May 17, 2020

Essential Doc Reads: Week of May 11

Director/DP Nadia Hallgren filming Michelle Obama for Hallgren's documentary 'Becoming." Courtesy of Netflix

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!

The New York Times’ Brandon Yu interviews actor Daniel Dae Kim, one of the narrators of the PBS series Asian Americans, about how the program resonates during the pandemic.

We don't want to be speaking just to ourselves. What's really important is to have this history brought out to the general population so that people who have no idea of what our contributions might be or have been finally understand that they are significant and they are real. I would hope that it's a celebration of what it means to be American. If we can redefine that word to be inclusive of every group that contributes to this country, then the documentary will have done a real service.

The Los Angeles Times' Amy Kaufman talks to director Nadia Hallgren about the making of Becoming, which follows Michelle Obama on her tour to promote her bestselling book of the same name.

"I had to tell myself, 'You cannot be scared. Get that courage,'" Hallgren said. "Because when you're making a film like this, every moment is valuable. I'm not the type of filmmaker who is like, 'I'm gonna hang out for two weeks with no camera.' If I'm there, I'm filming."

Matt Wolf, writing for Filmmaker, discusses his stay-at-home tour to promote his film Spaceship Earth.

Now that I've gotten the swing of things, I'm content to do events every night. It'll be an interesting experiment to see which ones are well attended, and how many people actually watch the content afterwards. But I love talking about my films with audiences and finding interesting moderators or co-panelists to keep mixing up the conversation. This may be the new normal, but it’ll never replace being in the theater, and talking to people outside after the screening. Until then, I’ll be "on the road" via Zoom. 

Thom Powers, artistic director of DOC NYC and documentary programmer with Toronto International Film Festival, shares in IndieWire his reasons to be optimistic about an online festival circuit.

The coming months will mean negotiating points of collaboration and compromise. Let's remember that everyone is under extra pressure and, for some, extraordinary pressure. We are having this discussion because film festivals have greatly enriched our lives. They bring us inspiration and connection. I feel very optimistic for their future.

Also in IndieWire, Tanbay Obenson reports on how COVID-19 is impacting filmmaking communities of color.

"One thing that I've seen happen is that funding organizations are reallocating resources to fit the needs of the filmmaking community," Byron Hurt said. "But most organizations have limited funding. So, if they're funding artists to help them survive, or they're suddenly shifting their funding to support films that directly address COVID-19-related issues, then that's going to have an impact on filmmakers whose subjects are not really aligned with that. This is one of the ways that it impacts filmmakers like me."

SFFILM reports in Medium on Year One of Its Disability Advisory Board.

For far too long the film industry has functioned in a status quo of inaccessibility, with SFFILM being very much a part of this troubling norm until recently. Our experience over the last year, taking up the charge of becoming a more accessible film institution, has taught us many important lessons that we are excited to share in hopes that we can inspire action and create a more inclusive film community both locally and nationally.

And the National Endowment for the Arts has shared on its website resources to help ensure accessibility of your virtual events for people with disabilities.

Since the start of the current COVID-19 crisis, artists and arts and culture organizations have been proactive in reaching out to their audiences and communities through webinars, livestreamed performances, virtual classes, and virtual visual art collections and museum tours. Cultural organizations should remember to ensure that these invaluable resources are fully accessible to people with disabilities, including those with vision, hearing, and learning disabilities.

Sundance Institute’s executive director, Keri Putman, shares some examples in the community of what artists are creating and contributing and how they're connecting with each other.

Over the last few weeks, we at Sundance have found ourselves passing around stories of artists who are finding new ways to provide hope and joy, bring people together, and lift up their communities. These stories have been a bright spot, and helped guide us as we navigate a tumultuous time. So we come to you today not with program updates or announcements but to hopefully pass along a little inspiration.

The New York Times' Catie Edmondson and Edward Wong report on the controversy surrounding the confirmation of documentary filmmaker Michael Pack to lead Voice of America.

"My question is: Does he understand what the mission of Voice of America is, which is truthful journalism?" David B. Ensor, a recent director of V.O.A. who is now at George Washington University, said of Mr. Pack. "There are some people on the right who think a propaganda channel would be more effective. They are wrong. I hope he's not one of them."

The online documentary Plandemic has been stirring up a lot of viral vitriol since its May 4th debut, for its widely debunked conspiracy theories and its overreliance on a former molecular biologist with a shaky reputation in the science community. The Los Angeles Times’ Josh Rottenberg and Stacy Perman caught up with the filmmaker, Mikki Willis, for a conversation about the notoriety the film has received.

We're working very hard right now to validate the majority of the claims that were made," he said. "Instead of just defending all of the haters that are out there, I think it's just better to reach back out with some valid information.... Because of the delicacy and importance of the situation, I really wanted to talk with doctors on all sides first—not just the doctors that Judy recommends, but I'm going to seek out the ones who disagree and get them on the phone and find out why."

From the Archive, Winter 2018 Issue, "A Place at the Table: Documentary Filmmakers with Disabilities on Building Careers and Disproving Stereotypes"

The biggest barriers we face are the attitudes of others. If you haven't seen someone who uses a wheelchair directing, editing or acting, it's harder to imagine that it's possible. The stereotypes that we need to disprove include the belief that we can't do the job or that we don't have the stamina.


In the News

Hot Docs Announces Competition Winners


Children of the Mist, Ojiibikaan Take Hot Docs Forum Prizes


SXSW Virtual Cinema Competition To Stream on Oculus TV


Human Rights Watch Festival New York Finalizes Digital Lineup


Banff 2020 Goes Virtual with Four-Month Content and Events Program


Oscars Doc Branch Revamps Eligibility Requirements


Sundance Institute Announces 2020 New Frontier Story Lab Fellows


National Film Board of Canada Greenlights 16 Projects for Production