Oscars: A Crowded Field of Doc and Foreign Contenders Has Begun to Emerge

THR's awards columnist recounts the most buzzed-about titles and passes along with industry chatter from the first six months of the year.

Earlier this week, I offered a look at the top Oscar prospects of 2017, so far, from the field of English-language narrative films. Now, as promised, I want to get into documentary features and foreign-language films.

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Also unveiled in April: Oscar winner John Ridley's Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992, a powerful study of the racial tensions that led up to the infamous Rodney King case; and Matt Tyrnauer's Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (Sundance Selects), a look back at the contrasting views of city planning held by Jane Jacobs and Robert Moses.

Don't forget: An important early stop in the "doc Oscar season" is the "Docs to Watch" panel — featuring the filmmakers behind 10 top contenders — that The Hollywood Reporter sponsors and will moderate at the Savannah Film Festival for the fourth year in a row, on a date still TBA around Halloween.

c/o Scott Feinberg | The Hollywood Reporter

Docs ‘Citizen Jane’ & ‘Jeremiah Tower’ Rule Quiet Weekend – Specialty B.O.

Documentaries shined in an otherwise unremarkable weekend in the Specialty box office. IFC Films’ Citizen Jane: Battle For the City topped with $33,760 in two theaters in its debut, while The Orchard’s Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent bowed with just over $24K in two locations. Among other openers, Kino Lorber launched Slack Bay in two theaters grossing just over $7K, while A24 went fairly wide with Free Fire with over a thousand runs grossing $1.03M. Mubi bowed The Happiest Day In The Life of Olli Mäki taking $10K in three theaters. Amazing Studios/Bleecker Street’s The Lost City of Z held fine in its second weekend with additional locations, grossing over $2.14M. Abramorama doc Chasing Trane went into its second frame taking in nearly $24K, while SPC’s Norman: The Moderate Rise & Tragic Fall Of a New York Fixer starring Richard Gere was just shy of $137K in its second weekend. And nearing the end of its stellar theatrical run, Lionsgate’s La La Land crossed $151M in theaters.

Marisa Tomei lent her voice to Matt Tyrnauer’s doc Citizen Jane: Battle For the City, which opened in two locations over the weekend. The documentary about activist/author Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities) grossed $33,760, averaging a good $16,880. IFC said that the title “sold out” playings throughout the weekend. It will head to Los Angeles in the coming week and bow in the top 15 markets throughout May.

NEW RELEASES

Citizen Jane: Battle For the City (IFC Films) NEW [2 Theaters] Weekend $33,760, Average $16,880

Free Fire (A24) NEW [1,070 Theaters] Weekend $1,039,612, Average $972

The Happiest Day In The Life of Olli Mäki (Mubi) [3 Theaters] Weekend $10,000, Average $3,333

Jeremiah Tower: The Last Magnificent (The Orchard) NEW [2 Theaters] Weekend $24,068, Average $12,034

Slack Bay (Kino Lorber) NEW [2 Theaters] Weekend $7,010, Average $3,505

c/o Brian Brooks | Deadline

REVIEW: Citizen Jane: Battle for the City

For a certain audience (like, say, Architectural Record readers), Jane Jacobs is an old friend. Not only did her 1961 book The Life and Death of Great American Cities revolutionize how a generation of citizens view the urban space, she crusaded for the protection of neighborhoods and public infrastructure that give cities their flavor and verve.

But for more people than we might realize, Jacobs is an esoteric figure — if she’s even recognized at all — whose accomplishments are vague and, possibly, unknown all together. And it’s that group that director Matt Tyrnauer had in mind when constructing his documentary Citizen Jane: Battle for the City.

Opening in New York on April 21 and Los Angeles April 28, the ambitious 92-minute film is a lightning-round introduction to Jacobs and her place in the urban conversation. It’s also a primer on her nemesis Robert Moses, who at one point held 12 unelected positions across New York City and New York State. He wielded so much power, in fact, that he could strong-arm politicians and the public to develop destabilizing housing projects, superblocks, and neighborhood-gutting highways to reshape the cityscape in ways that prioritized cars over people.

Naturally, Citizen Jane spends a fair amount of time on Jacobs galvanizing her community to finally tell Moses “enough” — from the fight to save Washington Square Park in 1959 and Greenwich Village in 1961 to stopping the Lower Manhattan Expressway in 1962. But there’s so much ground covered in such a short span that you find yourself wishing for an eight-part, Ken Burns-style miniseries just to do everything justice.

