What’s Up, Doc? Weekly Round-up - Feb. 19

Angry Inuk director Aletha Arnaquq-Baril recently appeared on an episode of Canadland to discuss the ongoing controversy surrounding director Michelle Latimer and to move forward the conversation of Indigenous representation and storytelling
Photo: Carolyne Weldon

By Madeline Lines

There’s a lot up in this week’s round up of documentary news and views, so let’s get to it. Now that the discussion around director Michelle Latimer’s false claims to Indigenous identity has made the rounds in Canadian media, it’s come to Canadaland. A recent episode called The Convenient Pretendian will get you up to speed on recent developments as well as offer new insight, including a conversation with documentary filmmaker Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Angry Inuk). Host Jesse Brown also reveals how Canadaland was set to adapt their podcast, Thunder Bay, into a dramatic TV series that was set to be helmed by Latimer. The difficult but necessary conversations that unfold are helpful in envisioning the future of Indigenous storytelling on screen.

Conversations are buzzing around the recently released Oscar shortlist, and people are hedging their bets on what will be nominated. You can find POV’s recent roundups of some short docs in the running here and here. While the acclaimed doc Boys State made the shortlist, one of its subjects, René Otero, is reaching out for help via GoFundMe. Otero wrote a New York Times Op-Ed in the wake of the doc outlining how the program depicted in Boys State made him decide not to pursue a career in politics. The young activist is raising money to support himself and others via a consulting firm. The link to the fundraiser can be found here.

A recent article in Variety sees Stacey Abrams and Viola Davis talking Oscars as well. The article by Angelique Jackson and Jazz Tangcay introduces Davis and Abrams’ recent work and puts them in conversation about everything from awards season to their common aspirations and goals as Black women in the public sphere. Abrams was a producer on the award-winning doc about voter suppression, All In: The Fight for Democracy, in which she is featured. The doc made the shortlists for Best Documentary Feature and Best Original Song for Janelle Monáe’s Turntables. The official Oscar nominations will be announced in less than a month, on Monday, March 15.

On the latest episode of Pure Nonfiction, longtime documentary editor turned producer Jean Tsien discusses her work, including the production of the pandemic doc 76 Days. 76 Days premiered at TIFF and has now made the Oscar shortlist for Best Documentary Feature. In “Jean Tsien Goes Outside Her Comfort Zone,” Tsien discusses her preference for being behind-the-scenes, her immigration experience and upbringing, and more.

If you’ve gone to browse Netflix recently, you’ve probably been hit with the auto-playing header trailer for their latest true crime series, Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel. The streaming platform, and other platforms like podcasts, have been feeding a growing appetite for true crime content in recent years. But do these true crime serials feed a desire to keep the viewer hooked at the expense of documentary ethics? The Canadian Press’s David Friend took to Twitter this week to discuss the growing and concerning trend of “binge-bait.” (Stay tuned to our next issue for an article on a related topic from Ezra Winton.)

A recent article by Pooja Rangan and Brett Story in the World Records Journal considers the current state of true crime documentaries. Four Propositions on True Crime and Abolition looks at how the genre has evolved from penny dreadfuls to having films or podcasts see themselves as catalysts for justice. The authors argue that, “True crime is not the ally of justice, but its antinomy,” and provide four propositions that heed a bold call for abolition documentary and for nonfiction films to cease their fixation on crime altogether. The argument is worth exploring in light of recent instances like The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel or Tiger King that have been criticized for being sensational exploitative fuel for hungry armchair detectives.

To finish with some industry news, the Documentary Organization of Canada has just released an official response to the NFB’s 2020-2023 Strategic Plan. The two-page letter raises concerns about gaps in the plan and a lack of direct action on the points raised by filmmakers in the NFB’s cross-country consultations. This includes a lack of clarity around the proposed increase in funding to External Production, which has been a major point of conflict between makers and the NFB. You can read the full letter here, and stay tuned for an article to follow.

Short Doc of the Week: Last Night at the Strip Club

This playful doc shows how one stripper has flipped the pandemic on its head and made it work for her. Toronto stripper Andrea Werhun hilariously acts out what it was like for the pandemic to hit strip clubs, playing the grimy man who still demanded tongue kissing in March 2020. Once the club shuts down, she gets creative – deciding to start an online business as a hirable “muse” for lost artist types and slimeballs alike. She addresses the story to the camera while recording a makeup tutorial. This fresh, spunky doc shines as a lighthearted perspective from the pandemic.