Caucus

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For the past 40 years, the race for the American Presidency has begun in the state of Iowa, where candidates spend months traveling the state's 99 counties hoping to win its “first-in-the-nation” vote and prove themselves a viable candidate.

In intimate, often funny and sometimes emotional detail, CAUCUS tells the story of the 2011-2012 campaign in Iowa as eight Republicans fight to become their party’s standard-bearer and take on Barack Obama. But to win, each has to first navigate state fairs, town hall meetings in pizza halls and agitated questions from the increasingly contentious GOP base.

Released 2013
Screened in Theatres in North America
Aired on television on Al Jazeera America

Selected Festivals
World Premiere | Hot Docs International Film Festival, Toronto
US Premiere | Closing Night, AFI DOCS, Washington, DC
Jury Prize for Direction | Philadelphia Film Festival
Charles Guggenheim Award | St. Louis Film Festival
Official Selection | AFI FEST, Camden International Film Festival

Credits
Directed and Edited by AJ Schnack
Produced and Photographed by AJ Schnack and Nathan Truesdell
Producers Shirley Moyers and Edward Parks
Additional Cinematography by Bill Ross and Turner Ross
Original Score by Mark degli Antoni
Graphics Design by Juan Cardarelli and Eric Levy
Produced in association with Rival Pictures/Om Films | Niraj Bhatia and Frank MeleExecutive Producers
Featuring Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain. Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Ron PaulRick Perry,
Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum

Selected Press
"Mr. Schnack’s film takes no partisan stance and is instead more focused on personalities than on the process. The film is a testament to the power of observational documentary...This brightly lit world of pundits, political promos and two-minute speeches seems lacking when compared with the intelligently observed, carefully framed action that makes up Caucus. This is history as it should be told: alive, contradictory, hilarious, sad, sharp and compassionate." 
- Miriam Bale, New York Times | Critic's Pick

"Caucus is a lively, hilarious, upsetting crash-course in recent history. It's also revelatory at times, especially as it reframes infamous sound bites in their of-the-moment context."
- Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice | Critics Choice

"All of these twists and turns are captured in Caucus, Schnack’s funny, absorbing and improbably moving chronicle of a campaign that featured more than its share of characters...a film that both celebrates the folksy idiosyncrasies of retail politics and wistfully demonstrates the system’s costs. Not just delightful watching, but required viewing."
- Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

"A salty slice of Americana, a Robert Altman movie in embryo; a bittersweet ode to the disposability of political dreams. Watching Caucus you understand the gut appeal of a blunderbuss like Donald Trump to the Republican base: he's as incoherently ranty as they are."
- James Wolcott, Vanity Fair

 
 

Convention

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As tens of thousands – delegates, media and activists – descend upon Denver for the convention that will nominate Barack Obama for the Presidency of the United States, three teams of Denver locals will face unanticipated and unprecedented challenges:

THE CITY must balance the security imperatives of a post-9/11 world with the Mayor’s publicly stated desire to protect and facilitate free speech and the right to protest.

THE DENVER POST has to fend off reporters from the national media in an attempt to maintain its edge in a story that it has, up to now, owned – and confront fears over whether their paper's days are numbered.

THE PROTESTERS hope to show that Denver is a hotspot of activism, but conflicts with other local groups and heated rhetoric makes for an unpredictable and potentially turbulent week.

Convention is an unprecedented, all-access look at the people of Denver as they host the 2008 Democratic National Convention - from the City of Denver’s operational nerve centers and to the political team from the Denver Post. Lensed by a team of award-winning filmmakers, the film presents a groundbreaking, behind-the-scenes look at one of the most historic events of the early 21st century.

