June 14, 2020

Essential Doc Reads: Week of June 8, 2020

Brown Girls Doc Mafia Founder Iyabo Boyd, addressing the audience at Getting Real '18. Photo: Mark Hayes

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. 

Writing for Filmmaker, Denae Peters interviews Brown Girls Doc Mafia Founder Iyabo Boyd about the imperative to hire BIPOC filmmakers within the documentary community.

One of the many roots of the problem is the lack of professional and personal friendships that White people have with people of color. In film, people work with their friends, so if you don't have any friends who are people of color, or if you're not cultivating those professional relationships, you're not going to be able to snap your fingers and hire someone who is a person of color and who is great for the job.

The New Yorker's Richard Brody unveils a lost gem: Take This Hammer, a 1963 documentary from Richard O. Moore, who follows author James Baldwin around San Francisco as he interviews black residents about their lives, and delivers on-camera reflections about Black America during the Civil Rights movement and the persistence of Jim Crow.

Baldwin, wearing a microphone clipped to his shirt, discusses with Luster a primary obstacle in drastically changing the circumstances of black Americans: white liberals who, he says, "think of themselves as missionaries" and seek the "alleviation and protection of their own consciences" but have "never discovered who a Negro is—not what, but who." 

Writing for the Zinn Education Project website, educator Hassan Kwama Jeffries shares an excerpt from his book Understanding and Teaching the Civil Rights Movement that focuses on documentaries and narrative features.

The pedagogical power of film is strengthened when documentaries and movies are paired with one another. The lessons learned in the former are reinforced in the latter. Pairing films also sharpens critical analysis of popular narratives of the movement. People are conditioned to believe what they see on screen. Pairing films challenges this basic assumption when what appears in a documentary, such as the presence of Black women in leadership positions, fails to show up in a movie.

Writing for Sight & Sound, filmmaker Kirsten Johnson shares her pandemic lockdown diary.

The whole world is in an unprecedented "long middle" together now. Sometime in the future, we will look back and be able to pinpoint when the "After" arrived. For now, each of us can only mark the moment of "Before," even if it functioned as a slowly dawning awareness.

IndieWire's Kate Erbland examines the relative success of the smaller, niche OTT platforms that have increased their subscription base as COVID-19 persists.

While niche outfits like The Criterion Channel, IFC Films Unlimited, and Magnolia Selects are never going to rack up the tens of millions of paid subscribers of their heavy-hitter brethren, they are finding success on their own terms. The last three months have proven just that, as the biggest names in the indie streaming world have enjoyed growing subscribers and reach as more people have sought out fresh entertainment in the safety of their homes.

Jon Ossoff has produced several documentaries for the BBC through the London-based documentary journalism production company Insight TWI. But the Atlanta native returned to the States after the 2016 election to run for office—first, for the US House of Representatives, a race he lost, and now for the US Senate. Writing for Variety, Manori Ravindran talks to Ossoff about his transition from broadcast journalism to politics.

Ossoff gets it. It's not often US documentary filmmakers run for office. "It may be that folks who dedicate their careers to digging into the flaws and failures of our political system perhaps view those flaws and failures so starkly that they hesitate to dive in themselves," he says. 


From the Archive, April 2017: True South Tells the Story of Eyes on the Prize

What made Eyes special is largely visible on screen: its formal approach and its commitment, path-breaking at the time, to telling history from the perspective of the lesser-known working people and organizers who were largely responsible for the gains made by the movement, rather than simply serving up a top-down, "great man" approach to history that begins and ends with Martin Luther King Jr. As Else states, "Most critics probably missed one of its greatest achievements: a subtle change in the form of prime-time documentary television, pushing ordinary people to the forefront of their own story." Smartly, Eyes didn't try to be encyclopedic, instead choosing a few riveting stories, freighted with critical thematic baggage, to carry the episodes along.


In the News


Bertha DocHouse Recommends Docs to Watch on Racism in the UK

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Realscreen and Creatively Speaking Curate Docs To watch on Race in America

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American Documentary Announces Artist Mental Health Fund for BIPOC Directors, Producers and Interactive Creators

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YouTube Creates $100M Fund for Black Creators

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Motion Picture Academy Introduces New Inclusion Initiatives

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Field of Vision Announces Final Rounds of Documentary Freelancer Relief Fund 

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A&E Cancels Live PD

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Paramount Network Cancels COPS

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Peabody Awards Winners Announced

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Oscars '21 moved to April

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AFI Docs 2020 Unveils Full Slate

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IDFA Returns to Cinemas in November

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Stanley Nelson To Make Series on 1971 Attica Uprising for Showtime

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FRONTLINE Acquires Ramona Diaz's A Thousand Cuts

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Blackfin, Firelight To Produce Stanley Nelson-directed Tulsa Massacre Docuseries

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UWE Bristol Researchers Publish Findings on State of the UK Feature Documentary Sector

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Ragtag Film Society Announces Departure of Director of Programming and Addition of Interim Executive Director

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