new Hollywood film “Judas and the Black Messiah” is based on the lives of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton and the person who betrayed him, FBI informant William O’Neal. The film’s director Shaka King has credited documentaries for playing a key role in his research. One of his main influences was “Eyes on the Prize II” (1990) that scored the journalistic feat of interviewing O’Neal after he had gone into a federal witness protection program. Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers interviews four members of the “Eyes” team - directors Louis Massiah and Terry Kay Rockefeller along with researchers Noland Walker and Bennett Singer. They describe how they got O’Neal to talk, why questions still linger about his reported suicide, and the legacy of the Black Panthers.

34mins

4 Mar 2021

Rank #8

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131: Alex Vitale on Rethinking True Crime

True crime documentaries are booming. But what do they tell us about criminal justice and what do they leave out? Alex Vitale, the author of the book “The End of Policing,” talks to Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers about the state of the genre.

30mins

26 Feb 2021

Rank #9

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130: Jean Tsien Goes Outside Her Comfort Zone

Jean Tsien has worked as a documentary editor for over 30 years with directors such as Orlando Bagwell, Barbara Kopple, and Roger Ross Williams. She’s been a mentor to emerging filmmakers, not only in the U.S. but also in China and Taiwan where she lived until moving to New York at age 11. Now Jean has moved into producing. Her latest project is "76 Days," set in Wuhan, China during the city’s lockdown for Covid-19. DOC NYC recently honored her with a Lifetime Achievement Award. Jean has stories to tell, but normally prefers to stay behind the scenes. Talking on a podcast? That’s way outside her comfort zone. She explains why to Pure Nonfiction host Thom Powers.

33mins

18 Feb 2021

Rank #10