December 7, 2019

Essential Doc Reads: Week of December 2

Tony, from Michael Apted's '63-UP.' Courtesy of Shiver Productions

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!

IDA Executive Director Simon Kilmurruy, in an opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times, calls into question the Trump Administration's new visa application requirements, which would force applicants to disclose their social media handles over the past five years. IDA and Doc Society have jointly filed a lawsuit against the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security on behalf of more than 2,700 filmmakers from 53 countries.

Compelling filmmakers and other visa applicants to expose their social media accounts to government scrutiny deters them from speaking out and connecting with others on social media. This is particularly true for filmmakers who have to use pseudonyms on social media to evade their repressive governments and other forces seeking to silence them. The State Department’s new rules will take away their online anonymity and make their jobs all the more perilous.

The New York Times Magazine's Gideon Lewis-Kraus, in his lengthy profile of filmmaker Michael Apted on the occasion of the latest installment of his magnificent UP Series, ponders the Jesuit premise of the project: Does who you are at seven determine who you are at 63?.

Apted, like a social scientist, emphasizes the role of big, obstinate forces; his participants almost invariably take the opposing side of agency and self-determination. What we get, as the show goes on, is an ever-fuller picture of how particular individuals at times shrink to inhabit the givens of an inheritance and at times spill over the sides of those constraints. What emerges are the countervailing qualities of structure and dignity.

Justine Smith of interviews filmmaker Luke Lorentzen about the making of his IDA Documentary Award-nominated Midnight Family.

Early on I felt when I was in the ambulance I felt sometimes like the Ochoas are my best friends and that they were just the most lovely people. Then sometimes I really feared for some of their patients and dealing with that kind of spectrum of feelings, in terms of how the systems work, I knew that the worst version would sugar coat how complicated it all gets. I did feel responsible to not just the Ochoa family and giving them the dignity that they had showed me but also to the patient's side of the story, which was also valid and who were put through some things they shouldn't have been.

Variety's Addie Morfoot talks to filmmakers about the impact of the streaming revolution on their work and careers.

"What Netflix and the streaming revolution has done is put everybody on notice that they have to play at a higher level because it’s the battle for the future of viewing," Joe Berlinger says. "The traditional players — basic cable and subscription services like HBO, Starz, Showtime — everyone is playing harder to keep eyeballs."

The Wrap's Deborah Emery talks to ESPN 30 for 30 Podcasts producer/host Jody Avirgan about the challenges of creating in an audio format. 

One thing is that we have fewer tools at our disposal as we don’t have a visual element. In a film, it is often an amalgam of what someone is saying, the emotion on their face, information on the screen, archival visual shots … For us, it really means that our characters have to do a ton of work. One of the things I’ve learned is that when we are interviewing a character, we almost have to get them to tell a story on two tracks. Oftentimes we’ll do one interview where we ask "What happened? Tell us beat by beat, moment by moment." Then go back and get them to do that exact same thing but talk about their emotions during those events.

The New York Times' Marc Tracy discusses the virtues and liabilities of open-source journalism, honing in one of its most prominent practitioners: Bellingcat. 

Open-source journalism often takes the form of the authors showing their work, a transparency that tends to make their brand of journalism more believable. The documentary Anatomy of a Killing, for instance, is as much about how the investigators reported on the roadside shootings as the incident itself. The effect is like a magician walking you through each step of a trick.

Hyperallergic's Sarah Rose Sharp talks to filmmaker Kate Levy about her documentary about Detroit's water crisis and her dealings with local and national journalists.

However, there needs to be a more symbiotic relationship between local and national journalism. I truly believe that built into the ethics of journalism should be the idea that the resources afforded to national journalists should be shared with local journalists. That's a difficult thing to ask when journalism on all levels is so woefully underfunded.

Writing for the Sundance Institute Blog, filmmaker Cecilia Aldarano shares her experiences at Sundance's Documentary Edit and Story Lab. 

The lab didn't just help me unlock my first film. It taught me how to tend to my practice and that of others around me. It taught me that my day job as a college professor is not to clone disciples but rather to help my students recognize their blind spots. It taught me to step outside the edit room and to cultivate community.

From the Archive, December 2012: "Growing up in Public: 'The UP Series' Continues"

But [Apted] feels that the success of the series and the enduring appeal of each of the subjects "leads me to believe that everybody has a story...I think it's a testimony to people, that people do have stories. And if you can persuade them to talk about these stories, then people are worth listening to. It isn't necessarily just the celebrities of life who have interesting things to say. It's sometimes people who lead quiet lives in terms of publicity who have a lot of interesting things to say."

In the News


Sundance Film Festival Announces 2020 Lineup


Gotham Awards Winners List


New York Film Critics Circle Awards


National Board of Review Winners


For Sama Takes Top Honors at British Independent Film Awards


Writers Guild Awards: 2020 TV Nominations


Slamdance Reveals 2020 Slate


In 2020, Podcasts and Radio Docs Will Be Eligible for Pulitzer Prizes


New Initiative Aims to Bolster Africa’s Documentary Film Community


Firelight Media Strengthens Senior Team Ahead of 20th Anniversary


No Film School's Massive List of Winter 2020 Grants