What’s Up, Doc? Weekly Round-up - Jan. 15

Director Michael Apted
Photo courtesy of Mongrel Media

By Madeline Lines

We’re reaching the heart of our cold, dead, Canadian winter and there’s never been a more socially acceptable time to hole up in your house and watch documentaries for days. As inauguration day looms in the USA and the lockdown intensifies in Ontario and Quebec, it might be worth it to take a break from doomscrolling and dive into some docs. Stills from the short doc series 10 Years with Hayao Miyazaki are making the rounds on Twitter, and they capture the current mood pretty well. It’s a hard time to be creative or productive! (Maybe stream Miyazaki docs Never-Ending Man or The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness while waiting for the new one?)

The passing of Michael Apted on Thursday of last week, continues to reverberate through the film world and beyond. Matt Zoller Seitz, at RogerEbert.com, writes a thorough tribute to the filmmaker who bounced effortlessly between documentaries and fiction work. At The New Republic, Alissa Quart, a self-proclaimed “Up superfan” looks at Apted’s acclaimed documentary series and what it lent to her approach to creating nonfiction work and her understanding of class. What began as Seven Up!, a short doc profiling a number of seven year olds in 1960s England, ended up following the kids all the way to 63 Up. The hope, for many, was that it would continue to ‘70 Up’ and even beyond. Joe Coscarelli at the New York Times examines the possible futures of the beloved series going forward.

Over at Nonfics, Dick Johnson is Dead was voted best documentary of 2020 in their annual year-end poll. Kirsten Johnson’s lovingly absurd portrait of her father continues to rack up the accolades, having topped the Critic’s Choice Awards for Best Documentary. Nonfics’ list of the top 100 docs of the past year was compiled from the top lists submitted by a number of critics and filmmakers. Other top picks included Time, City Hall, Boys State, David Byrne’s American Utopia, Collective, and more. If you liked Dick Johnson is Dead as much as everybody else, check out the director’s chat with No Film School.

While Collective has been topping best-of lists and gaining acclaim worldwide, the director of the investigative doc is rejecting one accolade. In Variety, Adam Benzine details how Alexander Nanau is refusing to accept a medal from the president of Romania. The doc exposes the health care crisis and political corruption in the country through the story of a nightclub fire that killed 64 people and injured many others. “So, it would be very wrong, from my side, to go and let them pin a medal on my chest, effectively saying that, ‘Actually, Romanian culture is doing fine.’ It wouldn’t be fair towards my colleagues. Especially after, you know…I did a film about how the state crushes its citizens,” Nanau told Variety. Collective continues forward as Romania’s Oscar entry in the best international feature category and could easily find itself a nominee in the doc category as well.

Toronto filmmaker Tiffany Hsiung’s Sing Me a Lullaby is being featured in The New Yorker’s Documentary section. The accompanying article by Han Zhang introduces how Hsiung’s soul-searching doc about tracing the roots of adoption came to be. The short doc premiered at TIFF 2020, winning the Share Her Journey Short Cuts Award, and the short doc prize at DOC NYC, making eligible in the Oscar race. In Sing Me a Lullaby, Hsiung takes up her mother’s search for her biological parents in a trip to Taipei. For a deeper dive into the film and the director’s filmmaking journey, check out POV’s interview with Hsiung from TIFF 2020.

Short Doc of the Week: Becoming Nakuset

A new doc from CBC Short Docs tells the incredible story of Nakuset, an Indigenous woman who was part of the sixties scoop and has led a remarkable life. Taken from her community in the prairies at a young age, Nakuset was adopted by a Jewish family in Montreal. The film witnesses her heartbreaking yet triumphant story of her neglect and abuse as a child, as well as her incredible success working up to becoming the Executive Director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal. At the heart of it is her Bubby, her adopted father’s mother, the one person who had faith in her, saw her true potential, and helped her reconnect with her birth family.