What’s Up, Doc? Doc Talk for Jan. 18

The Look of Silence

By Pat Mullen

What’s up, doc? The film world is all a-twitter this week with the recent Oscar nominations, which include some POV favourites like What Happened, Miss Simone? and Canadian connections. However, the Best Picture line-up, as expected, once again lacks a documentary nominee despite non-fiction film being in the strongest state it’s ever seen. The BAFTAs (Britain’s Oscar equivalent), for example, don’t discriminate and they have 2015’s doc mega-hit Amy in the line-up for Best British Film alongside dramas like Brooklyn and The Danish Girl. Why can’t the Oscars be equally diverse?

The AV Club asks this question in a provocative article that surfaced shortly before the nominations announcement. The article makes a case why Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence deserves to be a Best Picture nominee, but The AV Club says the film doesn’t have a chance when Oscar voters seem to have an inherent bias towards the art form. There is no history of a documentary Best Picture nominee despite the lucrative critical and commercial success of films like March of the Penguins, or even Hoop Dreams, which campaigned for Best Picture. “In this ongoing documentary renaissance,” The AV Club argues, “the absence of a documentary—any documentary—among the Academy’s roll call of the year’s finest suggests a fundamental prejudice against the form.” Do you agree? [Silver lining: The Look of Silence cleaned up at the Cinema Eye Honours last week.]

Award season wouldn’t be award season without its controversies, and Oscar frontrunner Amy has one loud critic: Mitch Winehouse, Amy’s father. The Wrap reports that Mr. Winehouse took to Twitter and congratulated his daughter for receiving a posthumous nomination at the Brit Awards, but also used the opportunity to say how much he hates the film. Mitch Winehouse has been an outspoken critic of the film since it’s Cannes premiere when he opened up to The Guardian, often the go-to place for smear campaigns, and criticized the film for portraying him in an unflattering light.

The other big doc talk right now is the furor over the binge-worthy Netflix doc-series Making a Murderer. In addition to ample “Did he or didn’t he” discussions, this doc inspires some of the best debate of any work currently out there. Chris Hedges at Truthdig, for example, writes that by focusing on a Caucasian male who went to trial, albeit through allegedly corrupt means, Making a Murderer exposes greater injustices in the American justice system. “The reality is that almost no one who is imprisoned in America has gotten a trial,” Hedges writes. “A staggering 97 percent of all federal cases and 95 percent of all state felony cases are resolved through plea bargaining. Of the 2.2 million people we have incarcerated at the moment—25 percent of the world’s prison population—2 million never had a trial. And significant percentages of them are innocent.” Who wants to make a doc about this story next?

If news on Making a Murderer is a bit too heavy for a Monday, why not visit something lighter? The Canadian master of black humour, Guy Maddin (My Winnipeg), offers six picks for great documentaries that readers need to see over at NonFics. In true Guy Maddin fashion, these picks challenge one’s definition of “documentary.” Another debate for doc fans!

From six picks to six questions, documentary authorities have ample advice this week. The Discovery Channel recently appointed John Hoffman as Executive VP of Documentaries and Specials, and Ryan Harrington reporting to him as Executive Director of Acquisitions, so the International Documentary Association offers a chat about all things on the non-fiction front with the new execs. The channel’s new bigwigs are rather optimistic about the state of the doc. “You now have generations of people who grew up identifying with documentary filmmakers as cultural icons,” says Hoffman, “and they return to them to see what they’re doing next. Also, the attraction of the form to creative people and the availability of the technology, which allows people to work in a way that’s affordable—I think all of this has created a different world for nonfiction storytelling.” Read the full interview here.

Finally, we end with some wise advice on the photography front. Canadian photojournalist and Order of Canada Recipient Ted Grant offers Ten Commandments to aspiring photographers over at The Tyee. (Okay, he offers over thirty pieces of advice, but the more the merrier.) Shutterbugs best heed the words of a master and learn the art of posing people (just don’t do it), observing (“feel the environment”), and carrying raisins (he recommends Thompson raisins). Any other photography tips from POV readers?

Short of the Week

This week’s short doc pick is the NFB’s Canada Vignettes episode Flin Flon by Tina Horne. This amusing film tells the story behind the Manitoba town’s wacky name. It seems like an appropriate recommendation after the six picks from Mad Manitoban Guy Maddin. And at three minutes short, it’s a great afternoon work break!

Canada Vignettes: Flin Flon by Tina Horne, National Film Board of Canada

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