March 15, 2020

Essential Doc Reads: Week of March 9

Image: visuals on Unsplash

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!

In the rapidly evolving world of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have witnessed a cavalcade of cancellations and closures this past week—festivals, markets, screenings, workshops, theaters, etc. A number of outlets out there have been busy monitoring and compiling some useful information.

  • IndieWire has been keeping a regular tally of what's happening in the media arts world.
  • As we're all feeling the repercussions from the pandemic, Creative Capital has shared a running list of arts resources—emergency grants, online support groups, educational/instructional videos, etc.
  • Writing for Seed & Spark on Medium, filmmaker Bri Castellini shares her care package for creators.
  • The film school community has been seriously impacted by COVID-19 as well. The Hollywood Reporter's Sharareh Drury polled students, educators and administrators around the country.

The True/False Festival wrapped this week—perhaps the final festival of the first third of 2020 to do so—without the partnership with the Columbia-based evangelical church The Crossing. This unlikely union of the right and the left caught the attention of festivals and organizations across the country. But sometimes bridges just fall short of spanning the cultural and ideological divide. For both parties, it became a bridge too far. IndieWire's Chris O'Fait investigates what went wrong. 

It was an odd-couple pairing that created some cognitive dissonance. The documentary festival celebrated films like After Tiller, a compassionate look at the lives of doctors who perform late-term abortions, while the staunch pro-life church preaches that heterosexuals hold a moral high ground. "The most major festival in America came to me," said T/F co-founder David Wilson. "And said, 'How are you making this work? We've tried this. We can't get it to work. How are you doing this?'"

Writing for Mubi Notebook, Abby Sun interviews Alexander Nanau about his film Collective, which follows an investigation into a tragic night club fire in Bucharest that leads to a nationwide cry for government reform.

As in other recent Romanian documentaries and the work of the Romanian New Wave, the vestiges of communist control and corruption reign with a dark undercurrent of humor. But it wouldn’t be entirely truthful to place Nanau’s work entirely within this nationalized oeuvre. Born in Romania but raised and trained as a filmmaker in Germany, Nanau masterfully makes a local story relevant for us all.

The New York Times' Jill Filipovic reflects on Hillary, Nanette Burstein's documentary series about Hillary Clinton that's streaming on Hulu, in the wake of Elizabeth Warren pulling out of the race for the US Presidency.

Watching Hillary, and then watching Elizabeth Warren step back, was simultaneously depressing and clarifying. What emerged for me was a distillation of months' worth of increasing anxiety: that we are, as the writer Susan Faludi put it in her 1991 book on feminism in the United States, on the cusp of a backlash.

Reporters without Borders (RSF) just released its list of the 20 worst digital predators—companies and government agencies that use digital technology to spy on and harass journalists.

This list is not exhaustive but, in 2020, these 20 Digital Predators of Press Freedom represent a clear danger for freedom of opinion and expression, which is guaranteed by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. On World Day Against Cyber-Censorship, created at RSF's initiative, RSF is for the first time publishing a list of digital entities whose activities are tantamount to preying on journalism.

When the TV Academy announced they were shifting from DVD screeners to screener links for Emmy campaigns, the television community praised this decision for its eco-friendliness. But now they're discovering, it's still costly to run an online FYC campaign. Variety's Michael Schneider polls the industry for their take on this change.

"I think the fees are incredibly inflated, considering they're charging you to put a show on your own FYC site," says one network exec who handles awards campaigns. "Look, I get it, it's a business; everybody has to make money. But it seems a little bit inflated compared to what the DVD costs were."

From the Archive, March 2008: "With God on our Side: 'For the Bible Tells Me So' Challenges the Church on Gay Issues"

Making For The Bible Tells Me So has proven to be quite an incredible spiritual journey for me. When I began making the film, I had a very insular, negative view of conservative Christians. I believed exactly what many other gay people believe—that conservative Christians are hating, bigoted people.

But what I learned as I got very close to the five families in my film was that these people didn't hate anybody. Rather, it was out of a place of love and concern that they urged their children to "leave the homosexual lifestyle." These folks had very simply been misled by their own leaders—their ministers, their priests. But when push came to shove and they needed to open up the Bible to read it for themselves, then transformation occurred and they realized that what it all comes down to is love.

In the News

SXSW Lays Off Staff After Festival Cancelled


SXSW Moves Ahead with Online Screenings and Awards


CPH: DOX 2020 Is Set To Roll Out in a Digital Version


Field of Vision Offers New Virtual Mentorship & Consultation Service for the Documentary Community



Fork Films Reveals Documentary Grant Recipients


Film Independent Selects Filmmakers for 2020 Documentary Lab


Chicken & Egg Pictures Announces 2020 Eggcelerator Lab Grantees


Firelight Media Launches William Greaves Fund for Mid-career Nonfiction Filmmakers of Color 


IDFA Joins Urgent Call for Freedom for Filmmaker Mohammad Rasoulof


TV Academy Rescinds George Stevens Jr.'s Emmy Awards