September 14, 2019

Essential Doc Reads: Week of September 8

The late Daniel Johnston, subject of Jeff Fuerzeig's 2006 doc 'The Devil and Daniel Johnston." Photo: paulcalypse. License: CC BY-NC 2.0

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!

Robert Frank, one of the greatest American photographers, passed away Monday at age 94. He also gained acclaim as a filmmaker, and his documentary work included Conversations in Vermont (1969), Life-Raft Earth (1969) and About Me: The Musical (1971). But the doc he is best known for is the one that is hardest to see: Cocksucker Blues (1972), his vérité opus about the Rolling Stones' 1972 tour—their first since the disastrous Altamont concert in December 1969. Frank captured it all—sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll—in all of its lewd and libertine glory. Even the Stones themselves balked at sharing their tawdry truth with the world and they sued to keep the film from being released. The compromise ruling allowed for no more than four screenings per year, and Frank must be present at each screening. And so it goes...

Writing about Frank for The Criterion Daily, David Hudson quotes The New Yorker writer Nicholas Dawidoff, who shared the observation below after binging on Frank’s 30+ film canon.

"He was out to convey complexities of human feeling and sensation, but in an increasingly intimate milieu. He had left Switzerland; he had lost his children; he had known many great artists, and many troubled men and women, and lived frequently among outsiders; and he seemed to have spent 50 years looking through a viewfinder, attempting to understand his own ever-shifting attitude toward loss."

The world also lost indie musician/songwriter/artist Daniel Johnstone, a favorite of the likes of Kurt Cobain and Tom Waits—and filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig, whose 2006 doc The Devil and Daniel Johnston won the Documentary Director Award at Sundance that year. IndieWire's Jude Dry spoke at length with Feuerzeig about what Johnston meant to him.

He inspired me like Jim Jarmusch and Spike Lee and the Coen brothers inspired me. That was an incredible moment in indie film history in the mid '80s when they emerged. There was no such thing as an independent film, and it was like a new wave of cinema, but it was contemporary and it was happening now. He inspired me to do that. Very much. As far as my own trip through new journalism and nonfiction filmmaking, all the chops that I honed making the film, working with three-act structure and becoming a better storyteller, I learned making that film.

RealScreen’s Daniele Alcinii reports on a panel on funding for underrepresented filmmakers at the TIFF Doc Conference (moderated by IDA’s director of programming and policy, Claire Aguilar),

"For our CrossCurrents fund, our global fund, when we say we’re looking for stories from filmmakers directly from the underrepresented community, we don’t define what that means," Heidi Tao Yang [ industry funds manager at Hot Docs] explained. "We want you to tell us that because are not the experts."

Writing for The New York Times, Elizabeth Méndez Berry and Chi-hui Yang stress the need for more critics of color.

Culture is a battleground where some narratives win and others lose. Whether we believe someone should be locked in a cage or not is shaped by the stories we absorb about one another, and whether they're disrupted or not. At a time when inequality and white supremacy are soaring, collective opinion is born at monuments, museums, screens and stages—well before it's confirmed at the ballot box.

As the Camden International Film Festival gets underway this weekend, Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay caught up with programmers Ben Fowlie, Sean Flynn and Samara Chadwick about what they're unveiling to the public.

"Doc filmmakers are five to seven years ahead of where the public is," continues Fowlie. "As we evolve as a curating team, we are getting better on how works speak to one another. We're not just creating films but a program—where one film ends, another picks up."

Film Quarterly's Diana Flores Ruiz interviews filmmakers Alex Rivera and Cristina Ibarra about their doc-fiction hybrid The Infiltrators.

Our film is one of the first, if not the first, feature to be set in an immigration detention center. Along the way, it struck us that there is a body of films set inside of prisons and jails; there

s many of them, both fiction and documentary. In the world of nonfiction, we think of a documentary like Liz Garbus and Jonathan Stack’s The Farm: Angola, USA (1998). But there aren’t any films set in immigrant detention. This system has blossomed and carefully managed its own image in ways that are keeping it even darker in the shadows than prisons and jails.

The Los Angeles Times’ Wendy Lee talks to Spotify Chief Content Officer Dawn Otroff about her plans to fortify her company's pre-eminence in the podcast space.

"The amount of content that we can make is endless," Ostroff said. "Seeing how many of the existing talent in the Hollywood community and the news community are interested in migrating toward this new medium, it really makes it a lot easier."

As the OTT world braces for the launch of Apple TV this fall, Mike Raab on OneZero speculates on the platform's strategy for success.

Although there will only be a dozen or so series available at launch on November 1, Apple's pipeline of content appears poised to at least triple in the next year or so. We've also learned recently that the company has increased its content investments from an original $1 billion to somewhere closer to $6 billion, in total.


From the Archive, March/April 2006: “Portrait of an Artist as a Manic-Depressive: Daniel Johnston and his Demons”

"Truth is stranger than fiction," the filmmaker says while cutting a trailer for the film. "I've never heard a story quite like this. Running away and joining a carnival, ending up on MTV, the acid trips, throwing a woman out the window, crashing a plane--you couldn't make this up. It's his life. I wanted to tell a great story and I thought, 'Daniel's life is a great story.'"


In the News


Creative Arts Emmys 2019: Complete Winners List


Venice Film Festival Announces Winners


Apolonia, ApoloniaGoing to Mars among SFFILM Doc Fund Winners


Democracy Fund Announces Racial Equity in Journalism Fund 


Directors Guild of Canada Launches Recruitment Drive for Doc Makers


Disney+ Orders Six-Part Ballet Docuseries from Brian Grazer and Ron Howard


Magnify Media to Produce 9/11 Docuseries The Day the World Changed


History Channel Exits Project Amid Legal Tussle


BBC Launches TV Archive Website 


Jacqueline Wilson, RuPaul’s Drag Race Producer, Dies