November 1, 2020

Essential Doc Reads: Week of October 26, 2020

From Dylann McGee and Sara Wolitzky's PBS docuseries 'Not Done: Women remaking America.' Photo: Victoria Pickering

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!

On her website shondaland.com, TV superstar showrunner Shonda Rhimes interviews filmmakers Dylann McGee and Sara Wolitzky, the duo behind the new PBS series Not Done: Women Remaking America, about the power of the women’s movement over the past five years.

But because this documentary was covering a chunk of recent history, we kind of we knew what we were taking on. We knew that the world was going to keep unfolding and shifting under our feet but that is what happens with a lot of documentary filmmaking. That is you are doing, you are telling a story in real time and you have to stay open to real life and real events that don’t always fit neatly into your story arc. 

IndieWire’s Tambay Obenson sat down with Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. to talk about his long-running PBS series Finding Your Roots.

“When people sit down, they don’t know what we’re about to hit them with, because history is infinitely more complex and inventive than even fiction,” Gates said. “So it’s an honor to be able to show everybody who watches our series that we’re all immigrants, and at the level of the genome we’re 99.99% the same. That’s the political message of ‘Finding Your Roots.'”

IndieWire’s Ben Travers advises viewers to watch City So Real, Steve James’ new docuseries about a tumultuous two years in the life of Chicago, now streaming on Hulu, to give you a sense of America in 2020.

“City So Real” is perceptive and insightful, carefully cut together and impressively encapsulating. I haven’t seen, nor can I imagine, another show that captures 2020 so thoroughly or makes reliving such a heartbreaking period so naturally watchable. But that’s not the main reason you should see it right now. “City So Real” manages to acknowledge and articulate the many divisions tearing us apart and still form a unifying message. It’s a way to engage with the world as it is without letting that reality break you down. More than anything, it’s a way to feel like you’re part of a community during a time when so many of us feel completely cut off.

From the Archive, Fall 2014 issue: Makers Tells the Stories of Women on the Move”

"When this project started almost 10 years ago now, video was just kicking off on the Web, and I knew it was going to change the documentary film medium," McGee says. "The way people consume media now is more and more in short form, but I'm an old-fashioned documentary filmmaker in that I believe in the long form. That said, I think there is a place for both the long and short form. What was important for this project was to reach a young demographic that isn't necessarily connected with the idea of how important it is for women to keep advancing."

 

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