February 18, 2020

Essential Doc Reads: Week of February 10

From Patricio Guzman's 'The Cordillera of Dreams.' Courtesy of Icarus Films

It's been a bit of a hiatus since the last Essential Doc Reads—what with Sundance, the Oscars, DocuDay LA and IDA's impending office move—but we're back with 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 Ryan Lattanzio reports on the reaction of Cao Dewang, chairman of the Chinese-owned, American-based factory at the heart of Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar's Academy Award-winning American Factory

"I am really sorry that, for various reasons, I can't join you at the Oscars ceremony to applaud you and be part of the excitement of your win. What a pity!" Dewang says in the video. "I was touched by the dedication you have shown as documentary filmmakers. You surmounted every obstacle, worked tirelessly. I was deeply moved by your professionalism and strong commitment to your work…after your film was out, I viewed it very carefully three times. The impression after viewing it three times was you made the film in your own way and did not spare criticism of me. But I still want to thank you."

Jean Bentley of Elle explores why the Oscars documentary categories are dominated by women.

There's something about the tenacity required to make a documentary and the ability to listen that traditionally, women are very good at," Eilizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi says. "It's a mix between a really deep commitment to social issues and the issues that affect our lives, an ability to empathize, and an identification [with] people who have been subjugated in some way or discriminated against."

The New York Times' Alisha Haridasani Gupta interviews Dr. Amani Ballour, the protagonist of Feras Fayyad's Academy Award-nominated The Cave, about an underground hospital in war-torn Syria that she managed.

Every day, Ballour and her largely-female team of doctors and nurses grappled with the kinds of challenges that medical professionals in other parts of the world rarely face: What to prescribe a sick, malnourished baby when there’s no food? How do you perform a surgery without anesthetics? How do you keep a hospital running smoothly to the deafening soundtrack of bombings above ground and wailing parents below?

Bruce Franks Jr., the protagonist of Smriti Mundhra and Sami Khan's Academy Award-nominated doc short, St. Louis Superman, reflects in M-Level on how the production process and awards season have impacted him.

Going through the filming process, reliving all these things that I had boxed away and put in the deepest parts of my soul, helped me even more — even though it got hard. It’s always therapeutic watching the film to see where I was at and where I’m at now.

Columbia Graduate School of Journalism hosted its first Delacorte Lecture of 2020, on fact-checking, and gathered four staff writers and fact-checkers from The New Yorker to discuss the intricacies of their process.

Presentation is quite a significant aspect. When people think about fact they tend to go more directly to "something that exists" or "something that happens." But you have to think about how it's being written about or shown, or how people are going to perceive it. Because if that's not right, then however correctly you've identified something that happened, your presentation of it won’t convey an actual fact. 

Gabe Rottman and Lyndsey Wajert of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press analyze the case against Brazil-based, American journalist Glenn Greenwald, in which Brazilian federal officials charged him with computer crimes following his investigative reporting on "Operation Car Wash."

Were this case in the United States, the First Amendment rule that reporters who legally acquire material can publish it without fear of criminal prosecution, even if the material was acquired illegally by a source, would probably apply. That rule, articulated in the context of wiretapping law by the Supreme Court in Bartnicki v. Vopper, is based on the logic that the First Amendment protects robust political debate, and the use of criminal laws to punish reporters who themselves did nothing wrong would chill public discourse.

RealScreen's Barry Walsh reports on the Looking Glass report, commissioned by the UK’s Film and TV Charity, on the state of mental health across the film and television industry in the region.

According to the study, conducted by The Work Foundation and incorporating responses from more than 9,000 industry professionals, workers within the UK film and television community are twice as likely to experience anxiety compared to the national average, and workers are three times more likely to have self-harmed compared to the national average.

No Film School's Oakley Anderson-Moore talks to filmmaker Jim LeBrecht and Nicole Newnham about their Sundance Audience Award-winning Crip Camp.

There have been a number of films around disability. All sorts of aspects of it. But we, fortunately, had the resources to dig much more deeply, being able to afford to buy archival. We were afforded the luxury of really being able to dig and find things that anyone had yet to see.

Andrew Northrop of Mubi Notebook talks with Chilean filmmaker Patricio Guzman about his latest work, The Cordillera of Dreams.

Documentary filmmaking has limitations. One can get close with testimonies, those of people who have gone through torture that can recount it. You can approach it that way, and it's always symbolic. You never see torture, and I don't know if that would be the best because it is too brutal—you'd have to do another kind of operation to show it. Claude Lanzmann does this in Shoah. There are long testimonies of what it was like, and those are quite extraordinary. 

From the Archive, February 2020: "The Cave Spotlights Women on the Syrian Warfront"

The focus of The Cave is to tell a personal story about women in my country who are trying to make change. Dr. Amani is the inspiration for generations of women living in this country who are victimized, who can't have their voices heard. She is a special person in her story, and I couldn't separate the narrative of the war in Syria with the narrative of what women face today in Syria. I felt these two stories should be put into the film, even when it's hard to put two dramatic stories into one.

In the News


Cesar Awards Board of Directors Resigns


Academy Museum $100 Million Over Budget


ArcLight Cinemas Hires Ted Mundorff as President and COO


Baichwal and De Pencier Assume Co-Chair Roles at Toronto Human Rights Watch Film Festival


DOC Names Michelle Van Beusekom as Executive Director


Neon Buys Sundance Doc Spaceship Earth


HBO Picks Up Siempre, Luis Doc


Ava DuVernay Will Honor Nipsy Hussle with New Documentary


SeaWorld Settles Investors' Lawsuit Over Orca Documentary


Photojournalist Arrested by NYPD While Filming Police Officers