November 17, 2017

Essential Doc Reads: Week of November 13

Agnes Varda.

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!

At IndieWire, Jenna Marotta reports from a morning-after brunch celebrating Agnès Varda's honorary Oscar.

The morning after receiving her honorary Oscar at the Governors' Ball, visions of dancing with Angelina Jolie still danced in Agnès Varda's head. "Can you believe they were surrounding me, protecting me?" she said, holding court on the brick Beverly Hills patio at the French Consul's residence in Beverly Hills, wreathed by French journalists. Among those who came to see her receive the award were National Centre for Cinema and the Moving Image president Frédérique Bredin, Unifrance president Serge Toubiana, and Cannes Film Festival director Thierry Frémaux.

This year's Hollywood Reporter documentary roundtable focuses on ethical dilemmas and social impact.

As the mainstream media shuts down foreign bureaus and cuts back on investigative journalism, "documentary film is filling that void," says Matthew Heineman, 34, as he and his fellow documentarians gathered at THR's Documentary Roundtable. Heineman's own film, City of Ghosts, focuses on the citizen journalists who risked their lives to get word out from Raqqa, Syria. His fellow filmmakers are no less engaged with real-world issues: Cries From Syria, from Evgeny Afineevsky, 45, recounts the country's searing civil war; The Final Year, by Greg Barker, 54, offers an inside look at the Obama State Department; The Force, directed by Peter Nicks, 49, chronicles problems within the Oakland Police Department; and Step, from Amanda Lipitz, 37, tells how being part of a girls' step dance team instilled confidence in a group of Baltimore high school seniors. In Strong Island, Yance Ford, 45, throws a light on the justice system by revisiting the murder of his own brother; while Jane, by Brett Morgen, 49, recounts how primatologist Jane Goodall found her calling and became a lifelong advocate for African wildlife.

At The Guardian, Jake Nevins talks to stand-up comic Hari Kondabolu about his new doc The Problem With Apu.

The 35-year-old comic, whose standup comedy album Mainstream American Comic debuted at No 1 on the iTunes US charts, had been entertaining the idea of making a film about Apu for several years, ever since he delivered a scathing monologue about him on W Kamau Bell's talkshow Totally Biased. Like so many Americans, Kondabolu is a big fan of The Simpsons; when he first took note of the show in the early 1990s, at which point south Asian representation in pop culture amounted to very little, he was thrilled to see himself on screen. "I didn't even know that the guy from Short Circuit was not Indian until I was in my 20s," he says. "At the time, I was just excited that a brown guy existed."

At The Ringer, Adam Nayman considers the line between real and fake in a special feature-length episode of Nathan For You.

If "Finding Frances," the finale of Nathan for You's fourth season, which first aired on Thursday, winds up being the show's last episode, that’d be fitting, because what else could Nathan Fielder possibly do? The episode was a hair-raising 90-minute adventure, but also an amazing example of a program tweaking its format on the fly, mutating from expert reality-show pastiche to detective-story psychodrama. It was funny, but it was also the sort of bizarre, stranger-than-fiction character study you'd expect from Errol Morris.

At Realscreen, the team behind Bunim/Murray Productions looks back at 30 years of reality television.

"That really was the show that allowed us to build our company," Murray, currently serving as executive consultant for BMP after stepping down as chair in 2015, tells Realscreen. "Part of the appeal of The Real World is that it demanded that we cast previously marginalized people – people who primetime television had ignored, whether they were part of the LGBT community, of lower socioeconomic levels, or people of color. I've always been interested in [the marginalized] and, selfishly, I think there were a whole bunch of stories that were available for the taking because television had been mostly the domain of white middle to upper class characters."

From the archives, Summer 2017, "Harrowing Human Tales: Matthew Heineman's 'City of Ghosts' Is a Devastating and Necessary Documentary"

"Much of City of Ghosts takes place as members of the group were on the run escaping Syria and ultimately landing in Europe. Because of this, and the nature of their work, much of the drama takes place in safe houses and behind computers and cell phones. It was challenging to make these situations – which could be quite static – dynamic. Over the months that we were filming, I tried to find these dynamic moments that would, ultimately, make the film more cinematic."

In the News:

Sundance Institute Announces Art of Nonfiction Grantees
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Doc NYC Announces Awards
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UCLA To Open Free Law Clinic To Help Documentary Filmmakers
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Oscars Say New Errol Morris Film Is Not a Documentary
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