What’s Up, Doc? Weekly Round-up - March 26
By Pat Mullen
This week’s documentary round-up begins with a great perk for doc professions! The Documentary Organization of Canada has created a new initiative to support filmmakers from underrepresented communities by offering free DOC memberships to BIPOC documentary professionals for two years. Friendly reminder that a membership includes a complimentary subscription to POV! Sign up here or renew/join.
The Oscar race is in full swing and Stephanie Zacharek at Time captures why Collective may be the film to beat. In a deep dive essay, she looks at the urgent portrait of journalism that has so many critics and audiences captured by the film’s power. However, she also taps into the cinematic elements that make Collective a universal tale, which may be its secret ingredient. “Documentaries, by their nature, are matter-of-fact creatures; often they keep us so busy absorbing information that we’re almost too distracted to be moved. But Collective is different,” writes Zacharek. “Teasing out its bullet points—the importance of activism and good citizenship, and of preserving a strong, free press—is easy. But in the end, it’s almost always a face that moves you the most. A grieving father, an official who can’t hide his contempt for his corrupt colleagues, a journalist whose demeanor is essentially one big question mark, an elegant young woman whose life was changed drastically by a spark: Collective is a story told in faces. No matter how far away from Romania you live, these people are your neighbors.” Find out how to see all the Oscar-nominated docs, including Collective.
It’s not in this year’s Oscar race, but Tina could be one to watch on the music doc front for next year. Directed by Oscar winners TJ Martin and Dan Lindsay, the doc chronicles the incomparable career of Tina Turner. Inevitably, it treads heavily on Ike—a sticking point for this reviewer—and the directors know it. Daniel Arkin at NBC sits down with the doc duo, who discuss their approach to the Tina-Ike tale. “We learned in early conversations with Tina that the pain of her past is always lurking around the corner,” explains Martin. “She’ll say it herself. She doesn’t mind talking about it [the abuse], but she knows if she does, it comes back in dreams, which is a form of PTSD. The narrative has always been that she’s ‘overcome’ these things. But she is actively processing, and this is a lifelong journey of making a decision to wake up every day and decide she’s going to be a survivor.” Tina premieres on Crave March 27 at 8:00pm.
Bill Brioux asks a question that’s been on this doc fan’s mind: when are we getting that Martin Scorsese SCTV documentary? As Broux notes, Scorsese shot the SCTV reunion at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre in 2018, which included Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy, who are arguably more popular than ever thanks to Schitt’s Creek. Brioux recaps after discussing the matter with a friend and offers two possibilities: “Mike had heard that Scorsese simply lost interest in SCTV. That seems odd given how money was spent on the Toronto show and a production crew banked coverage,” writes Brioux. “A theory for the delay I heard was that Netflix was trying to obtain rights to the SCTV back catalogue in order to present it to subscribers at the same time as the new project. They did the same thing when they jammed their worldwide streaming service with the Monty Python TV and feature film oldies when they also premiered several documentaries on the British comedy troupe.” Either way, get motoring Marty and/or Netflix! Fans in the mood for more Scorsese can watch the series Pretend It’s a City and Levy/O’Hara fans can get their fix with the Schitt’s Creek farewell doc. As for the show, it still seems to be in the Netflix queue.
The ever-prolific Ken Burns sits down for a wide-ranging interview with David Marchese in The New York Times Magazine. Burns’s latest doc, Hemingway, hits PBS on April 5, but like the subject of his new work, he spins a good yarn with aged wisdom. The conversation reflects upon America’s recent tumultuous period through the lens of history. “Before Donald Trump, we never had a chief executive so willing to suspend the truth, so willing to promote the most fringe ideas or anti-Semitism and racist remarks,” says Burns. “Historians make lousy prognosticators — and I’m not a historian, I’m a filmmaker — because while they understand that the past is prologue, all these things represent not history repeating itself but human nature superimposing itself on the seemingly random chaos of events.”
One question that many of us have asked during the Trump years is, “What is QAnon?” Charles Bramesco at The Guardian looks into the dark corners of the internet so we don’t have to, as does the new documentary Q: Into the Storm. Speaking with the doc series’ director Cullen Hoback, Bramesco unpacks the elusive world of internet trolls turned extremists. “People post and they’re not sure if they’re joking, not joking, post-ironic, if they believe the things they’re saying. In any case, they eventually come around to believing the things they’re saying. Pretend to be something long enough, and you’ll become that thing,” explains Hoback. “You chart an absurd silliness that belies something far more devious and sinister.”
Fans of the recent documentary Martha: A Picture Story who are eager to discover more street photographers will want to head over to Hyperallergic. Karen Chernick offers a visually striking essay on a new book of street photography by Gulnara Samoilova. The book is the genesis of her Instagram project @WomenStreetPhotographers, which showcases the work of women behind the camera. “There’s a reason why still life paintings were long considered the most suitable subject for Western women artists. Working on quaint paintings of cherries and flowers kept women at home and away from strangers; street photography does the polar opposite,” notes Chernick. “These projects all bolster an understanding that women have always taken photographs, since the earliest days of the medium. With her platform and her book, Samoilova argues that there are even advantages to being a female street photographer.” Read more and check out some stunning photos here .
On the heels of Netflix’s latest true crime docudrama Operation Varsity Blues, Ann Hornaday at The Washington Post digs into the role of actors in documentary. The film, which casts Matthew Modine in a re-enactment of the college admissions scandal in part because celebrities didn’t want to sit down to discuss their crimes, invites larger consideration about how comfortable audiences may be with dramatic license in documentary, if the filmmakers signal it clearly. “Operation Varsity Blues is part of a trend in documentary filmmaking, a discipline that has historically frowned upon devices like reenactments, dramatizations and other conceits borrowed from narrative fiction,” writes Hornaday. “As far back as Robert Flaherty’s seminal 1922 film Nanook of the North — billed as a candid portrait of the life of an Inuit family in the Arctic Circle and revealed later to contain scenes that were scripted and staged — purity has been used as both an aspirational ideal and a cudgel.” Read the POV review of Operation Varsity Blues here.
Short Doc of the Week
Take five minutes to experience the life of a “starving artist” in Neil Goldberg’s short for New York Times Op-Docs’ Halleljuah Anyway, Anyway. The film is a personal study of the sounds of the city as Goldberg records shopkeepers in New York City rolling up their gates to start the day. It’s an unexpected noise to capture the sensation of being alive, but one that many of us might miss during the walks we’re able to take around the city during quarantine life.