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Essential Doc Reads: Week of Dec. 21

By KJ Relth

From 'Pervert Park,' one of several documentaries that did not find distribution in 2015.

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! 


From Screen Daily, docmakers in Europe struggle for funding, while in the US, players like Netflix and Amazon have kept the documentary form thriving:

With Netflix and Amazon Studios acquiring and commissioning feature-length documentaries too, the opportunities for factual film-makers to put their work in front of audiences are increasing all the time. Even so, the mood among many buyers, sellers, commissioning editors and film-makers attending the recent International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), one of the largest documentary industry events in the calendar, was an anxious one. Although the industry is in the midst of an extraordinarily rich period in documentary making, public broadcasters in Europe are turning their back on the form and funding is drying up. Documentaries are not seen as ratings winners and, at a time when many European public broadcasters are facing cuts in funding, reality TV is pushing documentaries from the schedules. This matters because, in Europe especially, TV has always been the main funder of documentary. Without public broadcaster support, the boom in documentary making could prove short lived. And although the entrance of Netflix, Amazon and others into the market is generally welcomed, film-makers, rights holders and traditional distributors are grappling with what their arrival means to them.


From Bloomberg, the success of the second season of Serial has pundits and producers alike thinking about the future possibilities of Serialization Nation:

For the second season, Serial has cranked up the Hollywood quotient, teaming up with Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Boal and Page 1, a TV and movie production company backed by Megan Ellison (daughter of Oracle billionaire Larry Ellison) to tell the story of Bowe Bergdahl. In 2009, Bergdahl, a soldier in the U.S. Army, walked away from his unit in Afghanistan under mysterious circumstances, was held captive by the Taliban for five years, and then was set free in a controversial prisoner swap. He’s back in the U.S., facing court-martial. Boal taped hours of interviews with Bergdahl as part of research for his screenplay. The recordings also form the foundation of Serial’s second season. As a result, the show has extraordinary access into Bergdahl’s head. We get to learn how someone could make the decisions he made and what happens when everything goes horribly wrong. In some ways, this season shows even more promise than the first, as the payoff is less binary than “Did he do it?” and more an investigation of a complex, morally ambiguous antihero—like Homeland’s Carrie Mathison and Breaking Bad’s Walter White.


From Hopes & Fears, smaller SVODers like Mubi, Fando and Tribeca Shortlist share their concerns and strategies for survival among the streaming behemoths:

Why, at the peak of big streaming, are new streaming services with more selective libraries appearing? While the critic’s role at power houses is eroded away by information technology, newer services like Shudder, Fandor, MUBI, and the Tribeca Shortlist are re-positioning them at the center of their business model. They are betting against the flow of history since Amazon automated its homepage. These services see themselves as supplemental as opposed to in direct competition with the top dogs of on demand videos, but they’re all betting against the line of thinking that curators and experts are unnecessary for movie lovers and the companies that provide them with entertainment. They may not revolutionize streaming - not one of the people interviewed for this article chose to describe their services as competitors to Netflix - but they may make a new future for criticism within new media.


RealScreen presents its year in review in the nonfiction media industry:

In January, shortly after new Discovery Channel president Rich Ross took office, the newly anointed topper made headlines with his proclamation that the network would be eschewing the loud and high-rating “docufiction” template as seen in Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives and Mermaids: The Body Found. Instead, the aim was now to gravitate towards a more authentic approach to content. Shortly thereafter, Discovery announced its acquisition of Louie Psihoyos’ Racing Extinction at Sundance and revealed plans for a global airing, across its 220 countries and territories worldwide.


From Indiewire, Anthony Kauffman looks at seven acclaimed docs that have yet to land distribution:

As one award-winning documentary filmmaker told me, "I keep hearing from distributors, 'It's amazing, but we're in a different space right now.' What that 'space' is, I'm not totally sure." The filmmaker noted that there seemed to be plenty of slots open for documentaries about celebrities, entertainers, movies, "social issues du jour," and "tasteful but toothless book reports," he added, but little space for other non-fiction efforts that exist outside the box. So before we start a new year, and another festival circuit with doc-heavy Sundance right around the corner, let's not forget some of the terrific documentaries that have yet to be purchased by distributors. If they're so good, why haven't they been bought and marketed to U.S. audiences? There are a myriad of reasons — none of them insurmountable.


From the archives, Fall 2012 -- Webisodic Tendencies: Creating Doc Content for the Internet:

One of the greatest challenges for online content producers of any kind is to find an audience for their work. "Focusing on the work and just hoping something happens is like winning the lottery; it could happen," says comedian and documentary maker Mark Malkoff, who spends half his time promoting his work via social media and e-mails. His advice for those starting out is to partner with someone who knows the ins and outs of social media, if you don't.


In the news:

From The New York Times, Robert Durst, subject of the IDA Documentary Award-winning series The Jinx, has agreed to be extradited from Louisiana to Los Angeles to face murder charges there.
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Realscreen’s Best of 2015
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Nonfics Poll Names The Look of Silence The Best Documentary of 2015
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A.V. Club Names the 20 Best Films of 2015
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