What’s Up, Doc? Doc Talk for June 27

Hoop Dreams

By Pat Mullen

What’s up, doc fans? This week’s recap of documentary news and views features birthday greetings, top docs, a reluctant star opening up, and more!

But first, we must start with the most essential link of all: subscriptions! The summer issue is on its way, so sign up ASAP to get POV 102, which features an new interview with Angry Inuk director and Hot Docs Audience Award winner Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, a look at Tiffany Hsiung’s The Apology, a feature on documenting movies with The Slippers, Random Acts of Legacy and How to Build a Time Machine, a profile of retiring Hot Docs Canadian programmer Lynne Fernie, and more! Subscribe today to save nearly 50% off cover pricing.

On to the links!

POV joins the doc community in wishing a very happy 50th birthday to Kartemquin Films. The production company of Hoop Dreams fame celebrated half a century of world class filmmaking last week. To mark the occasion, Hoop Dreams and Life Itself director Steve James sat down with the team at The Criterion Collection to discuss Kartemquin’s longevity playing the doc game. “Kartemquin is still Kartemquin in that the company mission hasn’t changed,” says James in the interview, “but creatively it’s broadened. The kinds of films that get made there are more varied than they were back in the old days, but there’s still this commitment to doing films that matter, that tackle relevant issues and do it in a complex and thoughtful way.” What are your favourite Kartemquin films? Read more about the production company in this salute to their 40th birthday.

Another player in the documentary community who is shaking things up much like Kartemquin did with its game-changing films is Sarah Koenig, the creator of the hit documentary podcast Serial. Koenig offers a master class in the skill, art, and elbow grease that go into making Serial, particularly the Leakin Park episode, which ultimately extends to the creation of docs in general by shaping research and intuition into compelling narratives. Koenig shares her manifesto with Transom, saying, “Certainly you should try as hard as you can to get the principal people in your story to go on tape. It’s just that sometimes, try as you might, you fail to persuade. But what I’ve learned is that when that happens, it doesn’t necessarily ruin your story. You can still manage to tell it — narratively, with emotion — using other tools: research, non-tape reporting, and creative planning.”

Good storytelling is all about making listeners, viewers, and readers believe the narrative that unfolds before them. Penny Lane’s recent animated doc Nuts! takes this matter seriously in her hilariously loony film about a quack doctor. Lane tackles the challenges and thrills about making a movie about a charlatan, while also using creative license to tell a broader story that ultimately gets at greater truths within the mad doctor’s story. When asked by Paste about the challenge of drawing the audience into Dr. Brinkley’s story, Lane replies, “In so doing, you can question the entire documentary film form, and make people more critical viewers of documentaries, which also sometimes lie—you know, stretch the truth to make a point, or use show business stuff. My writer and I used to yell, ‘Show business!’ at each other when we were writing something that we knew wasn’t strictly true. We were trying to do the best we could to be as good at this as Brinkley.” Read the POV review of Nuts! here.

A very different performer is the subject of Larry Weinstein’s new documentary Leslie Caron: The Reluctant Star. Weinstein’s new doc offers an intimate portrait of actress Leslie Caron of Gigi fame, and The Globe and Mail talks to Caron ahead of the film’s Tuesday premiere in Toronto. Caron dishes about old Hollywood, censorship, and how studio ways ultimately hold back the movies: “Caron also felt limited by the Hays Code, which enforced rigid guidelines for appropriate behaviour in films,” writes Johanna Schneller for the Globe. “’It was absurd,’ [Caron] scoffs. ‘Especially compared to the theatre, where you could see everything, every subject was good. I think it held cinema back for 20 years.’ She had to reshoot a number in An American in Paris where she danced with a chair ‘because they said it was too sensual,’ she says, laughing.” Read what Larry Weinstein has to say about the film in the POV interview, out soon!

Leslie Caron: The Reluctant Star joins films like The League of Exotique Dancers in showcasing the ageless beauty and talent of mature women. The Daily Telegraph talks with Exotique Dancers director Rama Rau upon the film’s premiere at the new Sydney edition of Hot Docs. Rau insists that a doc is the only way to do a film like this one. “If I wrote a script (like the film), people would have said ‘I don’t believe (these) women exist,” she said. Read more on The League of Exotique Dancers in the current POV cover story.

The Playlist offers a provocative list of the 20 best docs of the year so far. The list includes expected titles like Weiner, Berlin winner Fire at Sea, and Tickled. There are some surprises and omissions worth debating, so send your votes in the comments section and let us know what the best docs are this year! What else deserves a spot on that list? KONELINE? Tempest Storm? Almost Holy? I am the Blues?

Indiewire gives the scoop on some amazing news that should encourage short filmmakers. They report that American distributor Oscilloscope will put the short doc Pickle into theatres. This move is rare in the age of YouTube and Vimeo, but a refreshing reminder that shorts still have a place in the theatrical market. This news is magic to POV, which was tickled by Pickle after seeing it at Hot Docs this year, where we called it “a deeply ruminative, philosophical treatise on the human capacity to empathise, to anthropomorphise, and even to self-delude when accepting pet animals into our everyday lives.” Read the full review here.

Short Film of the Week:

Speaking of shorts, POV continues its Pride Month spotlight with the compelling film Thep, which profiles Bangkok gender-reassignment surgeon Dr. Thep. The film offers a glimpse into a world in which he’s been helping people find their physical bodies for 20 years. His current attitude? “Finally the world is catching up to us.” Powerful words.

Thep from STATELESS MEDIA on Vimeo.

What are you reading this week?
Let us know in the comments or send a tip to pat[at]povmagazine.com!