What’s Up, Doc? Doc Talk for Apr. 18

Bill Baillie’s Roslyn Romance

By Pat Mullen

What’s up, doc fans? This week’s round-up of documentary news and views follows a relatively quiet week on the non-fiction front, presumably because most writers covering the beat are either at Tribeca or knees deep in Hot Docs screeners. Nevertheless, here are five hot doc reads from the past week:

Images Festival is currently opening eyes, engaging minds, and furrowing eyebrows at Toronto screening venues. This POV writer recently watched a fourteen-minute political doc about a tomato, so the Images experience challenges a doc fan to wonder if and how such unconventional works differentiate non-fiction film from video art. Nonfics answers the question rather well in a piece on the films screening at this year’s Art of the Real festival in New York. Looking at the films of experimental artists such as Bruce Baillie, Jerónimo Rodríguez, Daniel Walber argues that the creative use of archival material such as photographs, video footage, interviews, etc. firmly puts certain experimental works within the world of documentary. “As it turns out,” Walber writes, “experimental work should be seen as an absolutely essential part of the ‘New Golden Age of Documentary,’ the boom in “hybrid” films, or whatever it is that we’re living through right now. Dialogue between what we perceive as entirely different forms should be fostered by festivals.” What are some of your favourite experimental docs, POV readers?

Before Hot Docs comes Tribeca and the festival is finally catching some positive press now that screenings and events are underway. One doc that has non-fiction fans a-twitter is the coming of age film All this Panic from the team of director Jenny Gage and cinematographer Tom Betterton, who are partners in life. The film chronicles the youth of two girls named Ginger and Dusty across the course of four years. All this Panic invites comparisons to Boyhood with its time-spanning approach and the filmmakers welcome being likened to doc equivalent to the Richard Linklater drama. (Check back tomorrow for a wonderful piece on hybrid docs that discusses the documentary element of time in Boyhood!) The filmmakers open up to Indiewire about their experience shooting in close proximity to Ginger and Dusty for such a large amount of time. As Gage says, “It was a fascinating process to be so engaged in the day to day lives of the girls but to also have this longer vantage point to observe from. So many of the things that seemed so important to the girls in the moment just seemed to recede into the background as the larger arc of their life stories emerged.” All this Panic doesn’t screen at Hot Docs, but POV will keep readers informed on future screenings in Canada!

Los Sures

As film festivals offer discoveries of new films, they’re also a time to revisit classic docs and turning points in the art form. One film currently receiving reappraisal is Diego Echeverria’s Los Sures, which examines the Puerto Rican community of South Williamsburg in Brooklyn. A restored version of the film screened recently at the Williamsburg festival UnionDocs and Los Sures also enjoys a second life as a web project that captures the neighbourhood’s history. Echeverria speaks with Vogue about the film and speculates why this film remains relevant to audiences: “People watch a great deal more documentaries than ever before. Then I think it has to do with seeing the transformation of that neighborhood. People [want] to understand the history of Williamsburg. There’s still a Puerto Rican community; there’s still a Dominican community there.” What about Canadian communities? Perhaps POV readers can check out films such as Everything Will Be or St-Henri, the 26th of August to see the changing landscapes of Canuck communities through film.

Variety reports on another documentary milestone as A and E IndieFilms celebrates a decade of delivering quality docs. The two-person team of Molly Thompson and Robert DeBitetto have some of the decade’s top docs to their name, including Murderball, Jesus Camp, and last year’s Oscar nominee Cartel Land. They’ve had considerable success expanding the A and E brand from TV, but the ten years haven’t been easy with so many changes in the market. “I don’t think anybody viewed IndieFilms as a huge contributor to earnings,” says Robert DeBitetto to Variety … “But within the overall company plan, there was an excitement about what these films could bring to us, in terms of credibility and filmmaker relationships. We talked about it elevating the brand, and it gave us an opportunity to get us off the TV pages and have a different set of viewers and writers and eyes on it.” A and E IndieFilms has two titles at Hot Docs this year, Life, Animated and Author: The JT Leroy Story.

Finally, The Toronto Star looks at a new CBC documentary about silent-era pioneer Mack Sennett, whose comedies helped launch the careers of icons such as Charlie Chaplin, Bing Crosby, and W.C. Fields. Senntett is largely forgotten, but the doc Silent Legend: The Mack Sennett Story by Sean Patrick Shaul hopes to give due credit to an early figure in Canadian film history. “All the comedy we see today is still built on that foundation,” Shaul says to Bill Broux of the Star on the house that Canadian comedy built. It’s not a house that everyone wants to live in, though, as Broux adds, “Mostly shot in one or two days, Sennett films were filled with wild chases, pie fights and kicks in the pants. In his book The Silent Clowns, critic Walter Kerr was dismissive, writing that Sennett “seems to me not so much the King as the Carpenter of Comedy. He built the house. It is hard now to believe that he ever entertained friends in it.” Silent Legend: The Mack Sennett Story airs tonight on CBC.

Short film of the week:

In the spirit of Canuck comedy, this week’s short spotlight goes to The Railrodder. Buster Keaton might not be one of Mack Sennett’s protégés, but he has his own place in Canadian history riding the rails across the country. This fun NFB film shows the silent star in top form in one of his final performances. All aboard!

The Railrodder by Gerald Potterton, National Film Board of Canada

  • What are you reading this week?*

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