Given that kind of density, there are places where you can feel trapped in tangential cul-de-sacs. The section on St. Louis’ Pruitt-Igoe Houses, for example, is interesting, but goes on far too long considering there are a couple good documentaries dedicated to only that subject. Yet while Tyrnauer disseminates history, background, anecdotes, and analysis at an odd pace, it is never less than authoritative. The film feels longer than its runtime, in the best possible way, and you find yourself craving more: more of Jacobs’ writing, more clips of Moses looking dour, more of the amazing footage of cities from around the world.

The film also benefits from the passage of time. When Tyrnauer began working on the film, few expected someone like Donald Trump would become President. But here we are, and the footage of Jacobs leading successful protests against titanic figures is inspiring and urgent. Her work is not only a guidebook for how to live in and manage cities; it’s a manual for successful civil disobedience. The tactic of deploying mothers to be the front-line faces in the fight for Washington Square Park still feels audacious. And mimicking the practice of taping X’s on the windows of condemning buildings by doing the same on eyeglasses and sunglasses remains inspired and, frankly, cool.

If nothing else, Citizen Jane shows that we can still learn from Jacobs. Her perspective and sensibilities are as necessary today as they were in the 1950s and ‘60s — maybe more so. And not just in New York, where questions of urban identity and neighborhood cohesion have flared in response to rising rents that have displaced long-time residents. These threats face people all over the world—especially in places like China and India.

America has mostly absorbed Jacobs’s teachings, observations, and lessons as best practices. But the rest of the planet is another story. The film presents scene after scene depicting visions from America’s past failures manifested across the developing world: slums, overcrowding, dehumanizing high rise towers, rows upon rows of superblocks. One person describes farmland that China is converting into urban areas as “Moses on steroids.”

That statement caught me completely off guard, and it should send a chill through every engaged viewer. It makes us consider the terrifying notion that while Jacobs won the battles in New York, her ideas may have lost the war. Despite it all, could Moses have prevailed? It’s a reality we’re loath to even contemplate. And yet, there are those Chinese superblocks and Indian slums. How do we account for them in the evolution of cities, post-Jacobs?

Citizen Jane does an excellent job of making the case for Jacobs, as if she needed any more defending. But in its ambition, it plants these disquieting notions about the future of the planet’s urban spaces and Jacobs’ place in it — and they remain with you long after you’ve left the theater, like splinters in your mind. That may not be what Tyrnauer intended, but it elevates his film beyond mere biography. Indeed, it challenges us to confront our own complacency. Just because Jacobs won in her day doesn’t mean fight is over. Clearly there’s much to be done, and this film at this moment is a call to arms.

c/o Dante A. Ciamaglia | Architectural Record

REVIEW: "Citizen Jane: Battle for the City"

A fascinating documentary captures the showdown, half a century ago, between the activist Jane Jacobs and the Trumpian urban planner Robert Moses: a fight for the future of New York.

“Citizen Jane: Battle for the City,” directed by the gifted journalist and documentarian Matt Tyrnauer (“Valentino: The Last Emperor”), tells the story of a David-and-Goliath fight over urban planning that took place more than 50 years ago. Yet the movie just about pulses with contemporary resonance. It has moments of uncanny overlap with this week’s election, and it explores the scope and meaning of that overly familiar thing — the city — in ways that will box open your thinking. It’s a finely woven tapestry that feels as relevant and alive as the place you live.

It’s also got great sparks of conflict. The movie, which kicked off the seventh DOC NYC film festival last night, features two nearly mythological antagonists. In one corner is Robert Moses, the scabrous New York power broker and construction czar who, in the years after World War II, transformed the city by gutting its poorer sections and erecting miles of concrete-slab housing projects and snaking superhighways. In the other corner is Jane Jacobs, activist and author of “The Death and Life of Great American Cities” (1961), who led an uprising against Moses’ dehumanized dream of a paved-over utopia. She fought his plans to destroy Washington Square Park, to bulldoze the beautiful historic buildings of Greenwich Village, and to bisect lower Manhattan with an expressway that would likely have been the most ruinous — and influential — disaster of urban “renewal” in the history of the United States.

