January 6, 2017

Essential Doc Reads: Week of January 2


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!


At Filmmaker, AMPAS board of governors member Roger Ross Williams opens up about the documentary shortlist process.

"Naturally, films that appear at top festivals get more attention and press. The doc branch consists of working filmmakers and industry professionals, so they see films at festivals or hear about them through industry buzz and press. If a film has not had a premiere at a major festival, it will still be seen by AMPAS members if it has met the qualification requirements."

At China Film Insider, Yijun Yin reports on the market for documentaries amid China's box office boom.

Even as the Chinese movie market flourishes, documentaries are always a hard sell. But 2016 saw a glimmer of hope for the underappreciated genre, with Chinese documentaries securing higher ticket sales and some serious accolades on the world stage. The future remains uncertain, however, with new film laws coming into effect next March that could spell tighter censorship.

At The Guardian, Lucy Walker shares 10 documentaries to "unleash the activist in you."

The documentaries praised on these pages are all ones that fired me up, galvanised me into action, which are also magnificent works of filmmaking well worth watching now.

At The Washington Post, Paul Farhi investigates why CNN aired a documentary about the pop-rock group Chicago that the band itself produced.

The network said it has no concerns about the film, called Now More Than Ever: The History of Chicago. But experts in documentary filmmaking had a few. At the very least, they say, the network should have disclosed upfront and more directly to viewers that the contents of the program were determined by the musical group, not by independent journalists at CNN. At the other extreme, CNN might have considered not airing the film at all, on the grounds that it could be interpreted as a promotional exercise highlighting the group’s music just as it launches a new tour.

At Indiewire, the directors of two essential political campaign docs discuss their process.

The connection between Weiner and The War Room is hardly a coincidence. Kriegman was a student in a documentary class taught by Hegedus and Pennebaker at Yale, drawing inspiration from their work when he launched his own filmmaking career following a stint in politics. After a recent lunch to support the awards campaign for Weiner the directors of both films sat down with IndieWire to discuss the comparisons between their projects and how they landed the access that makes both movies such engaging experiences.

From the archives, Winter 2016, "Oscar Mired: The Peaks and Pitfalls of an Awards Campaign"

"You're just out there spreading the gospel about your film. And if you want to, you could do nothing but that for a couple of years. When you finish a film, you want to give it its best shot of surviving in the world, so you do what you can for it. Certain films need to be sold and explained more than others. Probably one of the biggest mistakes young filmmakers make is not realizing how much of the job has to do with what happens once the film's done."