March 9, 2018

Essential Doc Reads: Week of March 5

From Sandi Tan's 'Shirkers.' Courtesy Sundance Film Festival.

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!

At Sub-Genre Media, Brian Newman details the ways that Heaven Is a Traffic Jam on the 405 took an unusual path to win the Oscar for Best Documentary Short.

Along with so many others in the doc community, I'm super happy for everyone who was nominated – even those I don't personally know – and even happier for the winners of each award. I've seen almost all of the films and they were all deserving, but the short I had not seen ended up winning in that category – Heaven is a Traffic Jam on the 405 by Frank Stiefel. I watched it first thing today – you can too here – and in researching it, I found out it breaks a lot of the "rules" we think we know about success in documentaries. As such, it’s an inspiring lesson for doc makers everywhere.

At Film Comment, Eric Hynes writes about the way old footage is revisited and reshaped in two excellent docs from Sundance.

Shirkers could have been a poison pen letter to a former friend, or a ghost story of both a film and friends lost to time. But instead it vibrates with ambivalence. Ambivalence over the footage. Ambivalence over the talents behind the scenes. Ambivalence between those who've remained in touch. And ultimately deep ambivalence toward a figure that many, perhaps some in the audience, can only regard with scorn. A more conclusive emotion can be useful for moving on from the past, but complex, contradictory feelings bring footage to life. The second we know exactly what to make of an image is the moment we can move on from it, too.

At Hyperallergic, Steve MacFarlane speaks to the acerbic filmmaker William Klein on the occasion of his Quad Cinema retrospective.

Speaking over the phone (with a twinge of Cary Grant in his European-accented New York accent) from his Paris apartment, Klein is every bit as caustic as I'd been led to believe. Then again, I can't dismiss the 89-year-old interviewee's constant admonitions of "so what?" and "what about it?" as outright as I'd like, for these are indeed questions every critic should be asking themselves; Klein's images have always spoken best for themselves anyway.

At The Globe and Mail, Kate Taylor reports that Canada's National Film Board has reached gender parity among directors ahead of schedule.

As scrutiny of gender equity in the male-dominated film industry intensified in the 2010s, the NFB announced two years ago that it would achieve parity. The goal was within reasonable reach: Alongside its famed animation, the Montreal-based NFB produces a lot of documentary film, a more easily accessed and less expensive area of endeavour than feature filmmaking, and one where women are heavily involved as directors and writers.

At Cineuropa, Vassilis Economou speaks to Yianna Sarri, head of the Thessaloniki Agora Doc Market.

"We had a huge number of submissions from Greek filmmakers, which made the selection process even more difficult. It goes without saying that one of our targets is to promote and present Greek documentaries to the world, and I must admit that we are going through a phase where we are seeing an excellent number of new productions. There is a real buzz around documentaries now, which almost resembles the one that happened a couple years ago for fiction films, and that's exciting. On our side, we always suggest that local professionals visit the Agora Doc Market, even if their projects have not been selected, as we can help them and introduce them to the professionals attending the industry events. The most important aspect is to build connections and relationships that will last throughout the years to come."

The National Endowment for the Arts finds that the arts contribute more than $760 billion to the U.S. economy.

New data released today by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) offers an insightful picture of the impact the arts have on the nation's economy. The arts contribute $763.6 billion to the U.S. economy, more than agriculture, transportation, or warehousing. The arts employ 4.9 million workers across the country with earnings of more than $370 billion. Furthermore, the arts exported $20 billion more than imported, providing a positive trade balance.

At BFI, 17 female cinematographers to celebrate.

Rachel Morrison made history this year by becoming the first woman to be nominated for the best cinematography Oscar, for her raw, immersive work on Dee Rees' Mudbound (2017). But that stellar achievement is something of a double-edged sword. It's possible to be thrilled by her success – which can be also be measured by her expansive work on this year's Black Panther and visceral approach to Daniel Barnz' Cake (2014) – while also remaining frustrated that she's the first woman to be so honoured by the Academy and that gender representation across all industry sectors remains so shameful.

From the archives, Winter 2016, "Adding Diversity to Cinematography's Palette"

When you are a person of color, the challenge is even more difficult. Connecting to people in a way that they will see you for your talent as well as your gender and ethnicity is a continuous battle. People maintain a certain comfort level working with those they know. The objective becomes finding that commonality—discovering a network of people who will support your work, and recommend you to other directors and producers. Female cinematographers of color have an additional window of perspective on society.

In the News:

Oscilloscope Takes Alexandria Bombach's 'On Her Shoulders'
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CSAs '18: 'Mayday,' 'Rise' Nab Top Nonfiction Honours
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The Guardian, Screen Australia Announce Project Winners
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'Obit' Editor Kristin Bye Wins Karen Schmeer Fellowship
read more

Tribeca Film Festival Announces Lineup
read more