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Essential Doc Reads: Week of Nov. 16

By KJ Relth

Police walk past a closed cinema as they patrol on the landmark Avenue des Champs-Elysees on the day after the attacks in Paris. Many theaters re-opened on Sunday to provide a diversion to Parisians. Courtesy of KPCC.

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! 


KPCC's The Frame spoke with Nancy Tartaglione of about the role that Parisian cinemas could play in the collective healing process:

Within France, the movie theaters were closed beginning Saturday, and that was actually meant to last for two days, but some of the major exhibitors started opening again on Sunday morning. As I've written, cinema-going is one of the unassailable rights that I believe that we have as Parisians. I've lived in Paris for 17 years, and whilst all of the public venues, gatherings, protests, town halls, gyms, pools [were] closed, the cinemas ended up opening. Whether people are frightened or not to go back, which is entirely understandable, it was a lovely thing that happened. [...Cinema] is the seventh art, it's absolutely celebrated, and France is the birthplace of all cinema. It was born in Lyon with the Lumière brothers, and cinema is exceedingly important. In the context of what's happening right now, it's a little tough to judge that. But just talking about cinema? It's a fantastically important part of who we are.


The MIT Open Documentary Lab released a new report that maps the intersection of interactive documentary and digital journalism:

A relative newcomer, documentary harkens back in a narrow sense to a particular medium (film) at a particular moment (the 1920s). Narrative in structure, embodying an authorial point of view, embracing a visual aesthetic sensibility, relying on the logic of the box office, and a conversation starter seen by groups of people in cinemas and living rooms, documentary is historically associated with characteristics that put significant emphasis on ritual. Generally lacking sustained institutional support (or, seen more positively, free from constraint), documentaries can afford to take the form of eclectic one-offs, to use experimental techniques, and to address evergreen topics far from the breaking news. These traditions, complemented by documentary’s much deeper history of working across media borders, have led to today’s considerable innovation in both interactive and participatory documentary forms. They have yielded new ways of telling stories, enabled a collaborative relationship with their users, and explored the immersive potential of digital technologies. Gerry Flahive, producer of the National Film Board of Canada’s Highrise series, put it well when he said, "If the growth of interactive documentary does anything, I think it will open our eyes to the hundreds of possibilities of telling stories in original ways, and re-defining what a story is, what an audience is, and what a maker is."


From the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA), Ryan Harrington talks about Discovery's new doc plans:

"Obviously there’s a lot of competition now that didn’t exist a few years ago, so I think it’s a great time to be a buyer, as there’s no lack of great work being made," he offers. "Being part of a team that’s developing a brand within a much larger brand for documentary film is very exciting, as these kinds of opportunities don’t come around a lot." As for what Harrington will be looking for when he hits IDFA and other conferences and festivals over the course of 2016, including the upcoming Realscreen Summit, he says he’ll be in the market to acquire between six to 10 docs for 2016-2017, but that number can potentially expand depending on what’s on offer. "We’re examining the landscape every day, so if the right project comes along, that rule can be broken because we’re very flexible and nimble in terms of how we approach the work," he says. "I want us to be dedicated to finding the best projects out there that fit the Discovery brand, and if the right projects come along, we’re comfortable enough to explore increasing the amount of films that we’re able to invest in."


Over at WIRED, an interview with Fred Armisen takes the parody that began in Documentary Now! and turns it up to 11:

Everyone has their own memory of the first time they heard the iconic yacht-rock band Blue Jean Committee. "I remember, as a young journalist, seeing [them live] and going 'holy shit,'" says Cameron Crowe. "'Hold onto this moment; this is magic.'" As Daryl Hall of Hall & Oates puts it, "A band like Blue Jean Committee? That only comes once in a lifetime." The name BJC not ringing any bells? Then maybe it’s time for you to hear Fred Armisen’s poetic lyrics of Bill Hader’s sweet falsetto for the very first time. That's right: The comedic genuises behind the IFC series Documentary Now! have taken their parody "Gentle & Soft: The Story of Blue Jean Committee," which acted as the season finale, and turned the parody up to 11. Today, their personae—blue-collar Chicago sausage loyalist Gene Allen (Armisen) and enterprising, aging rock star Clark Honus (Hader)—are releasing Catalina Breeze, a seven-song EP they call the "quintessential California record."


From the archives, Fall 2013 -- Labs at MIT and Harvard Move the Form Forward:

The key is to play with narrative storytelling. But since this is all new, there are questions about how to move forward, and this is the focus of the Open Documentary Lab. Housed in the Comparative Media Studies Department, the Lab puts a framework around new media: How do you grapple with technological innovation? What are the ethical questions involved in new media? How do people learn how to use it? Both academic and experimental, the Comparative Media Studies Department offers bachelor's and master's degrees, with sights set on a PhD track in the future. There is also the hands-on lab, where students can take what they've learned in classes and experiment with real-world applications.


In the news:

Betsy Steinberg Appointed Executive Director of Kartemquin Films
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DOC NYC: Alpert, Nevins on “Castro,” archive chat heats up
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'Lockup' VR experience goes live
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Showtime Taps CNN Films’ Vinnie Malhotra for New Role
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