What’s Up, Doc? Doc Talk for Feb. 8

Cartel Land

By Pat Mullen

What’s up, doc fans? This week’s round-up of news and views from the documentary world begins with the exciting upset at Saturday night’s Directors Guild of America awards. As Variety reports, Cartel Land director Matthew Heineman scooped the prize over favourite Asif Kapadia, who was tipped to win for Oscar frontrunner Amy. (Fellow Oscar nominee What Happened, Miss Simone? was nominated but The Look of Silence and Winter on Fire were not.) The win is an exciting twist in the last major American award ceremony before the Oscars. Stay tuned for more coverage of the Oscar docs—shorts and features!

The DGA win for Cartel Land continues impressive support that the film has sustained since Sundance last year, so it’s safe to say that some of this year’s Sundance docs will be in “What’s Up, Doc?” posts next awards season. That journey all starts with a good distribution plan, though, and Tom Roston at PBS’s POV blog (no relation) breaks down the deals that happened on the doc front in Park City. The big news is the $3 million distribution deal for Gleason for Amazon and Open Road Films. (Open Road is currently distributing Spotlight in the USA.) Roston notes that the deal is somewhat ambiguously for $3 million, given that the figure doesn’t cleanly represent the theatrical handshake for Gleason, which somewhat speaks to spin and a gauging of expectations after previous million dollar Sundance deals led to box office disappointments. Also notable is the range of home video deals and hybrid deals, which reflects how much the documentary is staying ahead of multiplatform distribution. [Read more about Sundance in Part One and Part Two of POV’s coverage/]

The big news on the Netflix front this week is that the streaming service plans to show the documentary Murder Rap, which alleges that rapper Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs is behind the murder of fellow rapper Tupac Shakur. The Huffington Post gives the scoop that the doc, which was previously released on iTunes, brings a story from former Los Angeles Police Department Detective Greg Kading, who investigated the shooting of Shakur and rapper Christopher “Biggie Smalls” Wallace (aka Notorious BIG) and wrote a book that pointed the finger at Combs for Shakur’s death. Combs denied the allegations to LA Weekly when Kading published a book in 2010, but perhaps Netflix’s Diddy doc is a perfect second course for fans of true crime docs like Making a Murderer.

Controversy on the Canadian front continues for the doc of the North by Dominic Gagnon. The CBC notes that the politically incorrect film was recently pulled from the line-up of Quebec’s Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois (RVCQ) following ample protests that the film unfairly represents the Inuit. The film is an ongoing point of contention in the documentary film festival community following an uproar at Montreal’s RIDM and a January screening at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image, the latter of which inspired several members of the Inuit community (and progressive doc fans) to petition festivals to take a stand against the film. Is this act censorship or just common sense? [Read more about the question of representation in the POV interview with Alethea Arnaquq-Baril.]

Also making the headlines is Ric O’Barry, subject of the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, who was recently deported from Japan. O’Barry is best known for his efforts to save dolphins in the covert activism of The Cove and is considered a hero in some corners, while other brand him an ‘eco-terrorist’. His latest arrest suggests that Japan puts him in the latter camp, as O’Barry was accused of having ties to the anti-whaling group Sea Shepherd. [Read more about political activist docs like The Cove in the POV feature Upping the Anti.]

Activist, author, and intellectual Naomi Klein ups the anti in a recent talk with Salon / Bill Moyers.com in which the writer of the book This Changes Everything and narrator/guide of the documentary of the same name says that radical action is all that remains. Klein, who has been taking her efforts beyond a mere book tour and is following through with her work by engaging current and future activists in climate talks, talks about the recent summit in France, Obama, and, surprisingly, how recent drops in oil prices could be a game-changer for climate change. [This Changes Everything airs on CBC on Feb. 18. In the meantime, read the POV interview with Klein and director Avi Lewis.]

Finally, talks of different sorts went down last week at the annual Prime Time in Ottawa convention, which draws together figures from Canadian film, television, and digital media. Playback reports that the convention yielded a variety of ideas on how to regulate and enhance the boom of digital content to serve producers and users. These options include a Netflix tax, subscription models, and, yes, ads. [Speaking of subscriptions… ] POV’s Barri Cohen was at the summit and gives us the word on the tweet:

Short Doc of the Week:

This week’s short spotlight is Making of a Film Score directed by Niobe Thompson. POV sat down with Thompson and composer Darren Fung to discuss the upcoming live score performance of the feature film version of The Great Human Odyssey, which previously aired as a three-part CBC documentary. (Watch it here.) The CBC mini-series, currently nominated for several Canadian Screen Awards, features a grand score by Fung that promises to be even better as a live show. Watch this behind-the-scenes doc to see the scale of work that goes into producing such as large orchestration. (And check back soon for the POV interview with Thompson and Fung!)

Making of a Film Score from Human Odyssey on Vimeo.

What reads do you recommend for the week?
Let us know in the comments, or send a tip to pat[at]povmagazine.com.