As we wade further into the holiday season the news cycle inevitably starts to slow down, but with a lack of news breaks there seems to have been plenty of room for rumination on the state of the documentary form. Outside of the DOC Institute Honours, some nonfiction additions to the National Film Registry, and another round of Sundance lineup announcements, there were arguments for more Oscars for docs, reports on the current music doc market boom, an overview of the New Chilean Cinema, a look at recent Scottish docs, an examination of the #DecolonizeDocs movement, an insane ranked list of every film from the 2010s and that's just skimming the surface. Happy reading!
-Jordan M. Smith
DOC Institute Honours Anne Pick and Millefiore Clarkes Pat Mullen reported on the DOC Institute Honours for POV Magazine: “Millefiore ‘Millie’ Clarkes and Anne Pick are the winners of this year’s DOC Institute Honours. The filmmakers received the BMO-DOC Vanguard Award and the Rogers-DOC Luminary Award, respectively, on December 11 at the annual DOC party in Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel. The BMO-DOC Vanguard Award honours an emerging filmmaker in Canadian documentary. Clarkes receives $40,000 in in-kind services from Canadian production supplier Sim-International and a $1000 cash prize from the Bank of Montreal as part of the recognition. The Rogers-DOC Luminary Award honours an industry veteran who has been a notable champion for documentary while inspiring and supporting peers in the field.”
2019 National Film Registry Additions Revealed Announced via press release: “The 2019 registry selections span a century of filmmaking, from 1903 to 2003. The oldest film in this year’s class depicts footage of immigrants arriving in New York at Ellis Island, and the newest film on the list is the documentary FOG OF WAR, in which former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara reexamines his role in shaping American military and foreign policy. An unprecedented seven motion pictures directed by women are on this year’s list, the most in a single year since the inaugural registry in 1989. They include the 1984 documentary BEFORE STONEWALL, directed by Greta Schiller; Claudia Weill’s 1978 GIRLFRIENDS; Gunvor Nelson’s 1969 avant-garde film MY NAME IS OONA; A NEW LEAF, which in 1971 made Elaine May the first woman to write, direct and star in a major American studio feature; the 2002 indie REAL WOMEN HAVE CURVES, directed by Patricia Cardoso and starring America Ferrera; and Madeline Anderson’s 1970 I AM SOMEBODY, which is considered the first documentary on civil rights directed by a woman of color.”
Why Documentaries Deserve Below-the-Line Love Jazz Tangcay makes the case at Variety: "Louis Forbes was nominated for his music score of the 1953 THIS IS CINERAMA. It was an Oscar first: A documentary nominated in a different category. It took two decades for a recurrence: Gerald Fried was nominated for his BIRDS DO IT BEES DO IT doc music score. The 1994 HOOP DREAMS achieved an Oscar oddity: It was nominated for editing (Frederick Marx, Steve James, William Haugse), but somehow was NOT nominated for documentary. Its omission caused an uproar, but that’s another story. The point is that documentaries don’t just happen. A lot of talented people work hard in below-the-line categories — cinematography, editing, sound, music, etc. — to make the experience seem seamless.”
Music Documentary Market Booms: "It's a Land Grab Right Now" Tatiana Siegel dishes on the documentary market for The Hollywood Reporter: “Boom times are here when it comes to music docs. On the heels of Apple TV+ ponying up a whopping $26 million for a film about singer-songwriter Billie Eilish and Amazon paying $25 million for a Peter Berg-directed Rihanna doc, dealmakers say the space will only get hotter. In fact, sources say Peter Jackson's LET IT BE Beatles doc, now making the rounds, is sparking a frenzy, with buyers predicting the price tag will eclipse the R.J. Cutler-helmed Eilish movie ($1 million more than originally reported). ‘Everybody is talking to Jackson right now, and it ain't going to be cheap,’ says one buyer, who expects a deal to close early in the new year.”
The Directors Mixing Fact and Fiction at the Forefront of New Chilean Cinema Writing at Hyperallergic, Jaime Grijalba pieced together a thoughtful overview of Chilean filmmakers working on the borders of nonfiction: “Throughout the 2010s, Chilean cinema has become aware of its position and importance in world culture, with two Academy Awards and many festival awards serving as the most visible signposts of its ascendance. Chile released more films during these ten years than ever before, with many of them making their way to local commercial theaters. But beyond this expansion, the landscape of Chilean film has become more diverse and exciting to chronicle. And documentary filmmakers have been at the country’s subversive and experimental forefront.”
