December 13, 2020

Essential Doc Reads: Week of December 7, 2020

Frank Zappa, subject of Alex Winter's 'Zappa,' a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo: Roelof Kiers. Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

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 Eric Kohn brought together filmmakers Brett Morgen and Alex Winter for a conversation about their respective films, Montage of Heck and Zappa, two archive-heavy docs about musical icons Kurt Cobain and Frank Zappa.

There’s this misconception that doing an archival film is easy. If you do an interview-based documentary, you have dailies. If you have an archival-based documentary, you are looking for a needle in a haystack every day. You’re going to spend a fortune and you might get nothing. 

Esquire’s Gabriella Bruny talks to filmmaker Tommy Oliver about his latest work, 40 Years a Prisoner, about the 1978 confrontation in Philadelphia between the Black radical group MOVE and the Philadelphia police.

It's hard to engender sympathy beyond a place like Philly if there's not enough sympathy in the city to begin with," Oliver says. "And part of that is because they were misrepresented. If the city doesn't care, and the city doesn't care because they've been fed this grossly inaccurate story, why would anybody else care?"

The New York Times’ Dan Bilefsky spotlights the documentary Les Rose, in which filmmaker Felix Rose revisits a convulsive time in Canadian history, when Rose’s father Paul led a violent extremist group, the Front de Libération du Québec, or F.L.Q., in their quest to break away from Canada.

“I didn’t set out to make a film purporting to be the only truth, but to find my truth,” he said from a park near the home where he lives with his partner and young daughter. “Being the child of someone who committed a crime is like having a phantom that haunts you and I made this film to try to exorcise those demons.”

IndieWire’s Chris Lindahl investigates the story behind the temporary closure this year of the Tribeca Film Institute.

Were the co-chairs actually hoping for some kind of solution, or were they just kicking the ball down the road and then trying to make this seem like somewhat of an inevitability?” a source said. “Rather than hunkering down and working together to make it through a difficult year, or year-and-a-half, it was mere weeks before staff was told ‘OK, we’re pulling the plug.’”

From the Archive, “Philadelphia Story: 'Let the Fire Burn' Tells Morality Tale through Archival Footage”

I think the strength here is that it becomes a morality play. I think it will be "timeless" in the sense that it will always seem to say something critical about the present day. It will not date in the way a film with interviews or narration always places itself in the time it was made. This is placed in the time that it happened—like a stage play. There are also valid criticisms for doing it this way. 


In the News


Cinema Eye Honors Nominations Revealed


British Independent Film Award Nominations Unveiled


Creative Capital Honors Seven Documentary Filmmakers


Tribeca Film Festival Bolsters Programming Team Ahead of 20th Anniversary


Sundance Announces Changes to Documentary Fund Application


Black Public Media Launches Emergency Relief Fund


Sundance Institute, The Kendeda Fund, and TIME Studios Launch $250k Short Film Fund Addressing US Gun Violence


Submissions Wanted for Ken Burns’ Mental Health Project


Kathryn Washington Promoted to SVP at CPB


Resolution To Increase Diversity in America Media Passes in the US House of Representatives


Fernando Solanas, Argentine Filmmaker and Politician, Dies at 84