It’s no trick figuring out who to root for, but the fascination of “Citizen Jane” isn’t just in seeing how Jacobs took on the system and won. The movie invites you to sink into her challengingly supple and vibrant analysis of why cities, which we mostly take for granted, are in fact rather magical places. Even if you live in one and think you know it inside out, you come away from “Citizen Jane” understanding, more than you did going in, the special chemistry of what makes a city tick.

It comes from the ground up — and that’s the tricky thing to see, since urban planning generally occurs from the top down. Moses started out in the ’30s as a progressive thinker, but his idea of what it would take to make cities better evolved into a Teutonic, machine-age vision of monolithic apartment buildings in massively organized rows and “clean” streetscapes erected in place of all the neighborhood hurly-burly. We see Moses in clips from the ’40s and ’50s, a blustery, dour-looking man whose eyes gleam with reptilian cunning, and each time he talks about making things better, he expresses such high-handed contempt for those who’ll be displaced that he sounds like he’s talking about roaches. His “philosophy” walks a thin line between improvement and incineration.

Jane Jacobs rejects all of this, but not just on basic common moral human grounds. At heart, she’s an anthropologist, and her subject is the mysterious spirituality of neighborhoods: the way they evolve, over generations, into thriving organic places that are nurturing and protective and are embedded with stories that rise out of the streets. Jacobs makes the point that true neighborhoods, with clusters of small businesses and people sitting on stoops, are far safer than the stark moonscapes proposed by Moses — there are more people around, so the streets are more naturally patrolled. (Sure enough, once housing projects started to get built, they turned out to be far more dangerous places.) More than just “blocks,” they’re human networks, enveloping hives.

This is only Tyrnauer’s second feature, but he has taken a subject that might have been dryly academic and turned it into a visual hymn to the streets of New York — to how their development, over the 20th century, influenced everything around them. Tyrnauer interpolates clips from the ’20s, ’30s, ’40s, ’50s, and ’60s, to the point that the past starts to feel like a living thing. New York was built, but more than that it metastasized, so when Moses treated low-income sections of it as a “cancer” that had to be cut out (he would happily have razed Harlem), he was violating the city’s essence.

Jacobs’ first fight with him is over his attempt to extend Fifth Avenue through the center of Washington Square Park. Sure, it’s just one park, but ask anyone in London or Paris — or the stroller-wheeling mothers of Greenwich Village — how serenely uplifting a park can be. What Moses really wanted to do was take a gathering place and put a spike through it. Jacobs, who at this point was an unknown journalist thought of by her foes as a “housewife,” wrote letters, went to meetings, formed and led a coalition, and in the end shot the plan down.

With her long thin nose, graying hair, and elfin grin, Jacobs bears a striking resemblance to the film critic Pauline Kael (with a hint of a female Poindexter), and she’s got some of Kael’s playful imperiousness. Born in 1916, she’s a bohemian scamp who starts off writing about the city for places like Vogue. By the time she reaches her forties, she has evolved into an activist, but in the least self-righteous way possible; she wants to preserve her home. In the duel between herself and Moses, gender is far from incidental, and not just because Jacobs emerged out of the same second-wave-feminist era defined by writers like Betty Friedan (“The Feminine Mystique”) and Rachel Carson (“Silent Spring”). Jacobs’ vision of the city was bravely and spectacularly feminine: She viewed it as a teeming enigmatic cooperative, a garden of earthly delights, whereas Moses, offering a degraded version of the ideas of the Swiss-French architect and urban planner Le Courboisier (who’d created the template of the future presented at the 1939 World’s Fair), was all about abstract masculine dominion: tall hard buildings, no hint of mess, a city that was nothing but sharp edges.

Since we’re talking about buildings, it’s no stretch to say that there’s something more than a little Trumpian about Robert Moses. His drive to erect looming, impersonal housing was a form of control; his desire to sweep everything else away was even worse — a fascism of the spirit. “Citizen Jane” provides stunning evidence that as the population explodes, more and more cities around the world are being built in the spirit of Robert Moses: acres of skyscraper cages for the anonymous horde. Yet the spirit of Jane Jacobs is heard each time a neighborhood is allowed to evolve. What she fought and defeated, most dramatically by keeping a highway out of lower Manhattan, was the prototype for urban planning that would steamroll everyone it was supposed to be planning for. Jacobs insisted that the city is a place for the people. That’s why it can’t just “serve” them; it has to express who they are.

c/o Owen Gleiberman | Variety

DOC NYC Opener ‘Citizen Jane’ Acquired By Sundance Selects

Sundance Selects has acquired U.S. rights to Citizen Jane: Battle For The City, Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary that will open the DOC NYC festival tonight. A 2017 release is being eyed for the docu, which had its world premiere at Toronto this year.