Scottish Documentaries Look to the World Chloe Trayner and Matt Turner looked at how the Scottish documentary industry has its sights on the future at Sight & Sound: “Scotland already has a thriving filmmaking industry, one that has been getting on with it without much bluster. Look to Scotland’s documentary output, and an industry with an already international mentality can be observed: films that have international subject matter, feature international talent and are reaching international audiences – and indeed, are also attracting international investment. A number of production companies and independent filmmakers – starting from the nexus that is the Scottish Documentary Institute (SDI), the country’s creative nonfiction hub – are producing artful, intelligent nonfiction feature films and shorts, work that displays an ambition and outlook beyond the confines of the country of their origin.”
ON THE FESTIVAL CIRCUIT
Self Reflection in Theater Two At Filmmaker Magazine, Abby Sun examined how programmers and film festivals are wrestling with the ideas embodied in the #DecolonizeDocs movement: “Film festivals have jumped into this fray with public forums, panels and talks at which emboldened filmmakers and a new crop of festival directors and programmers debate thorny questions: how to resolve documentary film’s colonialist origins, advance racial justice in the U.S. documentary field and support female filmmakers. Keynotes by Lisa Valencia-Svensson at Hot Docs, Orwa Nyrabia, Michèle Stephenson and Chi-hui Yang at the IDA’s Getting Real conference and various panels and events at many, many other festivals have critiqued the industry for ignoring the power dynamics shaping the making of nonfiction films. It’s a curious but expected onslaught, resulting in the institutionalization of these critiques and signaling that the powers-that-be are not only receptive to, but seek to embody, #decolonizedocs ideas—without perceptible evidence of structural change.”
‘Liquid criticism’: In Uppsala, a Fresh Look at Video Essays Tara Judah reported on Uppsala International Short Film Festival’s focus on video essays for Sight & Sound: “The critique, analysis and exploration of an artform with and in its own language can create something that is powerful and creative in its own right. At this year’s Uppsala Internationella Kortfilmfestival a programme of “short films on film”, curated by Catherine Grant, looked at how we might think about “the video essay as liquid criticism”. Using the fluidity of images in the place of a pen, the video essay is like quicksilver for critics; it defies stillness and, if controlled carefully, can be manipulated to great affect. The screening included both new and older video essays, offering a sort of tasting platter of styles and approaches from the format’s leading practitioners.”
2020 Sundance New Frontier, Episodic and Shorts Lineups Announced Announced viatwo press releases: “Works selected across the Indie Episodic, Shorts and Special Events sections of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival were announced today, underlining Sundance Institute's commitment to showcasing bold independent storytelling regardless of form, format or length...Of the projects announced today, 48% were directed or created by one or more women, 33% were directed or created by one or more filmmaker of color, and 19% by one or more people who identify as LGBTQIA. 7 were supported by Sundance Institute in development, whether through direct granting or Labs.”
Just two theatrical releases this week in Alla Kovgan's dance biography CUNNINGHAM playing at Film Forum and Wang Xiaoshuai's personal take on his home country CHINESE PORTRAIT is at the Museum of the Moving Image. Meanwhile, Casey Suchan and Denis Henry Hennelly's animal rights activist doc THE ANIMAL PEOPLE had its premiere online.
Exploring the Space between Docs and the Avant-garde In Documentary Magazine, Cynthia Close reviewed Scott MacDonald's latest book on avant-docs (previously featured in our Doc Books section): "The Sublimity of Document: Cinema as Diorama is MacDonald's seventh collection of in-depth interviews with avant-garde and documentary filmmakers. In it he continually reminds us that film, when it transcends the commonplace, has the power to transport us out of ourselves and provide a window into the world we may suspect exists but are unable to see, into perhaps "something sublime." In his introduction MacDonald clarifies the unique parallels he draws between documentary cinema and the creation of 19th-century museum dioramas, like those animal and early human habitats that still manage to provoke a sense of wonder every time I pass through the Akeley Hall of African Mammals in New York City’s American Museum of Natural History. For MacDonald, those early habitat dioramas are documents, precursors to the ‘cine-document.’”
Every Movie of the 2010s, Ranked The folks at Vulture created an insane task for themselves in ranking every film of the 2010s: “The list wasn’t a result of any consensus (to which the various annotations attest), and it certainly isn’t definitive. (Is there such a thing as a definitive ranking?) But it does reflect the highs and lows of a tumultuous decade. We hadn’t, for instance, planned for our top-three picks to be so … apocalyptic. But when it turned out that way, it felt entirely appropriate. The past 10 years have been marred by doomsday predictions about cinema, whether the harbingers are Netflix or superheroes or high frame rates. On the other hand, we absolutely did plan for our bottom choices to be incendiary, and to speak to larger tendencies in the industry that have filled us with dread — except, of course, when they fill us with delight. It’s messy, and it’s filled with contradictions, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. Here are the films of the 2010s, ranked, for better and worse.”
