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Essential Doc Reads: Week of Nov. 30

By KJ Relth

The cast of the inaugural season of MTV’s “The Real World”: Eric, Norman, Kevin, Andre, Becky, Heather B., Julie, and the dog Gouda.

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 CNN, filmmaker Roger Ross Williams on the making of his doc Blackface, about a troubling holiday tradition in The Netherlands, his adopted country:

When I decided to make Blackface, a short film about Black Pete [a character in black face who gives candy to children during Sinterklaas, the most popular Dutch holiday], I had little knowledge of the giant cesspool of hate I was about to dive into. I didn't realize how popular and passionate many white Dutch are about a figure that they connect to fond memories from their childhood. They call it their culture, their tradition, and most are not willing to let it go. They feel passionate about it. They ignore that Black Pete is a common Western stereotype of people of African descent, just like Little Black Sambo and Al Jolson in the United States or Tintin in the Congo and in France. Those figures were used to reinforce European white supremacy fresh off the heels of slavery. This is Black Pete's legacy, and it cannot be divorced from history or from contemporary racism and xenophobia that persist in the Netherlands today.


From The New Yorker, an piece about 30 years of The Real World:

Jon Dovey writes about how reality-TV programming affects the way we understand the very concepts of truth and authenticity. With the rise and dominance of reality television over the last twenty-five years comes the concomitant belief that humanity is knowable via the investigative camera, the first-person essay, and the webcam confessional. Dovey writes, "Statements about the world no longer have any purchase unless they are embodied, relative and particular rather than totalizing, general and unified." Indeed, MTV traffics in the self—it rolls out a seemingly endless list of personal stories, unique identities, which are, nonetheless, ultimately generic and universalized.


Take a look inside Criterion's restoration of D.A. Pennebaker's Don't Look Back:

Some 50 years after its creation, Pennebaker's fly-on-the-wall time capsule still seems remarkably fresh—and courtesy of Criterion's recent bells-and-whistles release of the movie, Don't Look Back now sounds, per Pennebaker himself, "better than when I initially recorded and shot it." A labor of love for producer Kim Hendrickson (who'd been involved with the movie's inaugural DVD release at another company back in 1999), the new edition includes a previous commentary track with the filmmaker and tour manager/Dylan partner-in-crime Bob Neuwirth, and 65 Revisited, Pennebaker's odds-ends-and-outtakes movie that was part of a 2006 box set. But it also features a smattering of key early works from the direct-cinema pioneer, including the aforementioned jazz-musician short Lambert & Co. (1964); new testimonials with Patti Smith and writer Greil Marcus; and Snapshots From the Tour, a collection of Back sequences left on the cutting-room floor.


Over at Indiewire, industry experts weigh in on what helps and what hurts your documentary pitch:

"I really think that pitching is a change in philosophy, everyone should pitch with power," explained Sandy DuBowski [of Good Pitch]. "We’re not filmmakers with begging bowls, going to the gatekeepers and hoping that they will open the gates so that we can come in. I really feel that we are partnering. I never had a distributor, I had a partner in distribution, which was New Yorker Films. So I really feel like we are adding incredible value/story. We are the reasons the people on those pitch tables have jobs. Be strong in your artistry and your story and realize that we walk proudly into our pitches."


From the archives, March / April 2007 -- Do New Academy Qualifying Rules for Documentary Help or Hurt?:

For many documentary makers, the prospect of taking one's documentary to triple the number of cities since 2002 is a daunting one. Patricia Foulkrod, whose film The Ground Truth was short-listed for Academy Award consideration, had the benefit of having Focus Features as a distributor. But even a mini-major like Focus might balk at the prospect of jumping to 14 cities. "That's double the number of cities--of ads in newspapers, of manpower," she notes. "If you're a major company that's going to make a decision to put a documentary in 14 cities, you're going to do it the way they do everything. I don't know if the question is, Can a major studio meet the requirements? I think the bigger questions are: What is the commitment of major companies to documentaries? How can we make that a commitment that's a win-win?"


In the news:

2015 Gotham Award Winners
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15 Documentary Features Advance in 2015 Oscar® Race
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Sundance Institute Announces Films in Competition and Next for 2016 Sundance Film Festival
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Four AFI Documentaries to Receive Grants from NBCUniversal
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Mark Ruffalo to Produce Documentary Challenging Obama on Climate Change
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