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Essential Doc Reads: Week of Nov. 2

By KJ Relth

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! 


From Foreign Policy, filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer recently talked with writer and analyst David Rieff about whether society is desensitized to the realities of genocide and why it's important to examine its perpetrators:

Most nonfiction films dealing with human rights abuse tend to tell us that things are well in hand because we’re following an activist or an investigator or a judicial process that promises some sort of resolution even if, when the film ends, things are still a mess. The sense of things getting better when we leave allows the viewer to more easily let go of the experience and to feel like it is being dealt with by somebody, somehow. It also serves the viewer to feel that, by having this explained to us as a phenomenon that’s at least at arm’s length from us, it’s something that we can understand from above. The task of cinema in intervening in and exploring these issues is to actually immerse us in these problems, in these phenomena, so that we actually feel something about what is it like as a survivor or, in the case of The Look of Silence, to have to live surrounded by the still-powerful perpetrators and to live in fear for half a century. Most human rights documentaries also replicate that most basic form of narrative escapism, dividing the world into good guys and bad guys. That is reassuring because we inevitably identify with the good guys. But it’s problematic because it makes it difficult to understand — not in the sense to excuse, but to understand how human beings do these sorts of things to each other and the consequences for how we continue to live in the aftermath of atrocity. If we don’t accept the uncomfortable proposition that every perpetrator of virtually every act of evil in our history has been a human being like us, then we actually foreclose the possibility of understanding how we do this to one another and therefore make it impossible to figure out how we might prevent these things.


From Pixel Magazine, two filmmakers are using virtual reality cameras to document scientists’ efforts to clone the endangered Northern White Rhino:

It seemed like a SciFi story, so we decided to use the most SciFi storytelling tech we could think of, and that was VR. I don’t know if you’ve put on a headset and watched any of the 360° footage we put up on our Kickstarter campaign page, but it feels very futuristic in there. The wide lenses from the GoPros help get that effect as well. [...] We’re interested in the intersection of form and content. They’re part of the same thing. Obviously, the research came before everything else, but we decided that live-action VR was right for this story early on in the process. There’s something about how VR puts you right in the middle of these environments, but you’re not able to touch, you don’t have a body. The process puts you in a dreamlike state and you absorb information in an almost subliminal way.


From the New York Times, a conversation with Frederick Wiseman as he and journalist Kirk Semple walk through Jackson Heights, the subject of his new film:

As he walked, his remarks were spare. He noted that new planters had been installed at the entrance of a building since his last visit. He spotted a new building that had been constructed at a site of one that had been destroyed by a serious fire. He pointed out a tattoo parlor and a dance studio where he had filmed. "There’s great material in all these places," he said, gesturing at the small businesses lining the avenue. "You can play blind man’s bluff. There’s great material in all these stores." But he mostly walked in silence, his heavy-lidded eyes taking in the streetscape. He seemed perfectly content to let the conversation ebb and, as in his films, to allow the ambient sounds of the streets fill the void. The medley of languages. The deafening metallic screeches of the No. 7 subway on the elevated tracks. The vendors’ cries. The traffic and its riot of horns. "There is so much music on the street, it was terrific for the film — I could use it to link the cutaways," he commented while walking through a sonic wall of salsa music blasting from a shop doorway.


Mark Litwak of Indiewire on how the new crowdfunding rules will change indie film financing:

Essentially the new rules will allow companies like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to offer those who contribute funds to receive more than posters, T-shirts and the other swag they now get in return for a donation. For the first time, promoters will also be able to offer a share of the profits in a project. Previously, internet platforms were limited to donations, unless they complied with complex and costly SEC regulations governing investments. Under the new rules, however, if an indie film is a hit, the backers can share in its profits. This will likely encourage small investors who want to participate in film or other startup businesses, but can only afford to make a modest contribution.


From the archives, September 1996 -- Talking Heads: An Interview with Frederick Wiseman

"I don't necessarily think of acts in a theatrical sense, but I think in terms of the relationships of groups of sequences to each other, and I think about the beginning and end of the film. I'm very conscious of the fact, as anyone has to be who works with this kind of material, of trying to create a dramatic structure, whatever I may mean by a dramatic structure. The way the editing goes is that I start off editing whatever sequences interest me, just as a way of getting into the material, knowing that once I get started, I'm going to be sitting in the chair for the next 12 months. After about six or seven months, I've probably edited all of those sequences that might make it into the film, and during the editing of the individual sequences, I'm thinking about their relationship to each other, and making notes about what the connection is between one sequence and another."


In the news:

Steve Gebhardt, Who Made Films With Rock Stars, Dies at 78
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UK documentary makers found guilty in Indonesian court
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Lawsuit Claims Producer Mark Gordon Stole Idea For Quantico
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Fandor Partners With Kartemquin to Release Rare and Underexposed Early Works
watch now