What’s Up, Doc? Doc Talk for Nov. 16

Heart of a Dog
Photo courtesy of TIFF.

By Pat Mullen

What’s up, doc? POV brings you the best in doc talk happening on the web in this newly revived take on the Doc Digest. We’ll bring you a curated list of all the trending topics and articles with the 411 on the world of non-fiction filmmaking. And we’ll remind you to subscribe to POV since great articles appear in print too!

The next issue of POV —our 100th issue!—is the annual education issue, which surveys film programs at schools across Canada. This year’s edition offers stories of emerging filmmakers and the ways in which their respective schools shape their careers. However, Indiewire asks if filmmakers even need to go to school at all. They offer a different educational survey with stories from filmmakers at this year’s AFI fest on whether or not they attended film school. The answers range from saying that film school is a great experience to a “waste of money.” What do you, think, doc fans? (PS: teacher says she’ll give you an “A” if you subscribe to POV in time for the education issue!)

Whether one’s education in film is formal or informal, advice from a veteran filmmaker is invaluable to any emerging artist. Laurie Anderson, the director of the spectacular Heart of a Dog, which is now playing in theatres and gets a shout-out in POV‘s report from FNC, offers her own advice for filmmakers with five personal filmmaking tips over at Studio Daily. Anderson admits that Heart of a Dog differs from the original assignment that inspired it, and that, like any good arts student, she turned it in “two years too late and about an hour too long.” (Read more on Heart of a Dog in the POV TIFF Report in Issue 100.)

Heart of a Dog is an underdog in this year’s Academy Awards race for Best Documentary Feature since the Academy doesn’t usually go for formally audacious genre-benders (cough, cough, Stories We Tell), but Anderson headlines the notable observation Awards Daily makes that female filmmakers have a strong presence in this year’s Oscar doc race. Women hold the directing credits of 38 of the 124 features in contention. Other notable female-directed films leading the campaign trail include Sophie Deraspe’s The Amina Profile, Crystal Moselle’s The Wolfpack, Marah Strauch’s Sunshine Superman, Liz Garbus’s What Happened, Miss Simone?

One female-directed film that stands strong is Jennifer Peedom’s Sherpa. (Sherpa appears in our upcoming TIFF report.) This thrilling, eye-opening Occupy-era tale of death on Everest captures an impressive range of drama, urgency, and emotion as Peedom and her crew film the confrontation between climbers and Sherpas in the aftermath of an unprecedented tragedy. Peedom talks about the Sherpa shoot with Indiewire in their video interview series. Worth a watch!

The arguable front-runner in the doc race, however, is Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Look of Silence, which follows 2013’s Oscar-nominee The Act of Killing. Oppenheimer talks. with The Hollywood Reporter on the practical and emotional difficulties of tackling the mass killings in Indonesia in these back-to-back films. Surprisingly enough, Oppenheimer stumbled into the acclaimed project by accident, saying, “In 2001 I was just starting to become interested in non-fiction filmmaking. I was asked if I would be interested in teaching a group of workers on a palm oil plantation in Indonesia how to make a film documenting their struggle to organize a union. I didn’t know anything about Indonesia — or documentary filmmaking — at the time. But I said I would go and learn. I arrived on this Belgium-owned plantation at 26 years old in a remote part of north Sumatra where foreigners never really travel.” (Read the POV reviews of The Look of Silence and The Act of Killing.)

It’s no accident that Frederick Wiseman is back with another three-hour opus as the master of observation returns with In Jackson Heights. (Watch a POV chat with Wiseman here.) 195-minute ob-doc epic opens at the Bloor Cinema on Friday and the film captures the scope of American multiculturalism in full form. The film doesn’t make the list of the 10 best documentaries about New York City over at NonFics, but two other Wiseman films, Welfare and Central Park, do. And in good Wiseman form, they’re both nearly three hours long. What other NYC docs should make the list?

Speaking of the Big Apple, DOC NYC is in full swing. The fest opened with Barbara Kopple’s Miss Sharon Jones! (reviewed here) and Variety reports that Kopple joined Wiseman in the fest’s annual tribute to visionary filmmakers. Other doc makers fêted at the fest include Jim Alpert, Kim Longinotto, and Tom Quinn.

The DOC NYC honours show that birds of a feather should stick together in the doc community, and a similar spirit soars in the Canadian Hot Docs hit The Messenger. The Owen Sound Sun Times reports that Diane Woods, one of the producers of The Messenger, recently gave a keynote speech at the Bruce Peninsula Bird Observatory’s annual fundraiser. Highlights from the speech draw on the filmmaker’s inspiration from the life at Bruce Peninula and her passionate words about the film’s ambitious release, which includes five different versions for theatrical and television distribution. (Read more about The Messenger in the POV feature.)

Finally, birds of a feather are the core of crowdfunding in the doc community, so this week’s crowdfunding shout-out goes to the Ottawa-based Hassan Diab documentary project. The film hopes to raise awareness of Diab’s case and Canadian extradition laws. The project seeks $15 000 for production costs, while any additional funds will go towards Diab’s legal fees. If films like The Secret Trial 5 and David & Me inspire you, consider helping out another urgent doc.

Do you have any good doc recommendations for the week?