What’s Up, Doc? Doc Talk for Mar. 7

Girls’ Night Out
White Pine Pictures.

By Pat Mullen

What’s up, doc fans? We’re back with a round-up of the latest news and views on documentary culture. This week features several films with Canadian connections in the spotlight. (Additional note: POV previously linked to Mark Starowicz’s CBC interview on the decline of documentary production in Canada despite a rise in popularity. Give it a listen here, as it’s an essential debate.)

Making recent headlines and stirring up a storm—as all documentaries should—is Girls’ Night Out , which aired on CBC Docs last week. The film, which examines an alleged rise in binge-drinking among young women, gets thoroughly blasted and debunked by Leah Mclaren at The Globe and Mail for being a “patronizing, fact-averse travesty.” “Mclaren writes, “The stats say heavy drinking in Canada is marginally up, but young women are certainly not the culprits. So why are they being blamed?” Mclaren’s take is especially urgent in the wake of the Jian Ghomeshi trial and the ever-present problem of victim-blaming, which she suggests the film perpetuates by saying that younger Canadian women are hitting the bottle with more enthusiasm than ever and, in turn, inviting sexual assault. Read more here.

On the other hand, Judith Timson of The Toronto Star looks at binge-drinking from the perspective of a mother and agrees with what she sees in the film. “I used to look around wistfully and see nothing but potential,” writes Timson. “These girls were a feminist dream — lovely, smart, privileged young women, told they could be anything or do anything, most of whom would thankfully go on to university degrees, good jobs, and satisfying relationships. But I would worry, why oh why do they have to get drunk so often?”

Sex and the City

The Globe and Mail’s John Doyle is a bit more pragmatic overall, but agrees that the harrowing study is a bit off. He writes, “What we get, and what I don’t buy, is the assertion that Sex and the City inspired some women to overindulge, to go from one bar to the next on a wild ride of cocktails, men, more cocktails and eventually passing out. Nor do I buy the assertion that coverage of Rihanna in a nightclub, quaffing champagne and surrounded by good-looking guys, drives some women to overindulge.” It’s safe to say that Girls’ Night Out won’t be popping bottles with Globe writers any time soon, but what’s your point of view on this documentary? Is binge-drinking among young women an urgent concern or is there a better way to approach the issue(s)? Watch Girls’ Night Out here on the CBC.

Speaking of girls in the headlines, recent Oscar-winner Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy defends her film The Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness against charges that its study of honour killings in Pakistan portrays the nation in a negative light. The Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker has some of the best reviews from Oscar night for her compelling acceptance speech that thanked the Pakistani government for taking action, but The Dawn reports that the filmmaker met some challenges at home in Pakistan. “We should speak the truth,” replies Obaid-Chinoy in The Dawn. “I’m speaking the truth through my films. What face of the country are you [the media] showing? I’m doing that, showing the truth.” A Girl in the River airs tonight on HBO Canada at 9:00 PM ET. Read the POV review here.

We’re still in the Oscar bubble a little and that’s great because it lets us explore the never-ending vault of coverage for the nominated docs.POV’S take on the Oscars before the show notes a comparison between Matthew Heineman’s nominee Cartel Land and Canadian director Denis Villeneuve’s powerful drama Sicario. VICE seems to have beat POV to making the connection, though, as they had Heineman sit down for a chat with Sicario sharpshooter Roger Deakins, who was nominated for Best Cinematography. Watch their great chat below and tell POV which other doc/drama pairings could inspire future conversations! (Thanks to reader Michael for pointing out this video!)

Also in the news is the new Canadian documentary Day of Change, which chronicles the major upset of the New Democrats in Alberta. The film premiered in Edmonton last week as the Edmonton Sun reports, and it marks a feature debut for filmmaker Kelly Wolfert, who seized an opportunity that nobody else in the local filmmaking community planned to tackle. “I just thought that was crazy because it was going to be a pretty big deal,” says Wolfert to The Sun. “We had no idea that there would be that much of a landslide in seats (for the NDP). We were thinking it was going to be a minority government, one way or the other. To me that was an interesting story.” Read more here.

The Messenger

Another Canadian doc in the news is Su Rynard’s songbird film The Messenger. The film is currently nominated for a Canadian Screen Award for its stunning cinematography that captures songbirds in flight to show their majestic wings and colours while experts and bird-lovers explain why the birds need our help. CTV looks at the film, its cause, and the way it captures the birds in flight through a wind tunnel. “One of the issues of flying birds in the wind tunnel,” says Chris Guglielmo, Avian Wind Tunnel Researcher, to CTV, is making them think they’re actually flying in nature. In our experiments we simulate a night environment with very low light levels, but of course that’s not compatible with trying to shoot high speed imagery of birds in such beautiful colour so we had to completely redo the lighting in the tunnel.” Read and watch more here.

The True/False Film Festival recently ran in Missouri and Indiewire highlights one unique facet of the fest within the larger festival circuit: its habit for holding “secret screenings” of films within the programme. The festival does not announce these titles, but simply reveals the sneak peeks to audiences who sit down for a surprise title. Sneak previews are especially controversial nowadays as festivals scoop premieres from under the noses of competitors and see a clash of egos/philosophies overshadow the films themselves, most notably in the ongoing Toronto/Telluride tiff every September. However, True/False, unlike Telluride, keeps these screening strictly secret. The fest says that secret screenings are helpful for filmmakers because, as True/False co-founder David Wilson notes, “Filmmakers at first often don’t know how to talk about their films, so they learn this in the process of screening. They learn how audiences respond.” What do you think as filmmakers or festivalgoers? Are covert screenings fair and helpful, or do legitimate premieres add to the festival experience? Read more at Indiewire.

Slant Magazine gives a rundown of some of the highlights at this year’s True/False Film Festival. Sam C. Mac praises the range of timely social issues films at the festival writing, “Here in the modestly bustling college town of Columbia, Missouri, everyone from out-of-town press to the general, local public has surrendered to a five-day open discussion on social and aesthetic concerns in the real world, one that this festival’s all-nonfiction-film program seems uniquely prepared to provoke.” The films profiled include opening night film Lee Fields and the Expressions, Those Who Jump, and The Prison in Twelve Landscapes by Canadian filmmaker Brett Story. Read more here.

Short Film of the Week:

This week’s short doc spotlight is the playful 1987 NFB film The Giant by Denis Nokony. This collage of archival material and animation tells the story of a Saskatchewan titan and uses the mixed form to capture the bones and soul of a gentle giant. Enjoy!

The Giant by Denis Nokony, National Film Board of Canada

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