What’s Up, Doc? Doc Talk for Jan. 4

Making a Murderer

By Pat Mullen

Happy New Year! POV hopes that all the doc fans are nice and relaxed after the holidays. This week’s return to the round-up of documentary news and views from the web toasts the year that’s passed and the year that looks as fresh as the foot of snow making 2016 a winter wonderland. If your New Year’s resolution is to read about documentaries, then we have you covered! (As does a POV subscription!)

Rolling Stone captures the pulse of 2015 documentaries with a great overview about how last year was the year of the music documentary. Not only do 2015’s most memorable docs tell stories about musicians and the ways in which their music shapes the world, but many standout docs from 2015 largely resurrect the dead to sing their praises. There are ample members of the “27 Club” in the class of 2015 with Amy, Janis: Little Girl Blue, and not one but two Kurt Cobain documentaries. Which iconic musicians do POV readers hope to see in the doc class of 2016?

Music doc Amy gets the runner-up spot in the Nonfics poll of 2015 and continues its neck-and-neck race with Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence to be the top doc of the year. The annual survey at Nonfics grabs a comprehensive look at the best documentaries of the year by polling members of the doc community, including writers, editors, programmers, and die-hard doc fans. The ballots include one by this member of the POV family, who threw in votes for Sunshine Superman and music doc What Happened, Miss Simone?. See the results of the poll here!

Even though the aforementioned ballot offers films from female filmmakers in the top two spots (Marah Strauch and Liz Garbus, respectively), the Female Gaze blog at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists says the stats are dire when it comes to acknowledging women in the feature documentary category at the Oscars. In the past 20 years, only two Oscar docs (Laura Poitras’s Citizenfour and Born into Brothels, co-directed by Zana Briskie) credit female directors. (A female producers have also won Oscars in the category recently.) This stat comes despite 40% female representation in the documentary branch. “Given that the New Year is a time to make positive changes and the first step in doing so is to take an honest view of what our problems are in the first place,” writes Victoria Cook, “it seems like a good time for the doc community to recognize that it suffers from the same problems as the entertainment business as a whole.” Perhaps one place to start is Svetla Turnin’s feminist documentary manifesto “Beyond the Female Gale”! [ Read it in full here. ]

Few women remain in this year’s Oscar doc race with Garbus’s Nina Simone doc holding steady as a dark horse of the shortlist. One long shot that could rally thanks to the passion of its core fanbase is Laurie Anderson’s Heart of a Dog, which has some of the most unusual and eccentric campaign tactics of the year. (Which is fitting given the idiosyncratic nature of the film.) Anderson’s latest coup is a New Year’s Eve celebration of Heart of a Dog, which, as Page Six notes, pays tribute to 9/11 responder dogs tonight by offering a three-minute clip of the film and music played at a decibel that only dogs can hear.

In addition to all the films being fêted in year-end lists, it’s important to remember the stray docs still looking for homes. Indiewire lists seven documentaries from the festival circuit that remain without distribution. Anyone looking to adopt?

The big story on the doc front over the holidays, however, is the roaring success of Netflix’s latest binge-watching frenzy, Making a Murderer. Unlike House of Cards, Orange is the New Black, and The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt, though, this new series isn’t a drama. It’s a serial true crime doc. Making a Murderer chronicles the case of Steven Avery, who was charged for the murder of Teresa Halbach in 2005 and convicted. Viewers are streaming this show faster and with more fury than the typical Netflix fare, as the fervent convos at many NYE parties may attest. Forbes calls it “Netflix’s most significant show ever” with its ability to rally the platform’s fan base around a programme outside the mainstream. Making a Murderer incites enough passion that viewers are already churning and mulling the case with the New York Times rounding out a series of key questions that remain in the case. Similarly, the show inspires a wave of support for Avery, as over 100 000 people have already petitioned President Obama to pardon the subject of the documentary. The prosecutors, however, sing a different tune and note that the series omits 10-20 percent of physical/forensic evidence so as not to “muddy up a perfectly good conspiracy movie with what actually happened.” Where do you weigh in on Making a Murderer, POV readers?

Making a Murderer offers one example for how Netflix expands the audience for documentary films, but Michael Moore (Where to Invade Next) resists the idea of making the streaming site the first stop for docs. “It is crucial that documentaries that are made for a theatrical audience have theatrical distribution,” Moore says to Business Insider. Moore emphasizes the collective act of watching a film in a theatre with fellow moviegoers, saying, “We make them to be experienced with others, because you’re going to have a different emotional response. The laughter, the crying, the anger, whatever it is. And I think there’s something very valuable about that.” Besides binge-watching, does streaming offer a different film experience, or do you agree with Moore that theatrical viewing offers something unique and special?

On a different note, congratulations go out to documentary filmmaker Rudy Buttignol. The BC filmmaker is among the 69 recipients recently announced to be appointed to the Order of Canada. Buttignol is the CEO of BC’s Knowledge Network. It’s fitting to see this member of the doc community reap such a high honour, for Buttignol is no stranger to POV family thanks to his ongoing support for non-fiction film and for his passionate and personal essay that asks if documentary is Canada’s national art form. [Read more about Buttignol in the POV interview with Marc Glassman.]

Finally, filmmakers can add to the argument that documentary is Canada’s national art form by submitting their work to Hot Docs. The deadline for submissions to Canada’s biggest showcase for documentary is January 6. Submit today so that POV can cover your films this spring!

Short Film of the Week:
Vancouver Never Plays Itself

This week’s pick is the documentary short Vancouver Never Plays Itself, directed by Tony Zhou. This fun doc looks at the ever-Canadian conundrum of Canuck cities hiding themselves in Hollywood films. The doc offers a roster of countries that Vancouver has played in various Hollywood efforts, noting the city’s impressive résumé of “character actors” (ie: landmarks that appear with a familiar “hey, I know that guy from something!” appeal) and insider’s tricks to see Vancouver creeping through different disguises. But what does it mean for a city that hides itself to play a generic backlot? “If film is global,” the film asks, “then why do so many stories take place in the same four cities?” Watch and find out!

Vancouver Never Plays Itself from Tony Zhou 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.