April 19, 2021

Essential Doc Reads: Week of April 12, 2021

From Raoul Peck's 'Exterminate All the Brutes.' Photo: Velvet Film/David Koskas. Courtesy of HBO

Essential Doc Reads is our curated selection of recent features and important news items about the documentary form and its processes, from around the internet, as well as from the Documentary magazine archive. We hope you enjoy!

The New Yorker’s Richard Brody examines Raoul Peck’s new series Exterminate All the Brutes, a contemplation of the history of white supremacy.

For Peck, the goal of his historical analysis isn’t only to elucidate current events, it’s to inspire activism and to achieve change: “What must be denounced here is not so much the reality of the Native American genocide, or the reality of slavery, or the reality of the Holocaust; what needs to be denounced here are the consequences of these realities in our lives and in life today.” Throughout, he refers to the anti-immigrant hostility of the current nationalist right wing and the prevalence of neo-Nazis and overt white supremacists in the United States and elsewhere. He presents, plainly, the fulsome self-satisfaction of contemporary hate-mongering potentates.

Writing for Independent Lens’ blog, Kristal Sotomayor contextualizes the upcoming Philly D.A. series within the history of criminal justice reform in Philadelphia.

Larry Krasner won the election and took office in 2018, as covered in the eight-episode Philly D.A. docuseries. The series portrays Philadelphia as a microcosm for the complex issues of criminal justice reform in the country as a whole. With a platform of police reform and reducing incarceration, Krasner has been dubbed a “Progressive D.A.” but the jury is still out. The future of criminal punishment in Philadelphia and the nation beyond is still a complicated one, forever evolving it seems.

Last week saw the announced COVID-driven closing of ArcLight Cinemas and Pacific Theaters, along with the iconic Cinerama Dome. IDA presented many events at the ArcLight Hollywood—Getting Real, DocuWeeks, along with many after-parties. IndieWire’s Tom Brueggeman assesses the ramification of this loss to the film community.

That doesn’t mean the theaters will never reopen — or rather, they can only reopen as theaters. Tearing down the property isn’t a viable solution; nor is repurposing the building. (Another megachurch?) Most theaters that hold leases are located in shopping malls, and are intended as draws for the public to benefit other tenants.

Business Doc Europe’s Nick Cunningham talks to Visions du Réel Director Emilie Bujès about reopening the festival in a hybrid format.

Bujès expands on this. “Those pathways are meant for audiences looking for points of entry in the Official Selection when they are not sure what to watch. They are not selection criteria and we are certainly not looking for any kind of topic in particular during the selection process. What is more essential for us in terms of programming is the idea of the author behind the camera, the feeling that no matter how “important” the topic may be – or not, indeed –, there is an ambition and urgency in telling the story, and working out how and why. It is really essential that there is an approach that feels not only relevant for the film but which feels really original, and generating a feeling [in the audience] of ‘okay, I knew about that, but I’ve never seen it told that way.’” 

As we count down the final days to the Oscars, IndieWire’s Kristen Lopez presents her argument that Crip Camp should win Best Feature Documentary.

Some viewers might balk at the subject matter of “Crip Camp” as too didactic or dour. But let’s be honest here: That’s the ableism talking. For too long, disabled narratives have been presented as sad and educational because, again, our lives are generally shown through the prism of being sad and educational. That’s not what “Crip Camp” does. Instead, it shows what disabled narratives can be.

Deadline’s Matthew Carey sits down with the team behind Oscar nominee My Octopus Teacher to discuss the film’s profound message on connection.

“I’ve been making films for 30 years, but I’ve never been in one of them until now,” Foster says. “On the one hand, it was very hard as I felt self-conscious in exposing my inner feelings, and I felt my personal story was insignificant in the light of the wonder of nature. On the other hand, I felt so much love and excitement for my cephalopod teacher and for her kelp forest environment that I felt deeply compelled to tell the story in the most powerful way that people could relate to.”

Khalik Allah discusses his latest work, an epic self-portrait entitled IWOW: I Walk on Water, with MUBI Notebook’s Kelli Weston.

In the same vein Allah acknowledges the impulse to attend to his subjects and their stories with a certain degree of care. “Being responsible is at the forefront of my approach to the films that I make. For me, the responsibility comes down to this: depicting the essence of the person in the way that they wanted to be depicted, and in order to do that I have to have their permission,” he explains. “I don’t start filming them or recording them without first even having a relationship with them to an extent. And the emphasis is, I want you to tell me your story, even if it’s only a couple of sentences. I want you to tell me what’s going on with you right now.

From the Archive, September 2013, "Philadelphia Story: 'Let the Fire Burn' Tells Morality Tale through Archival Footage"

Finally, it was always a puzzle with this story: how to represent a "truth" that is so fraught with conflicting versions? In the end, using the archive is a way that the viewer was always aware that they were seeing a perspective reframed turned out to be the best answer to that challenge of representation. Every piece of footage already had an agenda before it was part of our film; the viewer knows and needs to grapple with this.

 

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