February 2, 2018

Essential Doc Reads: Week of January 29

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 Oscilloscope Musings, John Redding & B.A. Hunt consider "the two Werner Herzogs" and the insidious effects of branded content on documentary.

After Lo and Behold played Sundance, several reviewers mentioned NetScout had provided the funding, but not one writer took that detail further. Critics focused on the film's structure and Herzog's larger-than-life persona, and no one stopped to ask just who NetScout was, and why they had made this film. Perhaps it was the promise of Herzog's integrity and character he had fought and earned for himself throughout his career as cinema's wild man that kept anyone from asking questions. In what world could the man, who has braved deserts, the antarctic, and war zones in the tireless pursuit of filmmaking, sell out?

In a new column for The Guardian, Charlie Phillips bemoans the lack of daring filmmaking among the Bafta and Oscar nominees.

This year's Oscars shows some progress. It's right that Strong Island made the list. Directed by a black, transgender director (Yance Ford), it tells the story of his brother's murder and unpicks issues of racial discrimination with a passionate fury. The Bafta shortlist includes Raoul Peck's I Am Not Your Negro (nominated for last year's Oscars), a grenade thrown into liberal conversations about race that adapts a James Baldwin manuscript and daringly retains his non-linear style of thought. But these films are exceptions. Across both awards, many voters, and some critics, still appear to regard documentaries as information exchange devices rather than actual films. Instead of selecting movies that are visual or emotional triumphs, priority is given to "single idea" documentaries about well-known people or issues or simply those with the biggest marketing spend.

At Interview, Jenny Slate talks to film programmer Nellie Killian about her new film series "Tell Me: Women Filmmakers, Women's Stories."

"The time is now to listen to these women's stories and as I was putting it together I realized that that refrain of 'listen to women'—people kept on saying it like it was a burden to bear. Like, 'You have to listen to women, even though it's a bummer,' and I was like, 'It's not a bummer to listen to women!'"

At Film Comment, Eric Hynes interviews RaMell Ross, director of Sundance standout Hale County This Morning, This Evening.

Ross served as a basketball coach and GED instructor during the years he lived in Hale County, and developed intimacies with his subjects that made filming their lives organic to the experience of being with them. After the film's premiere at Sundance, he said he had "wanted to make a film that was made up of moments. Made up of the sort of beautiful nuances that are banal and epic simultaneously, that every person in the world has and participates in." While there's something universal about that ambition and those experiences, there's also something radical and political about pursuing it in a community that's predominantly black and poor—a community that's thus only ever seen in terms of its impoverishment and disenfranchisement. "It's not typically the way we look at our community," he said, "but through that commonality of profoundness that everyone knows, there could be a different way of looking at what it’s like to be a black person in the South, as well as looking out, centralizing our experience there."

At Sundance Institute, director/editor Pedro Kos shares his keynote speech for the Karen Schmeer Fellowship's Art of Editing Reception.

My hope is that we can start a conversation about the way we approach filmmaking. The key to building a healthy and sustainable foundation to the editor/director relationship –– and, honestly, to the director/producer relationship; and the producer/editor relationship; and the relationships with our studios and financiers, and with all the other members of the filmmaking team –– is to start with a mutual basis of self-respect, a commitment to healthy and constant two-way communication, and the recognition of the basic humanity in our fellow collaborators.

At Indiewire, Anthony Kaufman reports on a weak year for theatrical sales of docs at Sundance.

What makes a documentary suited to a theatrical release—and all the expense and effort associated with it? And when are they more appropriate for smaller screens? After several straight months of disappointing box-office sales for most nonfiction films, including several hits from last year’s Sundance, this question would seem to be a pressing one out of this year’s film festival. But the answer—as evidenced by the few distribution deals that closed before and during Sundance, those that are still pending, and those that should be—isn’t so easy to nail down, though some combination of topicality, celebrity or artistry certainly comes into play.

From the archives, Fall 2011, "Archive Verite: Editing as an Art Form"

What do Ken Kesey, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the late Formula One racecar driver Ayrton Senna have in common? Some of you might be thinking, "King organized a bus boycott, and Kesey drove a painted bus full of psychedelic experimenters across the country. So, maybe it's wheeled transportation that would bring in Senna." Well, what ties them together is that they are all featured in three recent nonfiction features that seamlessly use archive footage as if it were the raw material from a vérité documentary.

In the News:

Orwa Nyrabia Named New Artistic Director of IDFA
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'Majority' Production Company Launches For Women Directors To Thrive In Both Indie Film And Commercial Production
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Sundance Film Festival Awards Announced
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Sundance's Director of Programming Trevor Groth Joins 30WEST
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Neon Buys 'Three Identical Strangers' at Sundance
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VR Documentary 'Zikr: A Sufi Revival' Acquired by Dogwoof
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