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Essential Doc Reads: Week of October 14

By Tom White

From Michael Moore's 2002 documentary 'Bowling for Columbine.' Courtesy of MGM

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!

Writing for Salon, Sophia A. McLennan argues why Michael Moore’s 2002 documentary Bowling for Columbine matters more today 17 years--and hundreds of mass shootings--later.

But now, 17 years later, the film has another message. Watching the film today it becomes abundantly clear that our problem isn't gun culture; the problem is that we have failed to do anything about it. Every message and every argument about the problems of US gun culture appear in the film. They are all there.

The news of OTT aggregator Distribber's financial woes has the documentary community in a state of unease. Distribution guru Peter Broderick has some sage counsel for steps you need to take to salvage some revenue.

Distribber is in dire financial straits. It has not paid many filmmakers for many months the money it owes them from the revenues received from platforms. Some other filmmakers have paid Distribber to place their films on platforms but Distribber has not done so.

With the launch of Apple TV a mere weeks away, Lesley Goldberg and Natalie Jarvey of The Hollywood Reporter track what they deem a "long, bumpy road to Hollywood."

Unlike Netflix or Hulu, TV+ — which is bundled within the larger TV app that offers movie rentals and access to third-party subscriptions like HBO — won't come with a library. That means TV+ will live or die on the strength of its originals. Less than a month from launch, multiple people say that behind the scenes, the strategy around arranging critic and tastemaker screenings has been chaotic. "It's TV, not a product rollout, but that's how they're treating it," says one publicist with experience working with Apple.

CNBC's Alex Sherman reports that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, in his quarterly letter to shareholders, welcomes the upcoming competition in the OTT space.

In other words, there's no point in fearing Disney+ or HBO Max or Peacock as competitors, Netflix said. Rather, streaming services should be seen as an eventual replacement for traditional pay-TV, and consumers will watch them all in ever-growing numbers. Just as cable networks took share from the major broadcast networks, streaming services will take share from cable.

Kirsten McCuddin of the Columbia Journalism Review reports on the growing occurences of Customs and Border Protection officers harassing journalists at airports.

The US Press Freedom Tracker, a nonpartisan research tool that collects data on the obstruction of journalists' rights, has tallied such incidents since its launch in 2017. It has reported hundreds of cases of journalists targeted with arrests, subpoenas, and physical assaults. Dozens of cases, like Watson’s, involve journalists at the border who are aggressively questioned, harassed, or pulled aside for secondary screening while they go through what should be the mundane process of customs and passport control. Sometimes, journalists’ devices—phones, computers, cameras—are searched during these screenings.

The latest edition of Senses of Cinema is taking stock of the trends and ideas of the decade. Kenta McGrath assesses the plethora of docs and fiction work about the March 2011 tsumani that devastated Japan.

Meanwhile, documentary filmmakers packed their bags and traveled in the opposite direction, flocking to affected areas to investigate, memorialize and ruminate on the disaster. They revealed its immense scope and honed in on smaller stories within it:

Filmmaker's Scott Macauley talks to South African Yaara Sumeruk about her short If We Say That We Are Friends, about conversations about race that are taking place over dinner in the Cape Town South African township Khayelitsha.

I wanted to make a film about Dine With Khayelitsha because it does something really necessary around the conversations around race: It doesn’t just highlight the lack of understanding we have of one another, it also exemplifies the problems that people of color experience when talking to white people around race; the burden of the obligation to generate understanding in the first place, and the burden of the emotional labor when talking about inequality, like tending to white fragility.

The Center for Media and Social Impact at American University hosted its Story Movements convening last March; CMSI just published a report on the convening.

Story Movements, which had its inaugural convening in 2016, was created as a way to dig deeper into new and evolving practices that help illuminate the ways in which storytelling connects with social change, while also embracing the progression of the participatory digital era and its myriad of lessons. 

From the Archive, November 2002 Issue, "Michael Moore Guns for the Real Issues in Bowling for Columbine"

While some would back away from using humor to deal with serious subjects such as gun violence, he unashamedly embraces it. "I think it's the most effective weapon there is to go up against different things that you see are wrong in the world. Our greatest comedians and greatest film people who have used comedy have been very angry people who have wanted to make commentary on the social condition."

In the News


Competition Winners Announced at BFI London Film Festival


Biggest Little Farm and Apollo 11 Top Critics' Choice Documentary Awards Nominations


Transkids, Breaking the Taboo Take Diversity TV Excellence Awards


Rory Kennedy, Gregory Nava Celebrate Films Creating Social Change at Student Academy Awards


Flannery O’Connor Documentary Wins New Award from Library of Congress


AFI Fest Announces World Cinema and Documentary Sections


Quibi Inks Deal with T-Mobile


Tubi Expands into UK