What’s Up, Doc? Doc Talk for May 17

John Wright sings, “North to Alaska.”
A scene from KONELĪNE: our land beautiful.
A Canada Wild Production.


By Pat Mullen

What’s up, doc fans? We’re back with a weekly round-up of documentary news and views following an intense few weeks of Hot Docs coverage. We begin with the unusual move of linking to some POV writers on another site. Editor Marc Glassman and yours truly report on this year’s successful edition of Hot Docs for the International Documentary Association. We have especially strong praise for homegrown documentaries and call 2016 the best year for Canadian films in recent memory. Read the full report here. And check out POV’s complete Hot Docs coverage here.

One other great conversation to emerge from Hot Docs is the ongoing question of why documentaries matter. CBC Arts tackles this question with a diverse range of filmmakers. Six filmmakers, Tiffany Hsiung (The Apology), Matt Johnson (Operation Avalanche), Chase Joynt (Beyond You and Me), Rama Rau (The League of Exotique Dancers), Darby Wheeler (Hip-Hop Evolution), and Nettie Wild (KONELĪNE: our land beautiful) draw from the experiences of their films to say why docs matter. Watch below

When one festival ends another begins, so this week’s round-up begins with some news from the biggest festival of all: Cannes! Documentaries generally don’t do well by the big fête on the Croisette, so POV wants to highlight the few films representing the art form at the fest. The most hotly-anticipated doc at Cannes might be Risk from Citizenfour Oscar winner Laura Poitras, which profiles WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. In a great interview with Screen, Poitras talks about her new film, doc’s ability to change and inspire people, and her new strand Field of Vision, which offers short docs like the recent Hot Docs gem Gatekeeper. We want to raise the bar,” Poitras tells screen on Field of Vision. “We’re interested in trying things, making mistakes, and figuring out what works for short form online.”

Another doc screening at Cannes this week is the showbiz feature Bright Lights about the mother/daughter duo of Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher. The Wrap offers a promising review of this film, saying, “Frank, funny and so revealing that it becomes uncomfortable at times, the film began when Fisher enlisted her friend, actor and documentary director Fisher Stevens, to chronicle the final performances in Reynolds’ nightclub act. Stevens and his wife Alexis Bloom followed the two women, and what emerged was a portrait enlivened by Fisher’s sharp wit and brutal honesty, and by Reynolds’ determination to keep going in the face of declining health.” Let’s hope that Bright Lights and Risk appear at some fall festivals.

Outside of Cannes news, FStoppers combines POV’s two favourite art forms in an engaging trailer-filled listicle of ten must-see docs about photography. The list, which skews contemporary as Internet clickables usually do, highlights Finding Vivian Maier, Bill Cunningham New York, and, interestingly, Baraka as great docs about the art of images. What’s missing, shutterbugs? While considering options, revisit the POV interview with Finding Vivian Maier directors Charlie Siskel and John Maloof:

Doc makers hoping to make future top ten lists or Cannes cuts need to know the art of editing, since great movies are often born in the editing suite. Premium Beat offers a handy list of tips for documentary filmmakers to get the most out of their movies while cutting them together. Some of the items are obvious, like cutting on action, but other tips, like transcribing every interview, might be easily overlooked. What bits of advice do doc veterans reading POV have to offer?

Finally, Reverse Shot introduces a new symposium on documentary that’s bound to appear in future issues of this weekly round-up as it progresses. In the series ‘True Stories’, Reverse Shot looks at the relationship between fiction and non-fiction as more and more films blur the line with hybrid films, docu-drama, and outright fiction films appearing with increasing frequency at festivals. This series puts a doc in conversation with a fiction film to see which work gets at a deeper perceived reality. The first pairs include match-ups of Listen to Me Marlon with Birdman and Maidan with The Tree of Life. Be sure to read their intro first before exploring the features.

Short Film of the Week:

Dream Magic profiles filmmaker Alanis Obomsawin in celebration of her receipt of the Governor General’s award in 2008. This look at the prolific director is a perfect starting before reading the great look at Obomsawin’s prolific career in this restored article from Cinema Canada.

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