Essential Doc Reads: Week of July 10
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!
This is not an entirely new concern. In explicitly high-risk labor like that of human rights workers and first responders, stress and trauma stemming from overexposure are gaining recognition as occupational liabilities. This is partly due to institutional efforts to reconcile high turnover rates in these fields. In 2013, for instance, the American Psychiatric Association updated the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) to classify working with disturbing imagery as a pathway to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Some of the most harrowing and urgent reporting these days comes from everyday citizens armed with smartphones, and three new documentaries explore the breadth of their reach. City of Ghosts follows members of the Syrian watchdog group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently as they chronicle the Islamic State's atrocities. Cambodian Spring tells of a Buddhist monk who defies the authorities by standing with the poor, and Copwatch looks at American activists training others to monitor the police. All of these citizen journalists are driven by the conviction that the camera is often mightier than the sword.
At Indiewire, Brian Newman argues that Netflix and Amazon algorithms are destroying the movies.
Shut up, old man, you might say. But this is a huge problem for quality films whether they're docs, indie, foreign, or classics. If the algorithms can't serve these up to me, I guarantee they aren't serving them up to anyone else. Netflix, in particular, seems to be pushing them further down the list - and, in the process, making it hard to find movies at all. As we all know, arthouse films, especially docs, are bombing in theaters if they make it there at all. Many go straight to digital, maybe with some touring. But most film watching these days is online, and if you can't be found there, well, you don't exist.
At Columbia Journalism Review, Lene Bech Sillesen asks if journalists should expose trolls.
Not all trolls have Brutsch's high profile, but doxxing isn't the only solution open to journalists. A 2014 study showed that discussions around news articles on social media improved in relevance and civility once a journalist got directly involved in the debate. Trolling was reduced once a real-life person related to the story or news organization in question inserted him or herself into a conversation.
At The Verge, Russell Brandom offers a biting critique of Filmstruck's web interface.
It's a common problem for smaller streaming services. HBO Go uses a Flash player, and has many of the same browsing issues. MUBI gets around it with a social angle and a cycling catalog, but the overall logic is inescapable. With a limited budget, most of the focus goes where the viewers are, which means prioritizing mobile and set-top interfaces over laptops and the web. The good web interfaces are generally built by massive tech-focused companies - specifically Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, Apple, and Google. From a business perspective, the point of focusing on interface is to turn the catalog into a commodity.
In August 2007, scores of Buddhist monks led peaceful protests in the capital city of Pyinmana; in reprisal, many were beaten, maimed and/or killed by government authorities. A Japanese photographer was also shot and killed; an image of that shocking moment made front pages worldwide. Unconfirmed numbers of Burmese were imprisoned. All this happened at street level, remarkably captured by a team of citizen journalists, armed with nothing more than Sony mini-cams and digital tape.
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