Citizen Jane chronicles the life and work of author-activist Jane Jacobs, author of The Death And Life Of Great American Cities, and how she changed the way we look at cities and urban living. It details her most dramatic battles for the city in the 1960s, when she went up against New York power broker Robert Moses. At stake was whether the city’s historic neighborhoods, including Greenwich Village, SoHo, Little Italy, and TriBeCa, would stay intact or be torn apart by expressways and urban-renewal projects. The docu offers a lesson in the power of the people to become active in their own cities.

The pic was produced by Robert Hammond, Corey Reeser, Jessica Van Garsse and Tyrnauer, who also helmed 2008’s Valentino: The Last Emperor. Pierre Lagrange, Bernard Lagrange, and Juliet Page exec produced.

The deal was negotiated by Sundance Selects/IFC Films’ Arianna Bocco and Submarine on behalf of the filmmakers.

c/o Patrick Hipes | Deadline

Toronto: ‘Citizen Jane’ Sells Key Foreign Territories

“Citizen Jane: Battle for the City” has sold several key international territories after screening at the Toronto International Film Festival, Variety has learned.

The documentary is Matt Tyrnauer’s follow-up to 2008’s “Valentino: The Last Emperor,” a look at designer Valentino Garavani. His new project trades the world of high fashion for urban politics, chronicling the battle between activist Jane Jacobs and power broker Robert Moses in the 1960s over plans to construct a roadway through the heart of Greenwich Village. The film isn’t just a look at that the contentious chapter in New York politics, it is also a meditation on community organizing and the pull and passions of major metropolises.

As part of the deals, Madman Entertainment has acquired all rights in Australia and New Zealand; NonStop Entertainment has nabbed all rights in pan-Scandinavia, Baltics, Iceland and Benelux; and Dogwoof has landed U.K. distribution rights and the right to represent foreign rights in all other territories, excluding North America. A domestic deal will be announced shortly.

The deals were negotiated by David Koh and Josh Braun of Submarine on behalf of the producers and director, along with Anna Godas, CEO of Dogwoof; Paul Wiegard, managing director of Madman Entertainment; and Jakob Abrahamsson, CEO of NonStop Entertainment.

Tyrnauer also produced the film with Robert Hammond, co-founder and executive director of New York City’s Friends of the High Line, and Corey Reeser. Pierre Lagrange, Bernard Lagrange, and Juliet Page are the executive producers.

In a statement Tyrnauer said he was heartened from the response to the film by buyers and audiences in Toronto.

“I am especially happy that the message of the film as well as its story and characters are seen by distributors as resonating for a global audience in a theatrical setting,” he said. “To have so many worldwide theatrical deals in place is a signal to us that the message of Jane Jacobs and the broad topics of the film concerning urbanization and the importance of activism to make better cities is a universal concern, and that we have managed tackle a global subject in an accessible way.”

In addition to directing, Tyrnauer is a Vanity Fair contributor, writing stories on a range of topics, from Gore Vidal’s years on the Amalfi Coast to the influence of Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao.

c/o Brent Lang | Variety

Doc NYC Opening Night Film Announced: Citizen Jane

DOC NYC announced it will open its seventh annual edition with the U.S. premiere of Citizen Jane: Battle for the City, directed by Matt Tyrnauer (Valentino: The Last Emperor) on Thursday, November 10 at the SVA Theatre. The film documents the historic conflict in the 1960s between the writer and activist Jane Jacobs and the legendary power broker/urban-renewal tsar Robert Moses over plans to tear down much of New York City and replace it with highways and austere housing projects. (The film is co-produced by High Line co-founder Robert Hammond.)

“We couldn’t pick a more fitting film for New York City,” said DOC NYC artistic director Thom Powers. “We take inspiration from Jane Jacobs’ belief in the power of culture to enrich a community.”

Tickets go on sale in Mid-October.

