June 22, 2020

Essential Doc Reads: Week of June 15, 2020

FIlmmaker Oge Egbuonu, participating on a panel following a screening of her film '(In)visible Portraits.'

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!

Impact strategist Sonya Childress, writing in Medium, reflects on a moment of reckoning in the nonfiction media field—one for accountability and rebuilding. 

Filmmakers of color have advocated for a seat at the table for more than five decades. They have launched production houses, distribution collectives, affinity groups and pipeline development programs to improve the recruitment and retention of people of color within nonfiction film. And while these programs have pried open doors for new artists, we see the same entrenched culture that privileges white filmmakers to tell stories about any subject, and any community. Ironically, the filmmakers who express a longing to “give voice to the voiceless”, play a role in rendering filmmakers of color voiceless about their own communities. One can point to the funders and curatorial gatekeepers who may have more in common aesthetically, ideologically or culturally with white filmmakers, or the filmmakers themselves whose privilege blinds them to the collective impact of their individual actions, but the result is the same.

Deadline published an open letter from indie producers of color to press Hollywood for commitments to end systemic racism.

This letter is from Black and Brown independent producers in alliance with advocates for change. As one extended community, we require your active engagement to tackle systemic racism in our industry, in America and around the world. While messages condemning racism and advocating for solidarity on social media may inspire hope, Hollywood must put its money and practices where its mouth is. A direct line can be drawn from the stories and voices that Hollywood silences, to the discrimination and biases that are pervasive in the entertainment industry and larger society. This moment in history presents an opportunity for you to be an incredible partner for change.

The Wrap's Emily Vogel talks to Oge Egbuonu about her film (In)visible Portraits, which, through the testimonials of schools, authors and activists, contextualizes the role and place of Black woman in America's narrative.  

I think it's really important that we reclaim the narrative of who we are, especially as Black women, and to cultivate a space that allows so many different Black women and girls to tell their story. That was done very intentionally and was a powerful element of this entire process.

Tony Lin, writing for IndieWire, reports on how the media in China is manipulating how the Black Lives Matter movement is covered in the US.

But such racist acts, whether subtle or blatant, had received much more criticism from overseas than within China. However, it's only a matter of time before the Chinese public must face tough conversations about race, both on-screen and off. It’s not just about new movements reshaping Hollywood, or Chinese investors and consumers’ bigger roles in the more diversified film industry. China is already a popular new home to immigrant workers from Africa: In Guangzhou alone, it’s estimated over 200,000 Africans are dwelling in the city. And the reluctance to understand black experience has already become an underlying hotbed for racist policies, hatred, and police brutality as well. While Hollywood continues to reckon with decades of racism, it’s clear that China has a long way to go before it catches up to that conversation.

Laurie Ouellette, writing for Film Quarterly, argues that the recent cancellation of COPS is long overdue.

US reality television and policing have long been intertwined. They work together in the classification, surveillance, and control of disenfranchised poor, Black, and brown populations that are deemed by institutions of neoliberal racial capitalism to be "risky" and devoid of value. This judgement call extends beyond the representation of crime on screen to partnerships that merge cultural production and police work. 

Poynter.org's Kristen Hare takes us into the Minneapolis Star Tribune newsroom to show us how video documentation has made a difference in the paper’s reporting over the past few weeks.

She wanted to see what people in Minneapolis were thinking and feeling. She wanted something with more context than what national news provides. Something deeper. And social-first video was the perfect format.

Lindsey Bahr and Marcela Isaza of the Chicago Sun-Times talk to filmmakers such as Steve James and Ashley O’Shay about how they've been filming the uprisings during the pandemic.

"I was concerned about my safety and health," O’Shaye said. "[But] it's important for me that we have black artists, people of color artists, behind the camera to capture these stories, to make sure that the people closest to the community are the ones that are deciding how the story is told."

Hanaa' Tameez of NiemanLab.org reports on the process that The New York Times followed in producing their "Quarantine Stories" series.

Things like using Zoom call interviews or answering viewer questions might seem small, but they help create more intimacy with the viewers during such a fraught time.

"When we’re forced to replicate how people are communicating in their daily lives in our reporting, there’s a barrier that’s no longer there," Khan said. "[Normally] there's the reporter-to-subject relationship, but then there’s also the reporter, subject, and audience relationship. Now everyone is experiencing things in a very similar way. We speak of the fourth wall, and I don't think there is a new wall because the way that I'm watching a video is the same way I'm calling my mom."

IndieWire's Tom Brueggemann speculates on the prospects of Trump appointee—and documentary filmmaker—Michael Pack taking the helm at Voice of America.

More concerning is that Pack is a political appointee, and Trump has long made his displeasure known regarding the VOA. Last month, he attacked its coverage of COVID-19, including claims that its interpretation of China’s role was the equivalent of Chinese propaganda. CNN sources indicate that post-urge, Pack's VOA will be led by Trump loyalists who include a board member from Christian fundamentalist group Liberty Counsel, and Jeffrey Shapiro, who once said he wanted to turn the VOA into "Bannon’s legacy."

Phoenix New Times' Josh Kelety reports on a doc series-in-progress about controversial former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, for which he’ll be paid at least $10,000.

"To have an agreement, particularly with someone as controversial as Arpaio, to be compensated in a documentary about himself ... is really unheard of and quite disturbing," Simon Kilmurry added. "It is a worrying trend when we begin to see these edges blurred around what is ethical within the field."

From the Archive, Summer 2016 Issue: "Revaluing the Black Body: Changing the Visual Narrative Through Family Photographs"

Little did I know that the election (and re-election) of the nation's first African-American president would produce a profound crisis in the country. A Black president and a Black in the White House shifted the visual narrative, underlying the myths around race, family and power that form the bedrock of the country.

It wasn't long before filmmakers, artists and intellectuals of color began talking with one another about the backlash—even before the formation of the Tea Party and violent rhetoric echoing in the halls of Congress. We witnessed violent consequences on the streets in the form of encounters between citizens and the police that ushered in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The writer James Baldwin, a trenchant observer of race relations, prophetically warned that we would find ourselves at the precipice of seeing our myths exposed and our identities called into question.


In the News

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Fledgling Fund To Refocus Its Giving Strategy

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Grasshopper Film Launches Streaming Platform

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Stacey Abrams Voting Rights Doc Acquired by Amazon 

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Best Documentaries about Black Queer Life

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Docs To Watch about Black Communities in Canada

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