The Streaming Giants are Erasing Cinema’s History Writing for The Guardian, Nick Pinkerton examines how the age of streaming is warping our concept of film history: “After weeks of ballyhoo that included inundating social media with a list of films from its archive, the subscription-based, on-demand video streaming service Disney+ has finally launched in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the Netherlands, with a UK release date set for early next year. The streaming service joins an increasingly crowded field, which includes the Disney-acquired Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV plus, and the now positively venerable Netflix. It was all so simple once, but in the space of a decade, cinema and TV streaming services have reached a state of increasing Balkanisation, with an oversaturation scrum ahead as they vie for consumer cash. How did we get here?”
How to Shoot a Documentary Inside a Mexican Ambulance Vox’s Alissa Wilkinson spoke with Luke Lorentzen about making his film MIDNIGHT FAMILY: “Yeah, it was just me. It started that way because of how the funding was. And it’s how I had done my other films. Then it quickly became clear that that was probably the best way to do it. I ended up shooting it with two cameras. One was mounted on the hood of the ambulance, and then I had another camera in the back of the ambulance. You really need these conversations that happened between the driver and the people in the back. It was dynamic. But it was an enormous amount of equipment. I knew that if I could physically get it to the ambulance at the start of the day without an assistant, then I could manage it throughout the night. Figuring out how to juggle all that was a lot. And everyone was wearing a wireless microphone.”
The Fracturing of Brazil in THE EDGE OF DEMOCRACY Jon Lee Anderson takes a thorough look at Petra Costa’s latest for The New Yorker: “The documentary has many enthralling scenes in which Costa juxtaposes historic public events with remarkable private moments. It’s as if we were watching a Greek tragedy from a box seat and being ushered into the actors’ dressing rooms between acts. In such ways, the EDGE OF DEMOCRACY presents a great ongoing drama of our time: the fracturing of democracy and its replacement by rank populism. At the end of this film, we are left shaken as Costa asks, ‘What do we do when the mask of civility falls and what appears is an ever more haunting image of ourselves? Where do we gather the strength to walk through the ruins and start anew?’ Indeed. Where do we go from here?”
Is Scorsese’s Partly Fictional ROLLING THUNDER a Doc for Awards Purposes? Chris Morris puts more fuel in the fire of debate for Variety: “Sharon Stone got an Oscar nomination for appearing in one Martin Scorsese film, CASINO. But could her cameo in one of his latest pictures help derail his shot at a nomination for that film this year? The movie in question is not THE IRISHMAN, the film that’s seen as a leading Oscar contender, but ROLLING THUNDER REVUE: A BOB DYLAN STORY, which had a lot of heat when it premiered in a handful of theaters and on Netflix in June. It was seen at the time as offering the possibility that Scorsese could get nominated for two films in one year. But as many unaware viewers and critics came to realize that they’d been hoodwinked by a few mischievously fictional scenes in the Dylan doc, the question arose: Was it, in fact, a documentary — at least as far as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences would be concerned?”
DOC NYC ALUMNI
Maxine Trump's TO KID OR NOT TO KID 2018 DOC NYC Modern Family
Has been released on Amazon and iTunes today.
Chuck Smith's BARBARA RUBIN & THE EXPLODING NY UNDERGROUND 2018 DOC NYC Metropolis
Will receive a DVD release on December 17th via Juno Films.
Rob Garver's WHAT SHE SAID: THE ART OF PAULINE KAEL 2018 DOC NYC Behind the Scenes
Will have a theatrical release on December 25th.
Hassan Fazili's MIDNIGHT TRAVELER 2019 DOC NYC Winner's Circle
Will have its primetime premiere on December 30th via POV.
FEATURED STREAMING DOC SHORT
KILLING IN THE AGE OF ALGORITHMS
Directed by Jonah M. Kessel
A tank that drives itself. A drone that picks its own targets. A machine gun with facial recognition software. Sounds like science fiction?
A.I. fueled weapons are already here.
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This documentary is the now-or-never opportunity to celebrate the career achievements and personal journeys of this first generation of African-American opera legends while they are still living and able to appear on camera.
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