October 25, 2020

Essential Doc Reads: Week of October 19, 2020

The late trans activist Sylvia Rivera (as portrayed by Hailie Sahar) featured in the HBO Max docuseries 'Equal,' as well as the new Field of Vision short 'This Is my Home,' Courtesy of HBO Max

Essential Doc Reads is our curated selection of recent features and important news items about the documentary form and its processes, from around the internet, as well as from the Documentary magazine archive. We hope you enjoy!

Equal, a new docuseries about the history of the LGBTQ+ movement, premiered October 22 on HBO Max. The Los Angeles Times’ Laura Zornosa talks to some of the artists behind the making of the series.

In a lot of ways, what we’ve done is a primer: a very slick, beautiful, edgy, hip primer for all this history,” showrunner Stephen Kijak told The Times, “that we hope kicks open the door for people to discover more and to be inspired to do their own activism.”

Douglas Greenwood of i-D talks to filmmaker Sasha Wortzel about her new short that she made for Field of Vision, This Is an Address, an homage to the late trans activist Silvia Rivera and the city she called home—New York.

I’m concerned with the nuances of these entanglements. One cannot separate self from land, or from larger communities in which we are embedded, especially those of us who are made marginal by dominant socio-political structures. In my practice, I’m searching for a sonic, visual, and cinematic language to not only honor and give back to those who have been systematically erased from history, but one that can interrogate the very processes by which that erasure occurs.

Filmmaker Grace Lee, writing for Current, shares her Creative Futures essay that she wrote for the Ford Foundation, calling PBS to task for its overreliance on Ken Burns as “America’s storyteller.”

Burns is a reliable moneymaker for PBS, but that doesn’t mean others could not be. Risk aversion is a real concern within a system threatened by defunding every year, but this is the time to be bold. Sidebar “diversity development” programs are not enough. Ample talent exists to create urgent and necessary programming like Eyes on the Prize or Asian Americans on a yearly basis, not once every generation.

The New Yorker’s Jordan Coley writes about Melissa Haizlip’s IDA Award-winning Mr. Soul!, about her uncle Ellis Haizlip and the trailblazing television series he produced about Black culture, SOUL.

In making the film, Melissa Haizlip hoped to work in the spirit of her uncle’s pioneering television program. “It’s interesting to me to create a film as a way to convey the interiority of Blackness and what that means in terms of the social conditions that people find themselves in,” she said.

Writing for the Sundance Institute Blog, Manuel Betancourt interview’s filmmaker Loira Limbal about her documentary Through the Night, which is set in a 24-hour day care center in Westchester, NY.

I wanted to make legible these really intimate, everyday acts that are very specific to this world of mothering, that you don't think much of because they’re so banal. I wanted to lift that up and say, this is actually super subversive and radical. I think a lot about Saidiya Hartman's work, and she has a phrase where she talks about care as the antidote to violence.

Quibi, the much-hyped, mobile-only streaming service, shut down this week, less than six months after its much-hyped and well-financed debut. But problems abounded from the git-go—not the least of which, launching in a pandemic, but also a marketing, positioning and branding that failed to connect with potential subscribers contributed to the fall. Indiewire’s Tyler Hersko, Kristen Lopez and Ben Travers break down what happened.

Even if people did prioritize Quibi over other apps, what happens when your mobile-only service is being sold to an immobile world? Quibi was designed to be used by on-the-go millennials, but launched on April 6, 2020, during the coronavirus pandemic which forced many television viewers indoors where they had access to other streaming services on larger screens. The streaming service also lacked key features at launch, such as the ability to screenshot or cast Quibi’s programming to televisions via tech such as AirPlay and Chromecast.

From the Archive, Winter 2018 Issue, “Young Gifted and Black: A New Documentary Celebrates Writer/Activist Lorraine Hansberry”

I think when we found certain things that we had been looking for, like we had been searching to find Lorraine saying in her own voice that she was a lesbian. I wanted to have the actor reading Hansberry's words to have her say something. And finally we found this letter where she says what's in the film: "I have known. It has to be her. It's the woman." I am not quoting accurately. But when we found that, I was like, "Oh my gosh. We found it!"


In the News


IDA Unveils Enterprise Production Grants


Geeta Anand Named Dean of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism


Academy Museum Appoints Jacqueline Stewart as Chief Artistic and Programming Officer


Doc Society Brings in Shanida Scotland as Head of Film


PBS Appoints Sylvia Bugg as Chief Programming Executive and GM for General Audience Programming


IDFA Announces First Competition Titles


RIDM Announces Complete Lineup


The Wrap Presents the Top 50 Film Schools of 2020


2020 Student Academy Award Winners Named


AFI Fest Announces Jury and Audience Awards


Creative Europe MEDIA Announces €162M in Grants to Festivals


Hold Your Fire Wins Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize


Filmmaker Names Its 25 New Faces in Film


James Redford, Documentarian and Environmentalist, Dies at 58