What’s Up, Doc? Weekly Round-up - Jan. 29

Summer of Soul
Courtesy of Sundance

By Madeline Lines

As the first month of 2021 comes to a close, things are picking up speed in the documentary world. Awards season is in full swing, Sundance is in your living rooms, and the pandemic rages on, quickly becoming the subject of many nonfiction films.Nanfu Wang’s COVID-19 film In the Same Breath is one such doc that has people talking on Twitter following its premiere at Sundance last night, and the Questlove-directed music doc Summer of Soul also appears to be a hit. In case you missed them, check out POV’s conversations with the talents behind Sundance projects Prison X and Rebel Hearts.

If you’ve ever been to Sundance and are missing attending it IRL, someone on TikTok has recreated the experience for you.

To continue on a fun note, Werner Herzog did a pretty zany interview with a skateboarding magazine that went semi-viral this week. Ian Michna at Jenkem Magazine interviewed the iconic filmmaker on the similarities between filmmaking and skateboarding and the result was meme-worthy. Herzog knows nothing about skateboarding, but in his charming way, takes questions such as, “If you were to shoot skateboarding – what would you soundtrack it to?” very seriously. The answer? Russian Orthodox Church choirs. The result is a pleasant and unexpectedly insightful example of how creativity can be found in unusual places and intersections of culture.

Yesterday the Academy officially confirmed the eligible films in the Documentary Feature category for the Oscars. Outlets like Deadline report that a record number of 238 documentary features have been deemed eligible, smashing the previous record of 170, which was set in 2017. Voting will begin on Monday, Feb. 1 to select the 15-film shortlist that will come out on Feb. 9. The documentary branch will then vote to choose the five nominees once member-wide voting opens. In Variety, Clayton Davis wonders, “Is it time for the branch to expand its nominations from five to 10, as they are about to institute next year in best picture?” and Tim Gray penned a piece titled, Oscar’s Best Picture Race Should Include a Documentary This Year, echoing speculation POV had this summer.

The CRTC public hearings took place this week, which are bound to play a major part in the future of documentary-making and watching in Canada. Documentary Organization of Canada executive director Sarah Spring presented in a hearing on Tuesday, along with DOC board chair Ina Fichman. They outlined the necessity of the CBC’s continued and heightened investment in the production, and creative distribution and promotion of documentaries, noting that investment was on the decline despite demonstrably increased audience interest in documentary. In Realscreen, Jordan Pinto reports on how a new amendment tabled by Canadian Heritage Minister could, “pull OTT [Over the top] services into the Canadian regulatory system, grant more powers to Canadian regulatory body CRTC and bring new money into the domestic funding ecosystem.” It will be interesting to see how current discussions involving the CRTC will play out for Canadian content, especially documentaries. You can find a transcript of DOC’s statement and participation in the hearing here, beginning at line 11538. POV live-tweeted along to highlight important talking points.

One last fun interview for your Friday – Frederick Wiseman’s latest interview with The Film Stage hears from the 91-year-old director on shooting during COVID-19, finding new audiences on Kanopy, and more. “I’m not sure I want to make a documentary when people are all wearing masks. But I haven’t made up my mind,” Wiseman quips. The filmmaker just received the COVID-19 vaccine and is to begin working on a fiction film in May, although he insists, “I like making documentaries more than I like making fiction. I don’t like the repetitive aspect of fiction, where you shoot the same scene six or 10 times. I like the surprise of documentary and the pressure of having only one go at it.”

Friday saw two dramatic developments in the ongoing Michelle Latimer story. Barry Hertz at The Globe and Mail reported that Latimer had served the CBC with a libel notice following the December report that challenged her claims of Indigenous ancestry. The article brought a quick fall to one of the most successful runs for a filmmaker in recent record, as her film Inconvenient Indian, arguably the most acclaimed Canadian film on the fall festival circuit, was withdrawn from active release, including slots at Sundance and TIFF’s Canada’s Top Ten. CBC announced today that it would not carry through with plans for a second season of Trickster, from which Latimer resigned following outcries from the Indigenous community. “I am attempting to resolve these issues in good faith,” Latimer told The Globe and Mail in a statement. “The CBC was aware of the questions and concerns I raised about the integrity of the research they used to inform their reporting, as well as the manner in which they approached the story, and yet they reported inaccurately about my ancestry and created a false narrative about my character and my lineage.” Latimer has not yet formally supported her claims of identity.

Short Doc of the Week: No Crying at the Dinner Table

Canadian director Carol Nguyen’s Oscar-qualifying short was released online in December after making waves at festivals across the world. No Crying at the Dinner Table gathers Nguyen’s family around their kitchen table, cups of tea in hand, to air out things left unsaid between them. It’s a highly vulnerable and cathartic watch that touches on themes of loss, grief, and the immigrant experience. You can see the healing happening before your very eyes. Nguyen is hosting a watch party alongside Jeff Orlowski, director of The Social Dilemma, which will be followed by a discussion. The event will take place this weekend on Sunday, January 31.

No Crying at the Dinner Table from Carol Nguyen on Vimeo.