July 27, 2020

Essential Doc Reads: Week of July 20, 2020

From Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz's 'Immigration Nation,' which premieres August 3 on Netflix. Courtesy of Netflix

Essential Doc Reads is 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!

Following the communal outcry over the lack of diversity in the team behind the HBO Tiger Woods documentary series, IndieWire’s Tambay Obenson checks in with those who led the thread, and those who sparked it.

"I kicked the hornet nest," Geeta Gandbhir told IndieWire. "Yeah, but the hornet nest has definitely been growing on sort of the front porch of the white establishment for an extremely long time...They have been working around this system, which is ultimately a white supremacist, anti-black system, forever. You have folks who have been managing to make incredible work despite the lack of access, which speaks to the resilience, bravery, and strength of the community. But we're at a point where we can no longer tolerate this sort of white-dominant culture constantly appropriating our stories. That’s what this outcry is about."

Realscreen's Jillian Morgan reports on DOC NYC Pro's session about equity and inclusion.

"Collective action is one of the few ways we can help protect each other and be able to speak up… This is what we need to do to survive in an industry that was not built for us and, like most things, doesn't like to change… We're trying to force change and it's not because of a specific ideology but because everyone should have a place in media, everyone should have the opportunity to see themselves. What we're doing is making it right."

Lawrence Carter-Long, writing for the ITVS blog, analyses the evolution of disability in documentary.

In the end, imperfect beats absent. Even those unfortunate instances where a filmmaker gets important nuances wrong, the art and act of filmmaking, and the process of sharing one's vision with the others, can spark necessary conversations. And those conversations, in turn, can lead to unimagined changes in both thinking and in society.

The New Yorker's Richard Brody assesses the classic documentary Word Is Out as a trailblazing affirmation of LGBTQ culture.

The movie itself is one such public action. It is simultaneously a presentation to the world at large about the lives of gay people and an affirmation, to gay people themselves, that there is a community out there with which they can identify. Many of the subjects in Word Is Out discuss the lack of media representations of people like themselves, which contributed to their sense of isolation. The film provides the beginnings of such representation—and the self-aware assertion that this representation is itself an instrument of political change.

Following the great civil rights icon John Lewis' passing, Dawn Porter, whose film John Lewis: Good Trouble is streaming courtesy of Magnolia Pictures, penned an essay for the Washington Post about what the courageous congressman meant to all of us.

As I sifted through archival footage from the 1960s, I saw countless examples of Lewis walking again and again, with almost preternatural calm, into firestorms of hate. Rewatching some of that footage today, I find it hard to understand why the United States still has so much work to do to live up to the promise of equality.

Filmmakers Christina Clusiau and Shaul Schwarz are readying their docuseries Immigration Nation for its Netflix premiere on August 3, but not without considerable legal heat from the film's subjects at Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Caitlin Dickerson of The New York Times follows the story.

"It became clear that they were trying to intimidate Shaul and Christina into telling what they thought would be a more favorable story," she said. "This was not surprising since it was in keeping with the way we have seen the government attempt to silence others."

Jon Allsop of Columbia Journalism Review reports on the crackdown on press freedom during the protests and violence in Portland.

We shouldn’t rely on legal exemptions to stand outside that dynamic; the state isn't just crushing journalism in Portland, it's crushing speech writ large, and our coverage must urgently reflect that. In her op-ed Wednesday, Brown wrote that, in the eyes of traditional journalists, she should have kept her terror facing police and federal officers to herself. "But to me, objectivity in journalism creates a disembodied voice," Brown wrote. "It fails to come from both everywhere and nowhere and instead encapsulates the perspective of the powerful rather than afflicting it. I come from somewhere. I come from right here."

Film Inquiry's Clement Tyler Obropta critiques the media’s propensity to examine cell phone video of police violence against Black citizens in cinematic terms.

Comparing documented instances of violence, Black death, terrorism, and other atrocities to film is a defense mechanism, a means for the writer to completely ignore the grief, horror, and weight that these events carry. It takes a lot of white guilt and internalized racism to watch a video of a Black man being murdered by police and come away gushing over the camera angles—there's a reason most of these takes are authored by white writers. It's also telling that these are the takes some film critics bring to our national conversation about race and oppression—culture criticism and film criticism are hardly outfitted to deal with the real world.

Cinematographer Bradford Young, who in addition to his esteemed canon in fiction, shot such documentaries as I Called Him Morgan; Free Angela and All Political Prisoners; Mr. Soul; and My Mic Sounds Nice, talks to American Cinematographer's David E. Williams about his art, his inspirations and the importance of mentoring.

[I found that] vulnerability is that anchor I can stand on while I unpack [whether] the moment I'm dealing with is authentic. So it's important for us working as professional imagemakers [to use] this craft, this art form, as a vehicle of healing. To help us deal with our trauma. And it's important for young people to know that all of us—generally, in the Western world—are dealing with the same kinds of trauma. The process of exorcising that is a personalized road, but one we are all on together. Vulnerability can help us open up and access skills, techniques and ideas that are often closed off to us because we’re so protective of our trauma and pain.

The documentary community lost Jonathan Oppenheim this past week, to cancer at age 67. The editor of such gems as Streetwise, Paris Is Burning, Children Underground, Sister Helen, The Oath and most recently, Blowin' Up, was a wise soul, as evidenced in a keynote he delivered at a 2015 gathering hosted by the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and the Karen Schmeer Editing Fellowship. The Sundance Institute blog re-published his address.

An editor is brought in to work on a long-form documentary. The editor initially brings distance, the outsider's eye, to the screening of the director’s footage. But ultimately, the editor's job is to absorb the subject of the film through the footage, to live and breathe with the material, making it his or her own, and, ultimately, to emerge with a vision for the possibilities (and impossibilities) of the film.

From the Archive, January 2018,  "Dispatch from the IDA Documentary Awards: Filmmakers of Color Speak Out About Diversity"

I am very proud to be an indigenous filmmaker from the Andes, to be telling my own stories and to be able to tell the stories with all of the complexity of a situation. If we don't control the media, we don't control anything, and if we don't change the narrative of what's happening, we are just being a trend. And I'm not going to be a trend.

 

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