Skip to main content

Essential Doc Reads: Week of May 21

By Tom White

From Jennifer Brea's 'Unrest'

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! presents a case study on distribution strategies for Jennifer Brea's Unrest.

Like many issue-driven documentaries, the aim of Unrest's release isn't financially motivated; they are driven by the desire to generate awareness and shift public perception. Filmmakers often keep traditional sales and distribution separate from their impact campaigns because historically distribution is motivated by achieving a financial return, whereas an impact strategy is striving for different outcomes. The Unrest team is confident they can flip this script and use both of these avenues to mobilize audiences.

From The Guardian, Amy Nicholson looks at Göran Olsson’s That Summer, the de facto prequel to the classic Grey Gardens.

"The Beales really paved the way for YouTubers—I certainly know that they paved the way for the Kardashians," says Olsson. "Documentary has always been way ahead of the mainstream media or social phenomena."

From The New York Times, Jacob Bernstein assesses Kevin Macdonald’s new documentary on Whitney Houston.

How could someone so beautiful and so gifted have thrown herself away so completely? This is the question posed by Kevin Macdonald, an award-winning director whose other credits include a documentary about mountain climbing, "Touching the Void," and the feature film "The Last King of Scotland."

Jon Pareles, The New York Times’ music critic, discusses Phillip Cox's Betty Davis: They Say I’m Different, about the underappreciated, yet highly influential funk pioneer from the 1970s.

Mr. Cox said, via Skype from England, "Betty doesn’t want sympathy, and she's found her own space now. To me, that is just as interesting as that woman she was in the 1970s. It's the antithesis of the age we live in, where everybody wants to be on social media all the time.”

Creative Planet Network explores My Africa, the latest VR project from Conservation International.

My Africa is Conservation International's third virtual reality project, following Valen's Reef and Under the Canopy. The virtual reality approach, says CEO Dr. M. Sanjayan, is bringing the nature documentary into the 21st century and is aimed at reaching new audiences to grow broader support for conservation. "Virtual reality can give viewers that in-depth experience that is so needed to build empathy and, we hope, inspire action."

From the Archive—Winter 2017 Issue: "Independent Documentary Distribution in Turbulent Times"

Today, impact campaigns and the incorporation of paid speaking engagements into the outreach plan are often part of the release strategy from inception. Increasingly, filmmakers are thinking like startups, and are learning to deploy best practices from the startup world. They're creating extensive business plans, marketing plans and branding strategies, and utilizing analytics tools in their distribution and outreach plans. Distributors and aggregators are providing tools such as digital dashboards to enable these strategies.

In the News

A Massive List of Summer 2018 Grants All Filmmakers Should Know About


Obamas Enter Multi-Year Deal with Netflix


The Hollywood Reporter's Hilary Lewis Reports from the Peabody Awards


Guardian Documentary Wins Quinzaine Des Realisateurs Award at Cannes


AFI Docs Names Steve James as Guggenheim Honoree


Stan Walker Film Sweeps Awards at Doc Edge Film Festival


39th Annual Telly Awards Winners Announced


Nashville Film Festival Announces Award Winners


American Bar Association Announces Silver Gavel Award Winners for Media and the Arts


DOK Leipzig Sets Quota for Female Directors in German Competition


Michael Jackson Estate Slams ABC-TV Special on His Last Days