Essential Doc Reads: Week of April 16

By Akiva Gottlieb

Naomi Walker, Anuradha Rana, Carrie Lozano, Sam Pollard, and Lauren Pabst.

Essential Doc Reads is a weekly feature in which the IDA staff recommends recent pieces about the documentary form and its processes. Here we feature think pieces and important news items from around the Internet, and articles from the Documentary magazine archive. We hope you enjoy!

At Filmmaker, Lauren Wissot reports from the #DocsSoWhite "Gatekeepers" panel at Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

After Rana explained that Kartemquin primarily funds Chicago and Midwest filmmakers, Walker moved the conversation on to the subject of class. Statistically, she said, documentary filmmakers mostly come "from means." Of course it should make sense that nonfiction filmmaking — like all the arts — would be a privileged pursuit. Yet I suddenly realized I'd never given the financial stability of the person behind the lens really much thought at all. In response to this problem of inequality, Rana wanted filmmakers of modest means to know that it was perfectly fine to go slow — to make a living teaching, for example, and only work on their films when time allowed. Walker then asked a crucial question when it comes to gatekeepers: "Who defines quality?" (And added, "Critics who are watching, this is for you, too.") An "audience-focused strategy" at top-tier festivals is desperately needed, she added. In other words, who, besides a white liberal audience, needs to see your film?

At The Guardian, a U.K. arts industry report asks: Where are all the working class people?

The percentage of people working in publishing with working-class origins was given as 12.6%. In film, TV and radio it was 12.4%, and in music, performing and visual arts, 18.2%. "Aside from crafts, no creative occupation comes close to having a third of its workforce from working-class origins, which is the average for the population as a whole," the report said. The research shows that the people most attached to the idea of the arts being a meritocracy – that the best jobs go to those with the most talent – were white middle-class men who occupied the highest-paid jobs and who were most able to bring about change.

At IndieWire, Anthony Kaufman reports that the doc market is booming, despite a slow year for Netflix and Amazon festival purchases.

Documentaries are hotter than ever, but their production and distribution is in constant flux. In 2017, major companies were shelling out huge dollars to acquire documentaries, dramatically shifting the scales for the budgets and value of nonfiction. Then everything changed at Sundance 2018, when contrary to expectations, Netflix and Amazon deescalated the marketplace they had super-sized a year before.

At Moviemaker, a list of 50 film festivals worth the entry fee in 2018.

Stamping the MovieMaker seal of approval on each destination in our annual guide to the 50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee is only the beginning. It's a risky endeavor, doubling down on the decisions we reach to figuratively—and, as has often been the case over the years, quite literally—send our readers packing to a festival that could affect not only their trust in our endorsements, but also their next pitch session, distribution deal, and very career trajectory. But double down we do, with a deep faith in the way we’ve distilled our secret scoring sauce.

At the Los Angeles Times, Ryan Faughnder reports that Netflix has considered buying theaters to gain an Oscars edge.

Netflix, the global streaming giant that has dramatically changed the TV industry and clashed with movie theater owners, may be ready to move onto the big screen in a new and surprising way — by owning cinemas. The Los Gatos, Calif., company has explored the idea of buying movie theaters in Los Angeles and New York that would enable it to screen a growing pipeline of feature films and documentaries, according to people familiar with the situation.

From the archives, April 2016, "The Full Frame Documentary Film Festival Asks, Why Are '#DocsSoWhite?'"

Pollard went on to blame the funders and the studios for moviemaking's general lack of diversity—adding that the whole Academy Awards controversy was aimed at the wrong target, and not focused on the actual problem. Chiang mentioned something from an article he'd recently read. The reason white guys with one indie film under their belts get tapped to direct superhero flicks, he explained, boils down to the powers-that-be saying, "That guy reminds me of me." Older white executives are more apt to take chances on younger versions of themselves. It's that simple. "Asian-Americans don't have that," he sighed.

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