May 12, 2019

Essential Doc Reads: Week of May 6

From Rachel Mason's "Circus of Books," which was acquired by Netflix during the Tribeca Film Festival. Courtesy of Tribeca 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!

IndieWire’s Anthony Kaufman critiques the economic disparity in the documentary industry.

With more commercial entities intent on making and releasing nonfiction, it’s an exciting time. But similar to Hollywood’s cooption of indie film in the 2000s, much of that energy is going towards predictable places—celebrity-focused films, true-crime, pop culture scandals, docu-thrillers, and light entertainment—leaving everything else in the lurch, or at least, more restrained financing and distribution prospects.

Vincent Stehle of Media Impact Funders discusses the growth and urgency of media philanthropy.

Media philanthropy is a growing force on the global stage, with foundation support increasing significantly in recent years, more than doubling from $915 million in 2009 to $1.9 billion in 2015, the last year for which complete figures were available. Altogether, media grants amounted to about $9.9 billion in that span, according to a new report from Media Impact Funders—Global Media Philanthropy: What Funders Need to Know About Data, Trends and Pressing Issues Facing the Field.

Writing for The New York Times, Bilge Ebiri ponders if, given the plethora  of drone shots in recent documentaries, if we are experiencing a "dronecopalypse.”

Aerial imagery, Jeremy Workman added, once prohibitively expensive for the average documentarian, has gone from being a rare luxury to something of a stylistic crutch, there to give even the lowest-budget film visual pizazz and instant gravitas.

Emily Buder of No Film School talks to filmmakers Tamara Kotevska and Ljubomir Stefanov about their award-winning Honeyland.

The big masters of cinematography are always citing the paintings of Dutch artists from the 18th century as an inspiration for how to use natural light. I think that with natural light, you can provide the most extraordinary results. You can easily create a strong sense of mood with window light, even if the contrast is in the shot. And you can create a beautiful contrast when your subject is close to the window. You can create a nice even key in this situation.

Film Comment’s Eric Hynes discusses three recent docs that expertly plumb the complexities of character, persona and identity.

Seeing, actually seeing another person, turns out to be immensely difficult. It’s not just a matter of optics, but also of culture, and history, and fear, and other factors that tend to warp perception. Women, in particular and especially, still rarely are seen without filters of bias, stereotyping, assumptions, fantasy, fear, willful subjugation. As both humans and viewers, moviegoers are left needing to unsee what’s not there, even just to start. In several particularly mindful recent works of nonfiction shown at this year’s CPH:DOX festival in Copenhagen, filmmakers sought to see and represent individual women with clarity and honesty—in certain respects radically so.

It’s been 25 years since Hoop Dreams rocked the doc world, and CNN’s Motez Bishar talks to filmmaker Steve James and the film's protagonists, William Gates and Arthur Agee, about how the film has impacted their lives.

"I've actually gotten way more mileage personally as a filmmaker out of not being nominated than I ever would have by getting nominated," says James, who stays in contact with Agee and Gates. "Over the years a lot more people seem to be upset on our behalf than I was personally."

One of the films in former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama’s slate of documentaries destined for Netflix via their production company Higher Ground Productions is Crip Camp, the IDA Pare Lorentz Doc Fund grantee from Nicole Newnham and Jim Lebrecht. Writing for Forbes, Sarah Kim discusses the importance of including this film in the slate.

The inclusion of this film in the Obamas’ production lineup is a massive step in the right direction. There is a long history of people with disabilities being misrepresented, defamed and underrepresented in the mainstream media. Crip Camp has an excellent potential of recalibrating the disability narrative in the direction that is long overdue and needed.

From the archive, Winter 2018 issue: “A Place at the Table: Doc Filmmakers with Disabilities on Building Careers and Disproving Stereotypes”

Over the years, we've seen the emergence of filmmakers from underrepresented communities, which has brought nuance and authenticity to documentary films. However, one community is still far behind. I'm talking about my community: the disabled community.

In the News

Sheila Nevins Sets Next Act: Launching MTV Documentary Films


Obamas Unveil Netflix Slate


Hot Docs 2019 Award Winners Announced


Tribeca Film Festival 2019 Jury Awards Winners


EarthX Announces Filmmaker Awards


New Zealand's Doc Edge Fest to Honor Heddy Honigmann


Diego Maradona Highlights Sheffield Doc/Fest


AFI Docs 2019 Announces Opening and Closing Night Centerpiece and Special Screenings


Christiane Amanpour to receive International Emmy Directorate Award


Black Public Media Awards Jacquie Jones Memorial Scholarships


Amy Dotson Announced as New Northwest Film Center Director and Portland Art Museum Curator of Film and New Media