September 7, 2018

Essential Doc Reads: Week of Sept. 3

Astra Taylor's "What is Democracy?" premieres at TIFF this week

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!


Marisa Guthrie speaks with female directors about gender bias in the documentary field for The Hollywood Reporter.

At a time when the market for nonfiction film and television is exploding, THR gathered Blair Foster, Alison Ellwood, Sarah Dowland and Stacey Offman, as well as Caroline Suh — who is directing the Netflix adaptation of Samin Nosrat's best-selling cooking manual Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat (dropping in October) — and Alexis Bloom, whose Roger Ailes feature documentary, Divide and Conquer (from A&E IndieFilms), premieres Sept. 9 at the Toronto International Film Festival, for a candid conversation about filmmaking in the #MeToo era, the booming doc market and never taking no for an answer.

Indiewire's Eric Kohn, writes on the appearance of former presidential advisor Steve Bannon at a number of film festivals.

At the Telluride Film Festival, one familiar face was nowhere to be found: Errol Morris, a member of Telluride’s board, whose documentaries tend to screen at the Colorado festival like clockwork. Morris’ latest project will instead premiere on Wednesday at the Venice International Film Festival, where it’s creating a bit of a stir. In American Dharma, the filmmaker confronts Steve Bannon, and the former Trump senior advisor is expected to attend the festival for the first public screening.

For Nonfics, Jordan M. Smith interviews TIFF documentary programmer Thom Powers about this year's lineup.

For the last 13 years, documentary programmer Thom Powers has helmed the selection of the festival’s nonfiction fare while also serving as the Artistic Director of DOC NYC, as a senior programmer of the Miami Film Festival, and as the co-curator of the year-round Stranger Than Fiction series at NYC’s IFC Center, plus (if that wasn’t enough) hosting the ongoing documentary filmmaking podcast Pure Nonfiction. There are plenty of good reasons why The New York Times has called Powers “A Kingmaker for Documentaries.” In the lead up to this year’s edition of the festival, I caught up with him to talk TIFF Docs, the industry Doc Conference, and shifts in the documentary landscape in 2018.

In Filmmaker Magazine, Pamela Cohn interviews Astra Taylor on her film, What is Democracy?, ahead of its TIFF premiere.

In her third feature, What is Democracy?, premiering this year at the Toronto International Film Festival, director Astra Taylor takes on the role of ombudswoman to talk to a plethora of individuals about the concept and idea of democracy. As she did in her previous feature, the philosophy doc Examined Life, Taylor poses open-ended questions to her subjects, generously giving them a free rein to not only tell their personal stories but to grapple with big ideas and to describe where they see themselves fitting into the global equation — or even the local one. The majority of people she speaks with actually do not feel they fit in anywhere at all.

Gregg Kilday dives into Michael Moore's latest documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9, for The Hollywood Reporter.

Moore, 64, readies his newest documentary, Fahrenheit 11/9, which will kick off the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 6, he's not holding back. "Trump is our Frankenstein and we are Dr. Frankenstein," he declares. "We have helped to create a situation that has allowed us to end up with Trump. The dumbing down of our society through the media, the lack of education through poor schools, allows for a dumbed-down electorate, and for him to be able to actually get 63 million votes."

Jennifer Cazenave revisits Claude Lanzmann's Shoah for the Los Angeles Review of Books.

I am of the generation that, born during the making of Shoah, would only discover it later, in the 2000s, after so many texts praising it as a chef-d'oeuvre had already been published. I first saw the film as an undergraduate at Bard College, where it was shown over the course of two evenings at the campus theater. There were maybe only half a dozen of us present; no one spoke at the end of the first screening, but all of us returned the next day. And thus I — or we, this second generation — discovered Shoah, oscillating between intense emotion and awe as we watched Simon Srebnik’s testimony in Chelmno; Abraham Bomba’s reenactment in a barbershop in Tel Aviv; the secret recording of the Nazi officer Franz Suchomel; Filip Müller breaking down as he recalled his Czech compatriots in the gas chamber at Auschwitz; the endless shots of moving trains and empty extermination camps; the untranslated Yiddish song performed by Gertrude Schneider and her mother as the film neared its end.

Hans-Ulrich Obrist interviews the renowned artist/director, Agnés Varda for Interview Magazine

Agnès Varda’s career has spanned decades, continents, and mediums. When the 90-year-old, Paris-based Belgian artist and director sensed a widespread cultural preoccupation with cancer in the early ’60s, she directed Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962), a real-time film about a woman awaiting diagnosis results that cemented Varda’s role as a foundational member of the French New Wave. In 1968, when she arrived in California with her husband and fellow director Jacques Demy, she spent her brief time in the United States chronicling an outpouring of radicalism, both in documentary—with Black Panthers (1968)—and in feature film—Lions Love (…and Lies), in 1969. A still from the latter work—a Pablo Picasso–inspired composition with Varda at its center—was chosen by Andy Warhol to be the inaugural cover of this magazine. Forty-eight years and almost as many films later, Varda returned to Los Angeles in 2017 to receive an Honorary Academy Award (and do an instantly iconic dosey-doe in Gucci pajamas with Angelina Jolie). When the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist invited her to participate in the 2003 Venice Biennale, Varda, always prescient, had already begun creating the heart-shaped potatoes that would comprise her first public installation. They have been close friends ever since, and on a bright afternoon in July, they convened in the Parisian courtyard where Varda wrote her very first film.

From the Archive—October 2017: Two for the Road: Agnes Varda and JR Collaborate on 'Faces Places'

The Belgian-born filmmaker Agnès Varda was the only female director associated with the French New Wave, and for decades she has been referred to as "the grandmother" of the movement. It's a condescending if well-meaning title, and though Varda is universally beloved, she is still more of an adventurer than a traditionalist. The semi-autobiographical documentaries she's made in the past two decades, The Gleaners and I (2000) and The Beaches of Agnes (2008), are works of restless ingenuity that pose consistently intriguing questions about form and process. For her newest film—and potential swan song—Varda takes another creative leap, teaming up with renowned 34-year-old street artist JR for a humanistic tribute to everyday people, the wonders of the aging human body and the varieties of representational portraiture—which is also to say, selfies.

In the News

The Points North Institute Lineup for the Camden International Film Festival Announced


The Academy drops the "Popular" film category for 2019


HBO's Sara Bernstein Tapped as Executive Vice President of Documentaries for Imagine Documentaries


Jon-Sesrie Goff named Executive Director of The Flaherty


The BBC teams with Northern Docs to Support Documentary Filmmaking in Northern England


The Net Neutrality Fight Heats Up Following Recent Court Rulings


Australian Documentary Filmmaker James Ricketson Sentenced to Prison in Cambodia