What’s Up, Doc? Doc Talk for May 30

Alanis Obomsawin at a 2014 event.


By Pat Mullen

What’s up, doc fans? This week’s round-up of documentary news and views begins with a special shout-out to one of Canada’s most prolific filmmakers.

Alanis Obomsawin is this year’s recipient of the Peter Bryce, M.D. Award for Excellence in Public Health Advocacy for First Nations, Métis and Inuit children and youth. Obomsawin’s journey and career is prolific, and luckily POV has been along for much of the ride. Her career is a long road, as chronicled in this extensive look at her early work with films such as Incident at Resitgouche, and then came full circle with films such as Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance that solidified her as a passionate force. In recent years, her films include Waban-aki, Hi-Ho Mistahey!, and Trick or Treaty?. The First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada reports the news of her award, saying, “Through her creative lens, Alanis gives Indigenous Peoples the chance to share their stories, sheds light on injustices, and calls for redress on issues that impact the health and well-being of children. Her films generate discussion, and create space for learning and healing.”

Activism and documentary film find a new partner in Field of Vision, the recently-launched doc house from Laura Poitras, AJ Schnack, and Charlotte Cook. Indiewire looks at how the company, whose work includes Yung Chang’s most recent film Gatekeeper, aids filmmakers by embracing episodic documentary. Field of Vision’s latest premiere is the short doc series The Journey, which streamed an episode a day at The New Yorker last week, brings timely footage in a quick turnaround as director Matthew Cassel delivers hard-hitting footage of Syrian refugee camps. “Traditionally, for a doc like The Journey to find an audience,” writes Indiewire, “it would need to go through a lengthy edit to be crafted into a feature film that would be attractive to a major film festival, where it would then hopefully find distribution. It’s a process that can take years and one that Field of Vision has liberated themselves from by releasing their projects online, which is ideal for the consumption of episodic and short form content.” Watch the first episode of The Journey below and let POV know in the comments if you think Field of Vision is on the right track.

The expansion of digital platforms is a boon for docs, but how sustainable is the market? The Hollywood Reporter says that numbers for streaming subscriptions in America yields a shaky forecast: while streaming revenue continues to grow, the growth is shrinking. According to research firm Strategy Analytics, this trend points to saturation in the streaming market. “Although the change in increase is relatively small, its direction is extremely significant,” said Michael Goodman, the research firm’s digital media director. “Growth relies on cannibalizing other services or getting people to subscribe to more than one — and companies seem to be betting on the latter.” How many streaming subscriptions are in your household? Is there a need to buy into multiple platforms?

The Huffington Post asks a provocative question for Canadian creators, distributors, exhibitors, and policy makers: how much content on Canadian screens needs to be “Canadian”? The question comes after a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute advises the CRTC to drop quotas for CanCon and move the responsibility from the CRTC to Canadian Heritage. The question then becomes: would Canadian content then become politicised?

Going from policy to politicians, Variety calls Weiner “the most relevant documentary since Fahrenheit 9/11.” This provocative tale of fallen New York Congressman Anthony Weiner and his appendage of the same name is a riveting behind-the-scenes political study as it observes the man try to salvage his career. (Read the POV review here.) However, Variety writes that the film’s fascinating look at a politician’s self-obsession makes the doc especially relevant as it hits theatres amidst the campaigns of Hilary Clinton and Doland Trump. (Clinton’s is quite explicitly evoked in the film given her relationship with Weiner’s wife Huma Abedine.) “The dizzying rush of Weiner is that the phenomenon it captures — a political culture in which candidates are round-the-clock addicts of image control — becomes, by the end, a powerful premonition of the current presidential campaign,” writes Variety. “Not that either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump have a track record of behavior that includes anything like Weinergate. Yet for both these candidates, the issue of transgression and disgrace is central.”

The Toronto Star talks to director Dave DeSario, whose new doc A Day’s Work looks at rising risks in the American workplace, specifically as accidents relate to temporary employees. DeSario, who sees parallels between America’s situation and that of Ontario, which outlines some rights for temp workers, notes, “We find that temp workers are about half as likely to report unsafe conditions, and when they do report it, it’s about half as likely to be acted on by the employer. So they don’t have the same influence in the workplace. And we find temp agencies are screening out workers that know how to use the workers’ compensation system and report on these issues.” Catch the film when it screens for free in Toronto on June 1 at the George Ignatieff Theatre.

The Wall Street Journal reports on a trend in documentary film: adaptation and remake rights. The WSJ sees a growing number of doc filmmakers selling their stories to dramatists, which fuels Hollywood’s addiction for remaking stories with proven success. Recent deals include remake rights to Batkid Begins (not a bad idea given that the latest attempt to reboot the Caped Crusader, Batman v. Superman, disappointed audiences), while last year’s The Walk and Freeheld are both adaptations of Academy Award winning documentaries. “Acquiring the remake rights also allows producers to replicate the documentary’s narrative arc—a structure to the beginning, middle and end that is protected by copyright even if the general story is part of the public domain,” explains WSJ. “By picking up remake rights, feature-film producers account for the ‘hardest part’ of crafting a story, she said—putting all the pieces in order.”

Short Film of the Week:

This week’s short spotlight offers a non-fiction treat that should have been among the first to make this series. Theodore Ushev’s Genie-winning doc Lipsett Diaries is a marvellous feat of animated documentary. This cutting-edge work honours another Canuck experimental filmmaker through a canvas of haunted genius. Quebecois wunderkind Xavier Dolan narrates. Watch the film and let us know if Lipsett Diaries should perhaps become a feature!

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