September 11, 2020

Essential Doc Reads: Week of September 7, 2020

From Jeff Orlowski's 'The Social Dilemma.' Courtesy of Netflix.

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!

Fast Company’s KC Ifeanyi catches up with filmmaker Jeff Orlowski about his latest doc, The Social Dilemma, about how the digital giants heavily influence human behavior and politics.

“Everybody’s on their own island of thought now, and you see the algorithms are customizing a worldview for each and every one of us,” Orlowski continues. “And it becomes more and more difficult for us to engage with people that have a different worldview. My truth is different than your truth—that’s what we’re seeing in our society at large now. And I don’t think that was ever expected to be the case.”

Writing for Chicken & Egg Pictures’ Medium page, filmmaker Shalini Kantayya discusses her film Coded Bias, which addresses racial inequities in facial recognition software and artificial intelligence. 

It is my hope that Coded Bias will help demystify how algorithms work and that the conversations sparked by the film will lead us towards building technology from a deeper place within our humanity.

As the Toronto International Film Festival gets underway, Peter Howell of the Toronto Star interviews Michelle Latimer about her documentary Inconvenient Indian, which addresses the history of the abuse and exploitation of the Indigenous people of North America. 

“I’m really mining the ideas of representation, of what has been the misrepresentation and the lack of representation. I’ve been very struck by this ethnographic gaze, which I do feel colours a lot of First Nations experience,” she says.

Film School Rejects’ Naomi Elias discusses Yoruba Richen’s The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts The Tonight Show, which revisits a revolutionary moment in American television.

 In the documentary, Belafonte explains that he made the decision to share home movies of his family on air because he wanted America to see Black people living their ordinary lives and not just when they are performing for them. Richen’s film makes the case that every choice Belafonte made as a late-night host, from inviting controversial Black and white guests like Dr. King and the Smothers Brothers to showcasing Black and indigenous folk singers like activist Buffy Sainte-Marie, forced Carson’s audience to see and hear things they would’ve never had access to or interest in had he not decided to share them. His legacy is that very decision to give a platform to minority perspectives. It was a quiet revolution. 

This week, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences announced its landmark initiative on inclusion requirements in the Best Picture category. The Hollywood Reporter’s Scott Feinberg followed up with the prime movers behind the initiative to reveal the process that led to this change.

I think there's been a growing focus on inclusion socially and certainly in the creative community. This is an effort to go from intentions to definitive action and progress. And, of course, you can pick at any of the elements of it. But the intention is to be aspirational and objective and to lead the industry toward a better version of itself.

Sophie Monks Kaufman of Variety assesses the DEI compositions of major festivals.

Jury members develop relationships with the festival hosting them, as well as a name for themselves on the festival circuit, which makes future access easier, for both themselves and their films. Shutting people of color out of these roles is a subtle and insidious form of marginalization with a domino effect of repercussions.

Following last month’s Getting Real NOW conversation between entrepreneur Gary Chou and distributor Karin Chien on “Rewiring Distribution Networks,” Chou offers some additional insights on his blog

Instead of targeting audiences after you've made your film, focus on gathering allies before and while you make your film. Having more allies doesn't guarantee you success, but it increases the likelihood of unlocking new resources and paths as you move forward.

In an excerpt from her new book Story Movements: How Documentaries Empower People and Inspire Social Change, published in Current, Caty Borum Chattoo considers the documentary marketplace in the streaming era.

But in the streaming era of entertainment, unequivocally predicting documentary’s imminent economic engine is a fool’s game; it moves too quickly to pin down. At the same time, contemplating the future of documentary storytelling and its role in the public sphere requires an ongoing scrutiny of the transforming media industry — its influence can’t be overlooked. What will an expanding commercial documentary marketplace mean not only for the economics of documentary film and the sustainable careers of filmmakers, but also the stories served up to vast audiences ? Challenges, opportunities, and questions abound.

Writing for Poynter, Gina Baleria calls for journalism educators to rethink objectivity and elevate context.

Effective journalists tap into passion, tenacity, curiosity, and of course accuracy and transparency — as they utilize an objective process to ensure their story is well documented, well-sourced and carefully told. As effective educators, it’s our job to give our student journalists the foundation to do this well.

From the Archive, February 2018: “2018 Documentary Film Diversity Report: Journey to the Academy Awards

The Center for Media and Social Impact 2018 Documentary Film Diversity Report examines documentary diversity in two levels: It spotlights the films and filmmakers nominated for the Best Documentary Feature award in 2018, and it showcases the numerical reality of diversity and representation within the streaming, social media era (from 2008 to 2018). Given the unique nature of documentary film, as both creative expression and reflection of real life, the report also examines the extent to which the dominant narratives of the documentary feature nominees focus on social issues or entertainment slice-of-life stories.

In the News

Sundance Institute Appoints Carrie Lozano as Documentary Film Program Director


Film Academy Sets Inclusion Requirements for Oscars 


Sandbox Films Launches Science Documentary Initiative


Alex Gibney Tackles Trump’s Coronavirus Response in New Documentary


No Film School Unveils Its List of Fall 2020 Grants All Filmmakers Should Know About


Screen Australia Announces Funding for 12 Documentaries


Baltic Sea Docs Hands Out Its Awards


Philippines President Duterte Grants Absolute Pardon to US Marine Who Murdered Call Her Ganda Protagonist