High flyer: a vision of Jean Nouvel's addition to New York's soaring skyline

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At Manhattan's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on Monday night, a sleek crowd, including architect Richard Meier and former New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff, gathered to fete French architect Jean Nouvel, whose tallest building to date is under construction next door at 53 West 53rd St.

Dubbed 53W53, the 1,050-feet-high residential skyscraper makes use of air rights purchased from MoMA and other nearby buildings to provide views of Central Park and the city's skyline. 'When you are inside, you will feel you are in the sky in New York City,' says Nouvel. Officially, the event at MoMA - during which Vanity Fair contributing editor and filmmaker Matt Tyrnauer interviewed the soft-spoken architect - marked the commencement of sales of the tower's 140 luxury units. Unofficially, the swanky affair that spilled out into MoMA's Sculpture Garden was the beginning of the PR machine surrounding the building, slated for completion in 2018.

The elegant tower, with its glass and exposed steel diagrid structure, will create one-of-a-kind floor plans in the condominiums, ranging from one-bedrooms to duplex penthouses and full-floor layouts. Each unit will have sloping windows and muscular, slanting columns, giving New York-based interior designer Thierry W. Despont a challenging set of parameters.

53W53, which joins Manhattan's new slew of supertalls, has weathered its own share of controversy since it was announced in 2007. Torquing at subtle, oblique angles ('like a snake,' says Nouvel) as it tapers to a sharp summit, the tower was originally slated to be 1,250 feet tall, but neighbours balked and the city asked the architect and developer Hines to lower it (Hines is partnering with Goldman Sachs and Singapore-based Pontiac Land Group on the development).

Then in January 2014, MoMA, who sold 53W53's 18,000-square-foot lot to Hines and Goldman Sachs in 2007, decided to raze the adjacent Folk Art Museum, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien. A future museum expansion by Diller Scofidio + Renfro will link to three of 53W53's lower floors which will be accessed from and connected to MoMA. The replacement of the Folk Art Museum raised cries of protest from architects, critics and the public, who lauded its small galleries and faceted bronze façade. Nouvel, who said the Folk Art Museum was 'a very interesting building' and claimed to be shocked by its disappearance from the site next to his tower, said that keeping the Folk Art's façade and gutting the interior, as was once suggested, didn't make sense.

On Monday night, Tyrnauer showed a brief clip of a documentary he is making about Nouvel before interviewing the architect. When Tyrnauer asked Nouvel about his creative process, he replied that he has to spend some amount of time lying in bed with an eye mask on and earphones in, thinking about his work. 'I don't want to see the light,' he said, eliciting laughs from the crowd. 'The light is inside.'

c/o Laura Raskin | Wallpaper

HBO, 'Valentino' Helmer Matt Tyrnauer Plan Pic On Socialite Wife Of Johnny Carson's Producer Freddie De Cordova

On the 20th anniversary of Johnny Carson’s final Tonight Show, HBO has optioned Once Upon A Time In Beverly Hills, an article Matt Tyrnauer wrote in the March 2011 issue of Vanity Fair. HBO will develop it into a movie about the long, unusual relationship between Beverly Hills socialite Janet de Cordova and her longtime housekeeper Gracie Covarrubias. Tyrnauer, who helmed the documentary Valentino: The Last Emperor, will direct, and John Hoffman will write the script.

Janet was the wife of Freddie de Cordova, Carson’s long time Tonight Show producer. She came to Hollywood hoping to use her beauty to become an actress, but through de Cordova she found her way into the center of the social swirl as one of the true socialites of her era. The de Cordova couple lived lavishly, and threw the most opulent A-list parties populated by the likes of Gary Cooper, Jack Benny, Frank Sinatra, Billy Wilder, Dean Martin, Jimmy Stewart, Lew Wasserman, and Ray Stark. In the process, she spent way more than de Cordova earned. By her side always was Covarrubias, her Mexican servant who tended to de Cordova’s every need, down to periodically stirring the drink de Cordova held in her hand. When her husband died, de Cordova was forced to sell her Beverly Hills estate. Eventually, she went to live in Mexico with Covarribias, who, to the surprise of de Cordova, had used her years of earnings to build a house that was a miniature replica of the home de Cordova was forced to sell. All of her friends had abandoned her or died, but not Covarribias.

The film will be executive produced by Langley Park’s Kevin McCormick, Management 360’s Darin Friedman, Wendy Stark, and Tyrnauer.

c/o Mike Fleming, Jr. | Deadline