What’s Up, Doc? Doc Talk for Dec. 21
By Pat Mullen
Star Wars: The Force Awakens is all the rage in the papers and news outlets this week. (Apparently, many people saw it.) One could rightly be sick to death of all the Star Wars news, but there’s one piece on the world of George Lucas’s creation that POV can get behind, especially since it fits so well with our current Education Issue. As Chris Knight writes in The National Post, it turns out that Star Wars actually has origins in Canada—that galaxy far, far away from Hollywood. Knight writes that Lucas found inspiration for the film in the work in Arthur Lipsett’s experimental film 21-87, which readers may watch in full here courtesy of the NFB. Knight adds that Lucas’s film studies featured a healthy dose of Canadian content, including the work of Claude Jutra, so documentary can amply take credit for one of film’s biggest franchises! (But we’ll let the dramatists take the blame for Jar Jar Binks.)
Documentaries are making a splash outside of the world of lightsabers and wookies. Matt Brennan at Thompson on Hollywood writes that prestige documentaries are all the rage for news series. Continuing series like HBO’s The Jinx and the podcast Serial help expand the audience for documentaries outside the world of the arthouse cinema. The extended ongoing format, however, shows ample creative licence from doc-makers as the facts tailor themselves to drama and vice versa. Embellishing fact with fiction isn’t anything new in documentary, though, but at what point to readers think it serves both the subject and the audience? Do any fans of The Jinx or Serial want to weigh in?
Creative shapeshifting with documentary and drama is all part of the formal element of film depending on the kind of movie one makes. Just look at Sarah Polley’s exquisite Stories We Tell, which refashions home movies with dramatic recreations. Home movies themselves offer a great window to the element of play that exists in making non-fiction films. Writing at the Knoxville Mercury, Eric Dawson argues that home movies tell us a lot about the people who make them and the people who watch them in his fine piece about the vault of “orphaned” home movies at the Tennessee Archives. “It’s inevitable that you try to imagine what the lives of the people in these films might have been like,” he says. “Sometimes you project stories on them.” Perhaps creative freedom is all part of the process of sharing docs.
Tennessee finds a second connection this week at Russ Corey at the Times-Daily offers a great story about the great documentary Muscle Shoals, which won the audience award at Hot Docs in 2013. Corey writes about Canadian-born folk singer Linda McCrae (Spirit of the West), who wrote her song “Singing River” after seeing Muscle Shoals and being taken with the story of a Yuchi Indian woman whose great-great grandson built a stone wall in her honour. In the mellow spirit of Muscle Shoals, the song captures the mood and history of the town. Much like one wants to revisit the film again and again, McCrae’s story crosses paths with other fellow Shoals fans who make frequent visits after being smitten by the film.
Watch Linda McCrae perform the song and tell a snippet of the story that inspired it:
One can enjoy a doc like Muscle Shoals on repeat viewings thanks to home video platforms like Netlfix, iTunes, and Vimeo VOD. These options give docs a wider reach. However, Geoffrey Macnab at Screen suggests that the market for docs isn’t as strong internationally as it seems to be in the US. His report from International Documentary Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) notes an anxious atmosphere at the fest with European doc-makers struggling to find screens for their films. (The article notes that only 2% of docs in production make it to theatres.) While American filmmakers like Barbara Kopple (Miss Sharon Jones!) and Alex Gibney (Going Clear) chime in and note the wealth of opportunity in America, other voices say that the market needs a competitor for Netflix and, more importantly, more respect for and knowledge of documentary from broadcasters.
On a very different note, filmmaker/provocateur Michael Moore is making headlines before the theatrical release of Where to Invade Next (which POV heartily endorses) by taking a stand against Donald Trump’s incendiary anti-Muslim stance. Moore encourages Americans to sign a petition against Trump’s sensationalist plan to put a halt on all Muslims entering the country. Moore also hopes that petition signers will join the #WeAreAllMuslim social media campaign and post pictures to encourage more support.
Short Film of the Week
This week’s spotlight goes to the wonderful Canadian anthology film Yellow Sticky Notes | Canadian Anijam directed by Jeff Chiba Stearns. This highlight from Hot Docs 2013 marks a great short with which to end the year as 15 Canadian filmmakers each offer an animated diary entry for a single day using nothing but a pad of yellow papers and a pen. Have an anijam of your own to ring in 2016!
What reads do you recommend for the week?
Let us know in the comments, or send a tip to pat[at]povmagazine.com.
PS: Happy Holidays from POV!