June 7, 2020

Essential Doc Reads: Week of June 1, 2020

Filmmaker Roger Ross Williams, participating in an IDA Conversation Series in 2016. Photo: Laura Ahmed

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!

IndieWire's Eric Kohn talks to filmmaker Roger Ross Williams about his plans to grow his company and support young black filmmakers.

At the same time, he wanted to manage expectations. "We can’t reverse 400 years of racism overnight," he said. "Hollywood has a short attention span and could forget about this when you see don't see riots in the streets anymore. And we can’t let them do that. We have to build real change here."

The Wrap's Lindsey Ellefson interviews National Association of Black Journalist President Dorothy Tucker about what newsrooms need to do going forward in covering racially charged protests.

"It is situations like this that should remind news companies and organizations of how vital it is to ensure their newsrooms are diverse and that black news professionals have leadership roles," Tucker said. "The stories that need to be told about the issues facing the black community require newsroom decision-makers and staff that can understand their perspectives and know how to best cover them."

Jon Allsop of Columbia Journalism Review analyses how black journalists need to confront racism within the press.

"This is not just about our feelings," she said. "This is about telling the most transparent truth that we can about America. One of the tenets of journalism is to afflict the comfortable. Well, white people are too comfortable in America. And if we are not pointing that out and showing people the disparities and being honest about and clear out about those disparities, then things are not going to be different."

IndieWire's Tyler Hersko reports on how journalists have been under attack by the police over the past two weeks.

"It is inescapable that in a number of communities, especially on Saturday evening, the police seem to regard journalists as part of the problem and not a constitutionally protected part of the community, which is really disturbing," Stables said in an interview. "I appreciate how difficult this is for law enforcement, but it’s not just one police officer in one city…We are in a very worrying place where we see people who have been international correspondents saying that this feels like their experiences in nondemocratic regimes."

Matt Turner of Sight & Sound discusses four recent documentaries about the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong.

Watching the new nonfiction films included in International Film Festival Rotterdam's Ordinary Heroes strand—made across a number of years and dealing with different aspects of the protests—viewers received a striking sense of how the tensions have developed in such a short space of time, as well as the social and economic conditions that have informed them. As well as showing how the protests have progressed, the films also display a change in the mentality of those involved. Smaller-scale and mostly student-led in 2014, the protests look radically different five years later. Two million citizens took to the streets for one assembly in 2019, and police unleashed more than one thousand canisters of tear gas at protestors in a single day on another. Similarly, a movement that seemed naive and somewhat unsure of itself in 2014 looks by 2019 like an agile, organized collective unit, moving, like the Bruce Lee mantra they have adopted, "like water."

ESPN recently premiered Be Water, Bao Nguyen's documentary about actor and martial arts icon Bruce Lee. Esquire's Brady Langmann talks to Nguyen and Lee's daughter, Shannon Lee, about what Lee would say about the current global uprisings. 

Yeah, I was just going to add his philosophy of being water, the title of the film Be Water. I think the title is a metaphor for America—that we're an ever-evolving experiment, that we're not a stagnant country. We're a young country where people like Bruce come in and bring their own attributes, or culture, and it becomes part of American culture in a beautiful way. There's these different rocks in our history that we kind of get around, from the Chinese Exclusion Act, to racial inequalities in the 1960s, up until what's going on today. I see what's going on with George Floyd—racial injustice as very much a rock. We're crashing against that rock. Hopefully as a community, we can find our way around it. We can keep moving forward.

From the Archive, November 2019: Roger Ross Williams' 'The Apollo' Is More Than Just Music History

The Apollo is really about how we use music and art to lift ourselves out of the legacy of slavery and the reality of segregation. That's what happened on that stage. So, for me, this was a very, very political film. I always thought about this film through the context of what was happening in Harlem and what was happening in America for Black people. The music on that stage was reflecting the reality of where we were in this country. On that stage at the Apollo, we are in dialogue with our community about our struggles, our triumphs, our feelings of loss—and that's all happening through the music. 


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