Released 2009
Distributed theatrically in North America by IFC/Sundance Selects
Aired on television on Sundance Channel

Selected Festivals
World Premiere | Centerpiece Gala, AFI Silverdocs, Washington, DC
Opening Night Film | Camden International Film Festival
Official Selection | Los Angeles Film Festival, Denver, Sarasota, Cleveland, St. Louis, IFF Boston

Credits
Directed by AJ Schnack
Produced, Photographed and Edited by AJ Schnack and Nathan Truesdell
Produced by Jennifer Chikes, Britta Erickson and Shirley Moyers
Photographed by Steven Bognar, Daniel Junge, Laura Poitras, Julia ReichertWayne Robbins,
Paul Taylor and David Wilson
Produced in association with Unconventional Nonfiction and Studio-on-Hudson |
Richard Turner, Heather Winters, Joe Morley, Peter Chikes and Nancy Chikes,
Executive Producers
Featuring Katherine Archuleta, Barbara Cohen, Mark Cohen, Lee Ann ColacioppoKevin Dale,
John Hickenlooper, Curtis Hubbard, Gregory Moore, Kevin ScottAllison Sherry, Glenn Spagnuolo, Chantal Unfug and Guillermo Vidal.

Selected Press
"A bipartisan, upbeat celebration of democracy's delicate membrane and can-do spirit. Intimate, seemingly efforless footage abounds of the unfolding dramas and Democratic nominee Barack Obama's climactic acceptance at Denver's football stadium." 
Eddie Cockrell, Variety

"Witty, sharp-eyed and effortlessly entertaining portrait of the city of Denver during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Schnack's curious instinct is to remove the presidential and backstage politics entirely, instead focusing on the frenzied microcosm of cogs who often remain invisible if they're doing their jobs well."
Aaron Hillis, LA Weekly | Critic's Pick

 
 

GIGANTIC (A TALE OF TWO JOHNS)

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Everybody dies frustrated inside and that is beautiful.

A comprehensive chronicle of the first two decades of the landmark D-I-Y, art-punk band They Might Be Giants, Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns) traces the journey of boyhood friends John Flansburgh and John Linnell from Lincoln, Massachusetts to their reign as Brooklyn's Ambassadors of Love.

Groundbreaking in their use of the internet, music videos and a simple answering machine, TMBG has repeatedly found new ways to use technology to reach their listeners and to build their fanbase. The film uses extensive interviews, cinema verite, dramatic readings, animations, and both live and rare, archival performances to tell the story of one of the most unusual and influential bands of the late 20th century.

Released 2002
Distributed theatrically in North America by Cowboy Pictures and Plexifilm
Aired on television on Sundance Channel

Selected Festivals
World Premiere | SXSW Film Festival
Official Selection | Seattle, Cinevegas, Provincetown, Denver, St. Louis, Sarasota, Santa Barbara

Credits
Directed by AJ Schnack
Produced by Shirley Moyers
Edited by Alisa Lipsitt and Jason Kool
Cinematography by Yon Thomas and AJ Schnack
Graphic Design by Colourmovie
Original Music by John McGinnis
Featuring John Flansburgh, John Linnell, Dan Hickey, Dan Miller, Danny Weinkauf, Adam Bernstein, Frank Black, Dave Eggers, Joe Franklin, Janeane Garofalo, Ira Glass, Mark Hoppus, Jamie Kitman, Josh Kornbluth, Robert Krulwich, Michael McKean, Conan O'Brien, Annette O'Toole, Andy Richter, Harry Shearer, Senator Paul Simon, Jon Stewart, Syd Straw and Sarah Vowell

Selected Press
"They Might Be Giants diehards would probably flock to Gigantic no matter what, but there's more than fanboyish devotion to this entertaining and surprisingly thoughtful look at a group that, in its own modest way, became a pop-culture institution." 
Nathan Rabin, A.V. Club

"Clever in a good way, this spirited documentary delves gently into the story of indie band They Might Be Giants, building a case for a couple of good-natured visionaries and pioneers who blazed trails for non-hair bands in the early days."
Sheri Linden, Hollywood Reporter

