What’s Up, Doc? Weekly Round-up

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

By Pat Mullen

This week’s round-up of documentary news and views begins with an ironic story from the recent spat of confrontations between progressively minded Americans and Trump staff and supporters. CBS reports that protestors confronted Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi this weekend when she took in a screening of Morgan Neville’s Mr. Rogers documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?. CBS describes protestors challenging Bondi’s support for Trump and his policies in light of Mr. Rogers’ message of kindness and tolerance, shouting everything from, “What would Mr. Rogers think about you and your legacy in Florida? Taking away health insurance from people with pre-existing conditions!” to “You’re a horrible person!” Ironically, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is widely being praised an antidote to the vitriol of the Trump era. No reports have indicated Bondi’s thoughts of the scene where tyrannical puppet King Friday XIII builds a wall around his kingdom. Read the POV review of Won’t You Be My Neighbor? here.

Last week’s Indigenous People’s Day put a spotlight on the ongoing need to improve opportunities for self-representation of in images and stories depicting the original inhabitants of this land. Duncan McCue led an invaluable conversation on the state of images by and about Indigenous communities featuring filmmakers Lisa Jackson (Savage) and Alethea Arnaquq-Baril (Angry Inuk) and Indigenous Screen Office executive director Jesse Wente for CBC’s The National. The trio offers some frank thoughts on what has passed and what needs to happen moving forward. “I’ve been doing this 15 years, and I don’t know how many times I’ve been told, ‘Oh, we’re already doing an Indigenous story this year,’” says Arnaquq-Baril. “So, that’s a barrier. The fact that we’re just a spice sprinkled throughout. We can’t be more.” Watch the conversation below and read more about Angry Inuk and the Indigenous Screen Office, and subscribe today to read more about Lisa Jackson’s VR project Biidaaban: First Light in the upcoming issue of POV.

The fight for representation gets a new angle in a compelling article by Charlie Phillips at The Guardian. Phillips states that images of poverty in documentary need new lenses. He reflects on a recent panel discussion at Sheffield Doc/Fest in which panelists like filmmaker Daisy-May Hudson and writer/activist Jack Monroe assessed the need to create space for members of lower economic classes to represent themselves. “But too often when evidence makes it to the screen, a sense of moral judgment appears to be built into its very fabric,” writes Phillips. “As Hudson observes, documentaries about working-class people are often shot and edited to look grey and lifeless. Or they will focus on a sad story of personal suffering, perhaps with a sudden happy ending after an external saviour enters the scene. There tends to be little exploration of the wider social context or coverage of individuals and communities trying to help themselves.”

Over at CNN, filmmaker Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan, The Wrestler) reflects on his experience with the late chef Anthony Bourdain. Aronofksy writes about his time touring the world from Madagascar to Bangkok with Bourdain for the food doc series Parts Unknown. His account is one of drawing connections and finding humanity through the experience of sharing a meal. “Tony, your journeys to parts unknown will always inspire. Your shows bring the world closer together — not by making easy similarities but by revealing how unique we all are,” writes Aronofsky. “You turned a light on what it means to be a human right now, right here on planet Earth.”

The Hollywood Reporter has news that Laura Poitras (Risk) will unveil Signal Flow at at the European Bienniel of Contemporary Art. Signal Flow addresses the USA’s drone warfare activities in Sicily. The three-part project features reportage, a film clinic, and immersive video.

Some stunning images of the impact of human activity on the world appear over at Design Boom with a preview of Edward Burtynsky’s Anthropocene exhibit. Antropocene debuts this fall as an exhibit of documentary photography, VR work, and the third instalment in a film trilogy that began with Manufactured Landscapes and Watermark. “Because much of humanity’s post-industrial impact is not entirely perceptible to the naked eye, Burtynsky offers another perspective which makes these realities perfectly clear,” writes Design Boom. “This ‘human signature’ is depicted in sharp, visually compelling detail. The viewer is given the chance to experience places and practices each individual is indirectly connected to or responsible for but does not normally see. Measuring at approximately 25’ wide by 12’ tall, these photographic murals deliver a visceral sense of scale, and allow viewers to examine — in exquisite detail — the intricacies of human incursions on the earth.” Take a look at some of the images below and stay tuned for coverage of Anthropocene this fall!


Doc fans anticipate that Anthropocene will be one of the bigger non-fiction premieres at TIFF last fall, but one of last year’s hits is making news with speculation if it will ever see a release. Jason Guerrasio at Business Insider dives into the mess left for Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!. The film is Morgan Spurlock’s follow-up to his 2004 hit Super Size Me, which changed the fast food industry with its gonzo study of greasy diets. Spurlock’s new film looks at the machinery of “Big Chicken” and the little chicken farmers who are squeezed out by industrial practices. However, Spurlock surprised fans last fall with a bizarre confession in the wave of #MeToo revelations in which he admitted to instances of sexual misconduct, harassment, and an accusation of rape. The letter inspired YouTube Red, which paid $3.5 million for the film, to can distribution plans. Now the farmers who took a risk and expected the film to inspire change feel let down by the situation. Understandably so, since Guerrasio’s article outlines a no-win scenario in the debate around separating the artist from the art. “Like the farmers in the movie, practically everyone involved was not told that Spurlock was going to release his confession and since have been left wondering if the movie will ever see the light of day,” writes Guerrasio. “There’s also frustration from some who feel that the people who risked everything to go on camera for Spurlock have now been abandoned.”

Short Films of the Week:

We neglected to include a short doc in last week’s round-up, so we’re doubling down to compensate. The NFB just released a bunch of shorts made to honour this year’s Governor General’s Performing Arts Award recipients. The class of ’18 has a few docs including a performance portrait of actress Geneviève Bujold by Robin McKenna inspired by the verité style of Michel Brault, a wonderfully whimsical animated portrait of sister singers Tegan and Sarah by Ann Marie Fleming, and a down to earth glimpse at the music of Murray McLauchlan by Michael McNamara.

Geneviève Bujold: Art = Life, Robin McKenna, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

A Short Film About Tegan & Sara, Ann Marie Fleming, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

The Haunts of Murray McLauchlan, Michael McNamara, provided by the National Film Board of Canada