What’s Up, Doc? Doc Talk for Jan. 25

Finding Vivian Maier

By Pat Mullen

This week’s round-up offers a sprinkling of POV potpourri. There’s a little something for everyone.

First up is The Globe and Mail’s story about a new exhibit of photography by late street photographer Vivian Maier that’s coming to Toronto’s Stephen Bulger Gallery this year. Maier, as readers might remember from the excellent Oscar-nominated documentary Finding Vivian Maier (watch the POV interview with directors Charlie Siskel and John Maloof), shot to fame when photography fan John Maloof found a bunch of her negatives locked away in storage and showcased her beautiful street photography to the world. Bulger’s new exhibit offers unseen photos developed from additional negative found in the trove of Maier’s hidden bounty, but the real prize might be a new biography that tells the story of this elusive woman whose mysterious story makes the legacy of her work such a treasure hunt.

More great shots from a larger than life character appear in the enthralling BASE jumping doc Sunshine Superman, which offers feats from soaring heights as subject Carl Boenish records his jumps from extreme heights with a Super 8. Director Marah Strauch writes at Women in Hollywood about her experience of capturing the highs of Boenish’s falls. She remarks that Boenish worked as a cinematographer on John Frankenheimer’s The Gypsy Moths (1969) before he even tried BASE jumping, but was strapping cameras on skydivers in a flash of genius to record a fall from the sky from a POV that audiences rarely see. The director writes about mirroring this “poetic moment of leaving solid ground and falling” for Sunshine Superman and it’s fair to say that the film achieves it.

Sunshine Superman comes from the class of TIFF 2014, but many docs are currently kicking off the 2016 festival circuit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. This year’s doc line-up is particularly worth watching as Indiewire reminds readers that Tabitha Jackson, director of Sundance’s Documentary Film Program, encouraged audiences at DOC NYC to reconsider the ways in which they perceive and evaluate docs. The article notes that Jackson made a radical statement by saying that “Sundance is not a campaigning organization” and that the emphasis should be on the cinematic qualities of films—the engagement with form—rather than on the perceived immediacy/urgency of the subjects. In an age where virtually anyone can grab a cheap digital camera and record history as it unfolds, her point has merit. Is it as much of a risk to challenge documentary form as it is to tell a story that pushes against the status quo?

One Sundance film that is on our radar is Penny Lane’s Nuts! about an eccentric doctor with a cure for impotence and a knack for fiction. Lane talks with Realscreen about her new film, and it sounds as if Nuts! is as big of a shapeshifter as the film’s subject is. The film draws on archival material, much like Lane’s Our Nixon does, but the film adds extensive animated sequences to fill in the gaps and comment upon a character who was very controlling of his public image. Nuts! sounds like it meets Jackson’s aforementioned challenge to push the boundaries. Hot Docs ’16, please!

Similarly, Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine is earning rave reviews from outlets like The Hollywood Reporter and Nonfics for its audacious blend of documentary and drama. As with Greene’s previous film Actress, Kate Plays Christine draws on the power of the screen performance: it documents an actor acting, while interviews pepper the film with traditional documentary elements. As David Rooney says at THR, though, “At an almost imperceptible point in all this, the film starts morphing from documentary into dramatic portrait.” Christopher Campbell at Nonfics gives the film a five-star review and notes that its meditation on the subject isn’t easy to digest quickly, but “it’s nevertheless an achievement unlike any other we’ll see in nonfiction cinema this year.” Add this one to the Hot Docs wish list!

On the other hand, reviews of Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg’s Weiner indicate that Sundance isn’t slacking when it comes to more conventional docs that tackle hot button issues. Over at Indiewire, Eric Kohn calls Weiner the best documentary about a political campaign ever made, as it chronicles the politician’s fall following a 2011 sexting scandal and his refusal to acknowledge the storm in which he finds himself. “Though not precisely about his platforms,” Kohn writes, “the documentary offers a mesmerizing look at what it means to lose control of a carefully developed narrative… With its ringside seat to a Shakespearean fall from grace, Weiner easily stands out as the paragon of its genre” Sounds thrilling!

Werner Herzog probably has some droll philosophical musings on the perils of sexting, and there’s a good chance they appear in his Sundance doc Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World. The filmmaker talks with Vanity Fair about his new film, which meditates upon the dangers of the Internet in today’s increasingly plugged-in world. The director talks about all the funny parodies that speak in his voice, while illuminating why a fable about the Internet is a worthy cautionary tale. Herzog also says that he wants to fly at Sundance and hopes to spread his wings at the Olympic ramp. Fly, Werner! Fly!

Short Film of the Week

This week’s short doc shout-out goes to 让-马克·瓦雷 (Jean-Marc Vallée) by Annie St-Pierre. This droll film, produced by the NFB in co-operation with the National Arts Centre and the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards for Vallée’s 2015 honours, is a hilarious ode to filmmakers and their fans. It’s a love story of sorts about a video store owner whose collection is limited to just a handful of films: Wild, Dallas Buyers Club, The Young Victoria, Café de Flore, C.R.A.Z.Y., and behind glass, Vallée’s shorts. (Bootlegs, of course!) This film humorously captures cinephilia in its most passionate and extreme state.

让-马克·瓦雷 (Jean-Marc Vallée) by ONFB, 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.