December 14, 2019

Essential Doc Reads: Week of December 9

The Ford Foundation's Chi-hui Yang delivers his keynote address at the 2018 Getting Real. Photo: Todd Williamson.

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!

Writing for Filmmaker, programmer/critic Abby Sun offers an insightful critique of the documentary ecology--particularly festivals and organizations and their need for structural and systemic change, despite their seeming embrace of #DecolonizeDocs ideas.

We all need to work through what is merely a symptom of a problem—of which documentary has many, just like this world we all live in—and what are the structures of labor, material production and cultural prestige that keep these problematic systems in place.

In the wake of IDA Executive Director Simon Kilmurry's opinion piece for the Los Angeles Times--addressing the Trump Administration's new visa application requirements, which would force applicants to disclose their social media handles over the past five years and IDA and Doc Society's lawsuit against the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security--Frank Ready of queried legal experts about whether the First Amendment would apply to visa applicants.

While the registration requirement may trigger concerns with regards to free speech, it's less clear whether or not courts will extend those First Amendment rights to visa applicants who have not yet set foot on US soil.

As we anticipate the release of the Oscars Short List on December 16, Variety’s Chris Morris discusses Martin Scorsese's Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story, its canny blend of fact and fiction and why it's nonetheless eligible for Academy Award consideration for Best Feature Documentary.

No one would argue that Rolling Thunder isn’t mostly factual, and thus fits the Academy's not-too-stringent guidelines. But whether documentary branch voters will enjoy the director having taken substantial liberties in telling his "Bob Dylan story" or hold it against him is another matter.

Writing for Sight & Sound, Chloe Trayner and Matt Turner report on the growing prowess of the documentary industry in Scotland.

A number of production companies and independent filmmakers – starting from the nexus that is the Scottish Documentary Institute (SDI), the country’s creative nonfiction hub – are producing artful, intelligent nonfiction feature films and shorts, work that displays an ambition and outlook beyond the confines of the country of their origin.

The New Yorker's Jon Lee Anderson discusses Petra Costa's IDA Documentary Award nominee, The Edge of Democracy, and its thoughtful and artful examination of how Brazil arrived at its polarized state.

The documentary has many enthralling scenes in which Costa juxtaposes historic public events with remarkable private moments. It's as if we were watching a Greek tragedy from a box seat and being ushered into the actors' dressing rooms between acts. In such ways, The Edge of Democracy presents a great ongoing drama of our time: the fracturing of democracy and its replacement by rank populism. At the end of this film, we are left shaken as Costa asks, "What do we do when the mask of civility falls and what appears is an ever more haunting image of ourselves? Where do we gather the strength to walk through the ruins and start anew?" Indeed. Where do we go from here?

Elsewhere in South America, Jaime Grijalba shares his insights in Hyperallergic about the contemporary Chilean documentary aesthetic. 

Chile released more films during these ten years than ever before, with many of them making their way to local commercial theaters. But beyond this expansion, the landscape of Chilean film has become more diverse and exciting to chronicle. And documentary filmmakers have been at the country’s subversive and experimental forefront.

From the Archive, Fall 2019 Issue, "#DecolonizeDocs: A Check-in a Year after the Getting Real Sessions"

"What has changed and is very good is the ability to bring attention to the historic inequities in our field, and be heard," Donald Young of Caam continues. "This hasn't always been the case. But I am concerned that change must often be confronted or suggested, that it doesn't often come from within."  

In the News


Sundance Announces New Frontier Lineup...


...And Indie, Episodic, Shorts and Special Events lineup


Music Documentary Market Booms: "It's a Land Grab Right Now"


Veterans Out in NFB Shakeup


Before StonewallThe Fog of War, I Am Somebody Among Doc Titles added to National Film Registry


Soledad O’Brien, Chris McCarthy Among Six New Peabody Board Members


Hollywood Reporter Releases Its 2019 Women in Entertainment Power 100


Awards Roundup:


European Film Awards Winners


2020 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia Award Winners 


Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards Winners


BAFTA Outstanding Debut Shortlist


Cinema Audio Society Nominations


Eddie Awards Nominations