What’s Up, Doc? Doc Talk for Apr. 4

Courtesy of TIFF Film Reference Library

By Pat Mullen

What’s up, doc fans? This week’s round-up of documentary news and views offers fifty influential docs, a list of do’s and don’t, the complementary arts of fiction and non-fiction, and more!

The Guardian offers a list of “50 documentaries you need to see” as ten of non-fiction’s best and brightest filmmakers share their top five must-see docs. The panel includes Joshua Oppenheimer, whose recommendation of Close-Up comes as no surprise given his own interest in hybrid films as seen in The Act of Killing, while Lucy Walker (The Crash Reel) gives a shout-out to long-form documentary with Michael Apted’s Up series. Alex Gibney champions Canada’s Stories We Tell and director Sarah Polley’s poetic use of fiction within non-fiction form and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy gives a shout-out to Michael Moore’s Bowling for Columbine and calls it “a landmark film… because it made documentaries popular.” Which filmmaker recommendations most surprise you? Any glaring omissions? Read the full list here.

Bowling for Columbine

Filmmakers who aspire to be on future lists of influential documentaries should consider the advice of their peers, whether it’s a film recommendation or a list of filmmaker do’s and don’ts. Indiewire’s Filmmaker Toolkit offers guidance for documentary filmmakers on clearing all legal matters to avoid having films tangled in lawsuits and disputes on the eve of a distribution deal. Entertainment lawyer Nicole Page writes that documentary filmmakers tend to forget the legal steps more often than narrative filmmakers do (perhaps due to different approaches to financing and crew staffing), and she offers a handy list of clear steps for filmmakers. “Don’t wait until you have a broadcast offer or your film is accepted at a major festival to first start thinking about your production agreements,” she writes. “That’s like buying a house sight unseen, moving in and being surprised that there is no indoor plumbing.” Read the full article here, or flush away.

Documentary and narrative film find a complementary relationship in an unexpected video essay on the work of director William Friedkin. Haven of Singles explores how the Oscar-winning director uses his roots in documentary film to create emotionally authentic narrative films that use space, character, and handheld cameras to create an “induced documentary” aesthetic. This short essay looks at Friedkin’s origins in documentary with The People vs. Paul Crump and shows how the style enhances dramatic films such as The French Connection, Sorcerer, The Exorcist, and Killer Joe. Which other directors display a harmony between doc and drama? Watch the video below

Deadline adds that William Friedkin will be teaching a master class at Cannes this year, so prospective filmmakers may learn the arts of non-fiction and fiction on the Croisette!

Documentary’s current drama, the brouhaha surrounding Tribeca Film Festival selection Vaxxed, continues as the anti-vaccination documentary hits theatres. Variety reports that the film by Andrew Wakefield, a former doctor whose work on the dangers of vaccination has been largely discredited, debuted at New York City’s Angelika Film Center to a healthy gross of $22 000. The film expands in the coming weeks as it capitalises on media attention and controversy. The film doesn’t currently have a Canadian release on its radar, but will you see it if it screens here?

Guy Maddin discusses his upcoming project Seances with Filmmaker Magazine and looks at his crazy career to date. The director offers a characteristically humorous interview in which he talks about his drama The Saddest Music in the World and how he approached Isabella Rossellini for the part while their fingers were intertwined in the throat of a slobbering dog. That fact might be fiction, though, as Maddin’s own panache for dubious historical accuracy is a highlight of his doc My Winnipeg. Maddin’s thoughts on docs like My Winnipeg offer an optimistic note within the article, saying, “I really like the fact that people quit worrying about whether documentaries are true or not.” Read the full interview with Maddin here.

Churchill’s Island

Maddin’s Seances is a new interactive project from the National Film Board of Canada and shows how the Canadian establishment is a pioneer for ground-breaking filmmaking. Cinemablographer looks at a history of NFB innovation through the organisation’s impressive record at the Academy Awards. From nabbing the first competitive Oscar for Churchill’s Island to a rare win for experimental documentary with Norman McLaren’s Neighbours, the NFB is a powerhouse for challenging mainstream entertainment on the awards circuit. Read more and watch several NFB Oscar winners here.

Finally, one of documentary’s rule-breakers outside of Canada, the late Chantal Akerman, reminds audiences of her legacy within the art form with the release of her final film, No Home Movie. Nonfics examines Akerman’s startling use of stillness and stasis in the film, which is now playing after hitting festivals last year. “In the still space of the cinema,” writes Nonfics, “without the noise of insistent music or scripted dialogue, free from the rush of Hollywood editing, there is plenty of time to think.” Read more for some fine observations on Akerman and her quietly contemplative approach to documentary.

Short Film of the Week:

This week’s short film spotlight is Queer Hutterite, a new documentary by Laura O’Grady. The film shares the story of Kelly Hofer, a young man who tells his of his journey while coming out and leaving his Hutterite colony in Alberta. The film lets Hofer express his experience of feeling like an outside in a tight-knit and traditional community, and the film shares a timely message of acceptance and tolerance. The film also spotlights Hofer’s skill as a photographer as his beautiful pictures both capture and critique the traditional lifestyle of the Hutterites. His photos offer a unique archive as the images assume new meanings when Kelly revisits them after leaving the community, and his story encourages viewers to make their communities as peaceful as they look. It’s a candid and optimistic film.

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