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Essential Doc Reads: Week of March 28

By Tom White

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!


From Re/code, a roundup of the reviews of the long-awaited Oculus Rift.

The general takeaway from the half-dozen or so reviews is that the Rift is still built for gamers. And even then, it's probably too expensive for the masses. Product reviewers are not known for brevity; plus, unlike a new Apple product or free smartphone app, this product is far from mainstream. So if you'd like the tl;dr of all the reviews, we've got your back.


From No Film School, Emily Bruder interviews filmmaker Penny Lane about her letter to the Tribeca Film Festival that helped compel them to pull the controversial Vaxxed documentary.

"I'm not a Mr. Activist Guy. I'm not an internet outrage aggregator. That's not my style. But I've spent the last eight years thinking about the issue of quackery. I just finished a movie about a quack, NUTS!, which I took to Sundance, so I've spent a lot of time thinking really seriously about what a quack is, how a quack works, and why people fall for them. And then there's the issue of documentary ethics. When we—documentary filmmakers—say to audiences, "I have made a documentary film," we're making a certain kind of claim about truth. It's a very gray issue that has a lot of [room for] debate, but there's no gray area when it comes to someone using the tool of documentary film to fool people in a way that is going to harm them. That's over the line. The combination of quackery and documentary ethics is what compelled me to write the letter."


From The Guardian, ten essential docmakers each cite their five essential docs.

"I'm fascinated by longitudinal film-making and this series, which has followed the lives of 14 British children since 1964, when they were seven years old, showed me what the medium was capable of. This series is head and shoulders above any other attempt to record dramatically a whole human life. And because it's a whole group of people, you learn not just about the individual but also about the system in which they're living. I can't think of any other artefact in our culture that can tell us so much about Britain in our lifetime and how society is evolving as this body of work. It's illuminating and fascinating and it's one of the things that inspired me to do the work that I do."

—Lucy Walker, on Michael Apted's The UP Series


Also from The Guardian, the BBC's Nick Fraser enthuses about the richness and vitality of the documentary form.

The docs I like are irremediably hybrid – a mixture of authorial personality, cod epistemology, appropriated or created history and whatever seems current and interesting. Sometimes they are polemical, sometimes tinged with fictional contrivance. The only rule is that they should have no rules. They should be, rather than tell. They should make the worst things comprehensible. No documentary should be without some aesthetic bliss, even if it is tamped down, minimal, barely noticeable. So yes, documentaries do matter, I think they really do.


From Little White Lies, an intriguing new doc fest is opening at the ICA in London this month: "Frames of Representation."

As well as recognising the ongoing evolution of documentary as an art form, the curators' stated aim is to "focus on the idea of the 'New Periphery', and cinema's role in bringing the excluded and the elsewhere to the centre of conversation." Of the selected documentaries, not a single one is set in a metropolitan area and the only city we get to see is a brand-new, uninhabited one. Yet rather than a "new periphery," these films evoke new centres of contemporary living, places where the most pressing social changes are visible. The quintessential science fiction trope of an idyllic fortified city isolated from its abandoned suburbs is starting to become reality.


From IndieWire, entertainment attorney Nicole Page shares her advice on taking care of legal business.

If you are working on a documentary, I must insist that you sign agreements early and often. Documentary filmmaking cannot be a sustainable business if it's not treated as a business. I am writing this because I have seen far too many good people end up in bad and costly situations because they did not make getting agreements signed a priority.


From the archives, July 2008, "Now We Are Seven: Parsing 'The Up Series'"

The Up Series, because of its longevity, its importance to British life and culture, and its unique status in the history of documentary, is a rich and deserving subject for a book. In writing [Seven Up!], [Stella] Bruzzi had the cooperation of director Michael Apted and others involved in the filmmaking, as well as direct historical input from the invaluable film scholar Brian Winston. Providing a single source that summarizes many of the comments made about the series over the years is reason enough for Bruzzi's publication.


In the News:

'POV' Announces Its 29th Season
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Stranger Than Fiction Kicks Off Spring Season April 5
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Documentary Director Alex Gibney to Make His Narrative Debut With a 1970s-set Political Thriller
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'Making a Murderer' Attorney Dean Strang Lands Criminal Justice Series
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Charlotte Cooke Joins the CPH:Dox Programming Team
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