"Anything but the typical rock-band saga of glorious excess followed by a chastening fall from grace and then a glimmer of redemption. Gigantic has the informal tone and structure of an illustrated scrapbook with excerpts from concert and television performances interwoven with lighthearted testimonials by friends, supporters, collaborators and admirers and augmented by witty animated segments."
Stephen Holden, New York Times

"John and John, it cannot be denied, are charming, witty, adorable, and quite capable of rocking."
Josh Goldfein, Village Voice

 
 

KURT COBAIN ABOUT A SON

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Kurt Cobain About A Son is a an intimate and moving meditation on the late musician and artist Kurt Cobain told entirely in his own voice - without celebrity sound bytes, news clips, sensational tabloid angles or attempts to mimic a grunge aesthetic. A profound first hand account of Cobain's own successes and failures, thoughts and experiences, allowing the audience unprecedented intimacy with a legendary figure in popular culture - set against the wildly divergent Pacific Northwest locations that loomed so large in Cobain's life and based on more than 25 hours of previously unheard audiotaped interviews conducted with Cobain by noted music journalist Michael Azerrad for his book "Come As You Are: The Story of Nirvana." 

In the film, Kurt Cobain recounts his own life - from his childhood and adolescence to his days of musical discovery and later dealings with explosive fame - and offers often piercing insights into his life, music, and times. The conversations heard in the film have never before been made public and they reveal a highly personal portrait of an artist much discussed but not particularly well understood.

Released 2006
Distributed theatrically in North America by Balcony Releasing
Distributed theatrically in France by ED Distribution
Distributed theatrically in Japan, Australia, Argentina
Aired on television in North America on Sundance Channel
Aired on television in Great Britain on More4

Film Independent Spirit Award Nominee } Truer Than Fiction Award

Selected Festivals
World Premiere | Toronto Film Festival
International Premiere | Rome Film Festival
US Premiere | AFI FEST
Grand Jury Prize for Documentary | Denver Film Festival
Grand Jury Prize for Documentary | San Diego Film Festival
Cinematic Vision Award | AFI Silverdocs
Official Selection | True/False, SXSW, CPH:DOX, BritDoc, Edinburgh, Mar Del Plata, Full Frame, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Dokufest Kosovo, Thessaloniki, Helsinki, Sydney

Credits
Directed and Edited by AJ Schnack
Produced by Shirley Moyers
Producers Chris Green and Noah Koshbin
Co-Producer Michael Azerrad
Director of Photography Wyatt Troll
Still Photographs by Charles Peterson
Original Score by Steve Fisk and Benjamin Gibbard
Graphic Design by Tomorrow's Brightest Minds
Based on conversations between Michael Azerrad and Kurt Cobain for the book "Come As You Are" by Michael Azerrad
A Sidetrack Films Presentation | Ravi Anne, Executive Producer
Featuring Kurt Cobain, Michael Azerrad, Courtney Love

Selected Press
"It's hard to believe that a film could be made about Kurt Cobain that would have something of value to add to his already over-mythologized life and death, but Kurt Cobain About a Son is just that film, as important for what it reveals about a seminal and grievously misunderstood artist as for how it rejuvenates the moribund rock documentary form." 
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

"It contains no archival footage, no talking-head interviews with friends or bandmates or family members, no voice-over from a semi-hip celebrity (Sting? Parker Posey?) telling us what to think, It’s something else, something that combines impressionistic biography, poetic film essay (in the spirit of Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi and its sequels) and psychiatric session or confession. Cobain comes off as strikingly intelligent and self-critical at many moments, and at others angry and defensive to the point of paranoia."
Andrew O'Hehir, Salon

"Here Kurt Cobain, the supernatural songwriting god who discovered that the only true fountain of youth is death, is transmogrified into a mere mortal. This is About a Son's singular objective, and real accomplishment."
Camille Dodero, Village Voice

