April 26, 2020

Essential Doc Reads: Week of April 20

From Rodrigo Reyes' '499," which screens sat both Tribeca Film Festival and Hoyt. Docs. Courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival

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!

IndieWire's Kate Erbland examines the virtual cinema landscape.

And, almost immediately, there was something else: the proliferation of so-called "virtual cinema," new programs that allow audiences to rent new releases or library titles online for a flat fee, with part of the revenue going to specific movie theaters (as chosen by the ticket buyer).

As the doc world gears up for the online iteration of Hot Docs and its Forum, Screen Daily's Wendy Mitchell explores how the industry can best embrace online pitching.

With most of the world in lockdown, filmmakers are being forced to 'officially' pitch at industry events that have moved online such as Visions du Reel, Frontieres, Sheffield Doc/Fest, plus many more in the coming months. And of course, informal pitches are happening in digital meetings every day. 

Writing for IndieWire, Noah Cowan, the former artistic director of SFFilm, takes stock of the risks and rewards of festivals reopening for business.

Festivals are currently torn between their bedrock mission of gathering local communities around film—now totally shut down—and staying relevant to their audiences, which is currently happening with a rush to online screenings and other digital initiatives. There are some bright spots—especially CPH:DOX, with its young demographics and fervent digital following, which managed to go online and didn’t miss a beat. However, most spring festivals have failed to effectively translate their real-world enthusiasm to the online space.

Georgie Carr of Another Gaze considers Brett Story's The Prison in Twelve Landscapes within the context of the pandemic.

I watched Twelve Landscapes last week with a heightened sense of how space is produced brought about by the Covid crisis. As Kyle Stevens argues in a recent blog post for Critical Enquiry, our "perception of space is reconditioned in life under Covid." Reading classic films in light of this new mindset, Stevens demonstrates how social distancing measures have undermined our conceptions of emptiness, distance and proximity. When a hug poses the threat of infection and distance is enforced as a biopolitical response, "our encounters with fictional spaces, and with what and how they express, alters." Stevens rightly asserts that space and place are political and that Covid renders the spatial dynamics of our social, economic and physical more visible than ever before, but I want to push his insights about Covid and visuality in a different direction, to think about how the appearance of the virus has exposed the everyday structures of carceral space. Twelve Landscapes was made pre-Covid, but it involves a similar kind of shock, a sudden visibility: watching it, we realize that the prison is everywhere.

Deadline's Patrick Hipes reports on the upcoming VR screening of Jason Loftus and Eric Pedicelli's Ask No Questions. The filmmakers are teaming up with San Francisco DocFest and CAAMFest to deliver their project through BigScreen VR.

"VR is not a replacement for the cinema," said co-director/producer Jason Loftus, who brainstormed the idea and approached DocFest to help. "But with the world on lockdown, it's the closest we can get to that shared experience that makes a film festival so unique. We also wanted to support an independent theater because we believe it’s such an important platform for independent filmmakers."

Filmmaker's Lauren Wissot talks to Rodrigo Reyes about his Hot Docs and Tribeca doc 499, which looks at Cortez's 1521 invasion of the Aztec territory in Mexico through a modern-day context, linking the Spanish conquest with the surge of violence of today.

Years later, with the approach of the 500th anniversary of Cortez conquering the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, I started to fantasize about a film. How can we talk about this "conquest" today — not through a didactic or journalistic lens, but from the language of cinema? As I turned over this challenge, I saw clear links between the wave of violence sweeping Mexico today and the horrors of the Spanish conquest.

Film Comment's Nicolas Rapold interviews Ra'anan Alexandrowicz about his latest work, The Viewing Booth, about one woman's reactions to footage of the Israeli occupation.

I really feel there is room for all of us, as audiences of images, to be more aware of our parts in media. This is the thing that I'm trying to shed light on. The media is not only the media—it would not be anything without us taking part in it. I feel with some audiences in Berlin and also here that this is happening—that people say, "Okay, now as I move forward watching other things, I'm a little bit changed because I started to listen to my internal dialogue or behavior with images."

The recently enacted California law AB5, which requires freelancers and independent contractors to be paid as W2 employees, already had an adverse impact on nonprofits and production companies before the pandemic; the COVID-19 crisis has made matters worse. Makeda Easter of the Los Angeles Times examines the fallout.

For California's arts community, the collision of the new law with the coronavirus outbreak has brought new questions and quickly amplified voices to both sides of a growing debate: Does the pandemic prove the need for AB 5?

From the Archive, Winter 2017: "The Risks and Rewards of International Pitch Forums"

The costs of attending, however, are steep, if not prohibitive. There is an understanding that these forums are the domain of early-career filmmakers (with a few exceptions) keen to boost profiles, publicize projects and garner press coverage. But in a competitive market for docs and underpaid filmmakers, it is increasingly a challenge for some to justify the costs of flights, accommodation and pricy registration fees, only to come away with few deals, if any.


In the News

COVID-19 News

Freelancers Union and Media Arts Coalition Urges Feds to Expand Coronavirus Loan Relief to Include Self-Employed


Southern Documentary Fund Launches SDF Emergency Research and Development Grant Program


Americans for the Arts Survey Shows Grim Coronavirus Impact to Film Creatives


Filmmaker Petra Costa Embarks on Coronavirus Project


Gabriel Garcia Bernal and Diego Luna Announce Ambulante en Casa


Venice Film Festival 2020 Still a Go


Joseph Feingold, Protagonist from Oscar-Nominated Joe's Violin, Dies of Coronavirus


Other News

Full Frame Names Award-Winners


SXSW 20 and Amazon Prime Unveil Virtual Film Lineup


Hot Docs Names Stanley Nelson as 2020 Outstanding Achievement Award Honoree


US, UK Shows Dominate Banff Rockie Award Nominations


DOC NYC Launches Live Interview Series "Friday Fix"


NEON Announces Special TVOD Release for Spaceship Earth


HBO Max Announces Launch Date


Fandango To Acquire Vudu


Emmanuel Lubezki Calls on Instagram to Protect Artists' Images From Being Shared