May 24, 2019

Essential Doc Reads: Week of May 20

From David Modigliani's "Running with Beto." Photo: Charlie Gross

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!

Whitney Friedlander of Paste explores the power of political documentary, spotlighting Rachel Lears’ Knock Down the House and David Modigliani’s Running with Beto.

“But, it was really the type of campaign [for U.S. Senate] that he was going to run: that he was going to go to every county in Texas, that he was only going to raise money from human beings and not corporations, that he wasn’t hiring consultants,” that made him an interesting subject, says Modigliani. “He was a risk taker; he was in the face of 25 years of progressives in Texas doing the same thing and not getting results. He was willing to try something new. And he was going to do that in a way that felt like an odyssey because he was going to be traveling all over the state.”

The New York Times Editorial Board assesses the ramifications of the indictment of Julian Assange under the Espionage Act.

Invoking the Espionage Act in this case threatens to blur the distinction between a journalist exposing government malfeasance — something that news organizations do with regularity — and foreign spies seeking to undermine the nation’s security.

Sarah Larson of The New Yorker discusses the National Geographic series Hostile Planet.

National Geographic in 2019 is an odd blend of Hollywood, bombast, and the kind of tender observation and educational precision that distinguished the yellow-framed magazines we grew up with. In the case of Hostile Planet, dramatic music, exciting footage, and Grylls’s two-fisted narrative style is, I assume, meant to lure people in who might not otherwise care to watch a sea turtle slowly emerge from the sand.

Writing for The New York Times, Slawomir Sierakowska writes about the sensation that Tomasz Sekielski’s documentary Tell No One, about the longtime scourge of pedophilia among priests in Poland, is causing in all strata of the heavily Catholic nation.

Naturally, Law and Justice has pushed back hard against Mr. Sekielski’s documentary. One member of Parliament, Zbigniew Gryglas, compared it to Mein Kampf. Deputy Speaker Ryszard Terlecki asserted that it was part of a conspiracy to influence the upcoming elections (though he also boasted that he has not seen the film). Church leaders called it “nonsense” and “old fairy tales.”

Hyperallergic’s Jordan Ogihara critiques the commercials that Errol Morris directed for the failed healthcare startup Theranos, subject of Alex Gibney’s The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley.

Morris’s long-held fascination with transparency extends to his aesthetic proclivities. His interview style famously features his subjects looking directly into the camera as they speak. In his own words, this creates “the true first person,” direct communication with the viewer. His commercials for Theranos are no exception, but in this case, the opposite effect is achieved.

From the Archive, Fall 2016: “Perfect and Otherwise: Documenting American Politics - A Conversation with R.J. Cutler”

In the age of Donald Drumpf and the Cable News Media–Industrial Complex, one could wisely point out that subjects are too self-aware around anything with an on-off switch; political candidates and those who run their campaigns are too protected and insulated; everyone is media-trained and suspicious of someone with a camera; and no one would possibly allow a filmmaker the kind of insider access required to make a vérité film along the lines of Primary or Crisis.

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