"Schnack sets Cobain's words against time-lapse cityscapes, domestic still lifes, rotoscoped animation, Charles Peterson's famous Grunge-scene photos and portraits of the ordinary denizens of Aberdeen, Olympia and Seattle, the kind of people Cobain might have known or even, under different circumstances, become. An exciting soundtrack featuring the music of Cobain's life — everyone from Arlo Guthrie, Queen and Cheap Trick to Half Japanese, the Vaselines, Teenage Fanclub, Scratch Acid and the Melvins — accompanies the stunning cinematography. The effect is austerely beautiful and deeply moving — a total immersion in the world from which Cobain came and which he left permanently altered not long after."
- Ken Fox, TV Guide

"If you want an intimate and moving portrait of Kurt Cobain and have not seen About A Son then you’ve fucked up, because it’s probably the most insightful documentary ever made about him—and it doesn’t even use his image, let alone drag it arse backwards through archives of private home footage."
Emma Garland, Noisey

 
 

Speaking is difficult

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This film always begins in the present day. A scene of tragedy unfolds, accompanied by fear, chaos, and disbelief. As it rewinds into the past, retracing our memories, it tells a cumulative history that is both unbearable and inevitable.

Released 2016-2018

Link to March 2018 version of the film and New Yorker essay "Breaking the Silence on Gun Violence," written by director AJ Schnack.

Link to September 2016 version of the film and New Yorker article "The Haunting Normalcy of Mass Shootings," written by director AJ Schnack.

Selected Festivals
World Premiere | Sundance Film Festival
International Premiere | Sheffield DocFest
Jury Prize for Documentary Short | Traverse City Film Festival
Special Jury Prize for Documentary | AFI FEST
Cinematic Vision Award | AFI Silverdocs
Official Selection | True/False, Full Frame, Aspen Shorts Fest, Palm Springs, Rooftop Summer Series, LA Film Festival, Camden, Denver

Credits
Directed and Edited by AJ Schnack
Produced by Will Lennon
Lead Photographer Nathan Truesdell
Researcher John Thomason
Photographers Brian Ashby, Michael Barth, Steven Bognar, Mitch Dickman,
Daniel Fernandez, Jace Freeman, Kirsten Johnson, Elizabeth Lo, Rex Miller,
Kauai Moliterno, Chris Newberry, Jeff Peixoto, Peter Richardson, Turner Ross,
Ryan Scafuro,Mo Scarpelli, Zachary W. Sprague, Scott Squire, Emily Topper, 
Nathan Truesdell and Spencer Worthley
March 2018 Executive Producers Jennifer Casey, Nick Gilhool and Peter Rieveschl
 


Selected Press
"A new film about gun violence has a simple concept and a brief running time, but its makers intend it to be nothing less than a living document of the cycle of violence... His decision to match landscape shots with audio from a different time is reminiscent of his film Kurt Cobain About a Son which paired visuals of Seattle locations with audio from an interview the musician did with the journalist Michael Azerrad. The juxtaposition gives new meaning to both the imagery and the audio." 
Mekado Murphy, New York Times

"Schnack's movie stacks 911 calls from mass shootings—people in hushed scared tones speaking from hiding spots during the attacks to officious operators-- with a depressing repetiveness. The idea that each time seems new and urgent to those victims is contrasted with the viewer’s growing sense of how familiar these calls have become."
Steven Zeitchik, Los Angeles Times

"Speaking is Difficult is a remarkably urgent film, speaking out as it does to one of America’s ongoing tragedies in a novel way. The nature of its repetition, the grinding, inexorable accumulation of its tragedy, sneaks up on you and eventually overwhelms if you devote your full attention to it, creating the possibility for a highly affecting viewing experience, one that, through its formal experimentation, highlights the beauty and facility of the short form itself."
Jason Sondhi, Short of the Week

"One of the things that makes Schnack’s short, Speaking is Difficult, so effective is his decision to juxtapose those images of everyday life and the 911 calls from the tragic events that took place there. The effect is chilling and captures just how cyclical and ordinary these events had become in this country."
Chris O'Falt, Indiewire

 
 

We Always Lie to Strangers

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Five years in the making, We Always Lie to Strangers is a story of family, community, music and tradition set against the backdrop of Branson, Missouri, one of the biggest tourist destinations in America. A remote Ozark Mountain town of just 10,500, Branson hosts more than 7.5 million tourists a year and generates nearly $3 billion in annual tourism revenue.

