November 10, 2017

Essential Doc Reads: Week of November 6

From Bill Morrison's 'Dawson City: Frozen Time.'

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, film scholar Kristin Thompson offers an extended commentary on Bill Morrison's archival doc Dawson City: Frozen Time.

The subtitle "Frozen Time" is a bit misleading. The reels of nitrate sealed away in the permafrost were no doubt frozen, and the temporal fictional and newsreel images they contained were lost for decades. Morrison, however, weaves information about a variety of other subjects together in a way that makes the passage of time palpable for us. We see its effects on people and places and discover the odd, fortuitous connections among them in a dizzying fashion.

At IndieWire, Thom Powers' introductory speech at Doc NYC calls out sexism and pays tribute to the women who make the documentary community.

"Unquestionably women bear a greater brunt – to put it mildly – that carries over into casual everyday sexism. Just as the most liberal white person will never fully understand what it means to be black, Hispanic, Asian, Arab or another minority, I recognize that no man will fully appreciate the small and large obstacles that women regularly face. But we can try to understand – a lot harder. I will resist getting too self-congratulatory about our documentary field. But it's undeniable that this is a space that’s benefited from the extraordinary achievements of women."

At Film Comment, a new Eric Hynes column laments the popularity of "famous people" docs, and articulates the features of an essential celebrity documentary.

Without question there's interest in these films—distributors and broadcasters have affirmed this, and festival audiences get the added value of having a famous subject in their midst for a post-screening Instagram and ovation session. But might these films have edged out creative and innovative works that could have benefited from these platforms beyond the red-carpet PR boost? And might their samey-seeming density distract from the actual cream of this year’s celebrity-centric crop—obscuring the select films that challenged the expectations of the form without selling out their subjects?

At The New York Times, Canadian filmmakers get a view of North Korea through hockey.

Over the past year, five Canadian filmmakers have often been at the rink with the team, sometimes even on the ice. They are documenting the slap shots and the post-practice speeches, but are also trying to peel back the layers of a long-existing hockey subculture in one of the world’s most mysterious nations.

Also at The New York Times, Frank Bruni reflects on Joan Didion upon the arrival of a new Netflix doc about the writer.

Syntax and sensibility: Nobody wed them quite like Joan Didion, the author of that essay, "On Self-Respect," and many others. She’s the subject of a new documentary, Joan Didion: The Center Will Not Hold, which reveals that in the 1960s, when she worked at Vogue, the magazine’s editors committed to a reflection on self-respect before bothering to figure out who would fashion it. Only later did they settle on Didion, then in her 20s. She cooked it to order, and nonetheless came up with what is rightly considered one of her masterpieces.

From the archives, Spring 2013, "No Longer Just Wallpaper: Archival Footage Can Inform and Shape Your Film's Story"

"I look at footage as a main character," says Emmy and Peabody Award winner Stanley Nelson. For Nelson, the process of hunting down historical shots starts right at the beginning of pre-production. "I make a wish list on the first day," he says. "It can be totally pie-in-the-sky." There are plenty of images out there, but Nelson wants the footage that, "when used right, is beautiful. It allows viewers to fill in the stories for themselves."

In the News:

Vice Launches Broadly Films to Finance Female Filmmakers
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Comcast Asks FCC to Prohibit States From Enforcing Net Neutrality
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Dok Leipzig Announces Award Winners
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Groundspark Announces the Death of Debra Chasnoff
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SFFILM Announces New Documentary Fellowship in Partnership with Catapult Film Fund
read more