At the heart of Branson’s appeal are the more than 100 staged music shows that have earned the town the moniker of “the live music capital of the world” (its theaters boast more total seats than Broadway). These shows are well known for their traditional, family-style entertainment – no profanity, no nudity, no gambling, healthy doses of gospel and respect for veterans. Crowds from around the country, and particularly from the Midwest, flock to Branson for this return to old-fashioned values.

As one of the film's subjects notes, that “Branson seems very simplistic on the outside, like you could paint it in a dozen sentences. I think you’ll find the surface truth doesn’t match the actuality.” Set against the backdrop of a country dealing with economic uncertainty and changes in attitudes on social issues, these four families form a composite both of Branson and of contemporary America.

Released 2013

Selected Festivals
World Premiere | SXSW Film Festival
International Premiere | Hot Docs Film Festival
Jury Prize for Direction | SXSW Film Festival
Opening Night Film | St. Louis Film Festival
Official Selection | Full Frame, Ashland, Nashville, Maryland, Little Rock, Denver

Credits
Directed by AJ Schnack and David Wilson
Produced and Photographed by AJ Schnack, Nathan Truesdell and David Wilson
Edited by AJ Schnack and Nathan Truesdell
Score by Mountain Man
A My Country Home/Spacestation Production | Matthew Mills, Executive Producer
Executive Producers Chad Benestante, Sarah Riddick, Peter Schneider, Vicky Wilson and
Willy Wilson
Featuring Elisha Conner, Chip Holderman, Bill Lennon, Gail Lennon, Dan Lennon, Shirley Miller, Lloyd Presley, Raeanne Presley, Steve Presley, Joe Tinoco, Tamra Tinoco and Ryan Walton

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Selected Press
"We Always Lie to Strangers arrives during what's shaping up to be a standout summer for documentaries. I think it will certainly appeal to anyone who recalls Branson in its heyday, comes from small-town America or is curious about how the economy is reshaping some cities' identities."
Whitney Matheson, USA Today

"We Always Lie To Strangers delighted me to my very core. In fact, I would absolutely commit to watching a weekly series about every single person featured in the film. Not only does it showcase what draws people and their hard-earned holiday money to Branson each year, it also looks beneath the sequins and show tunes to how the city really represents American life as a whole – the juxtaposition between extreme wealth and extreme poverty, the push/pull between conservative and liberal values and how a shrinking economy is beginning to affect the previously untouchable. This a fun, fascinating film with some great music (the score is killer) and a huge heart."
Kristal Cooper, Toronto Film Scene

"Strangers maneuvers the viewer back on the outside, but it does so with profound emotional resonance; showbiz in Branson goes on, as companies fold, relationships are severed, feuds end, and a patriarch, the last of the Toby Show generation, dies. What is exhibited here is not kitsch, but dignity. Ultimately, the “surface truth” of Branson’s family values is the reality. The last scene, a chorus of “America the Beautiful,” left me in a blubbering pool of tears." 
Leah Churner, Reverse Shot

"The filmmakers spent five years accumulating footage and interviews. The payoff is a non-clichéd look at a business riddled with clichéd and lowbrow entertainment. As a critic, I am thrilled to see the dedication and skill of the performers. As a musician, Branson is my worst nightmare. As an American, I’m a speechless at the mobs who gobble Branson’s air-brushed patriotism up. However, as a viewer, I must confess that the personalities in the film are consistently engaging.."
Tim Jackson, Arts Fuse