What’s Up, Doc? Weekly Round-up

A Murder in Mansfield


By Pat Mullen

Hope everyone enjoyed the long weekend! Here’s what people are saying on the documentary front this past week in case you were out enjoying the sun:

One doc that seems to be impossible to see in Canada, but is performing well on the festival circuit in the USA is Barbara Kopple’s A Murder in Mansfield. (The doc had its Canadian premiere with a members screening at Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema in March, but has been surprisingly absent otherwise.) The true crime tale sees Collier Landry revisit the death of his mother, Noreen, at the hands of his father, John, and Kopple brought the unnerving tale back home with the Mansfield premiere of the doc last week.

Brittany Schock at Richland Source talks with Landry on his return to Mansfield for the sold-out premiere and discusses what he hopes audiences will discover with this painful chapter from his family’s history. “In life, sometimes the only way through the fire is to walk through it,” says Landry, suggesting the film offers hope for audiences. “The hope, the resilience that you don’t have to waste your life … because someone wasted someone else’s … A few of my friends that are filmmakers that have seen the film have pointed out I was sitting across from a monster. I was, I was staring at the devil. I saw nothing back, and I decided he’s not taking anything from me.” Read more on the films of Barbara Kopple in ‘Ain’t that America,’ our profile from this year’s Hot Docs retrospective. (And let’s hope that Kopple’s upcoming film about Syrian refugees in Canada is easier to see here. Paging Thom Powers!)

Audiences find a story of hope in the remarkable upset victory with which young democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced herself last week. The 28-year-old social democrat smoked incumbent Joe Crowley in the democratic and some pundits cite her win as a sign of Americans fighting to reclaim their country as a progressive leader for the free world. Yohana Desta at Vanity Fair speaks with Rachel Lears, whose documentary Knock the House Down is bound to be a hot ticket once it hits the festival circuit since the director happened to be on the trail with Ocasio-Cortez during her stunning victory. “Lears began working on her documentary the day after Trump’s election,” writes Desta. “She got in touch with organizations including Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats to find charismatic female candidates who weren’t career politicians, but had become newly galvanized to represent their communities. They connected Lears with dozens of candidates, and in the end, she landed on four women: Ocasio-Cortez; Cori Bush, a nurse in St. Louis; Paula Jean Swearengin, a West Virginia mom; and Amy Vilela, a Las Vegas businesswoman. All were moved to fight for certain issues in their respective communities, from police brutality, to illnesses caused by the coal industry, to the broken health-care system.”

A desire to find glimpses of light and humanity amidst the unrelenting cloud of negativity hanging over the USA might account for the popularity of documentaries at the box office this summer. Rebecca Rubin at Variety looks at the success of Ruth Bader Ginsburg doc RBG and Mr. Rogers flick Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which have both cracked the top ten this summer while newcomer Three Identical Strangers just debuted with a mammoth per screen average. Rubin cites the films’ empowering messages as indicators of their success, while strong word of mouth ensures that, unlike the glut of superhero movies at the box office, these films connect with audiences in a way that inspires them to spread the good cheer. “There’s somewhat of a renaissance going on with big-screen documentaries,” Paul Dergarabedian, a box office analyst at comScore, says to Rubin. “It’s the same reason people go out to see the big Marvel movie. So they can talk about them with their friends and family. It’s definitely on a different scale.”

Over at The Guardian, Charles Bramesco draws inspiration from the wild-but-true tale of Three Identical Strangers, which tells of triplets separated at birth but reunited by chance at college, to list some of the zaniest non-fiction stories. “Real life gives writerly invention a run for its money in this outlandish-but-true tale, but it’s far from the first documentary to wrestle factual events into the shape of a suspenseful mystery,” writes Bramesco. On the list? Docs like The Imposter, The Overnighters, and Catfish, just to name a few. What else is almost too wild to believe? (PS: stay tuned for our interview with Three Identical Strangers director Tim Wardle!)

Director Robert Greene continues to assert himself as an artist by engaging with the line between fiction and non-fiction. Films like Actress, Kate Plays Christine, and Bisbee ’17 explore the space where reality ends and fiction begins. Bilge Ebiri looks at Greene’s filmography for The Village Voice and digs into the significance of the doc/drama interplay in his latest film. “Greene’s film obviously has some urgency in our current moment, as a humanitarian crisis gathers along our border,” writes Ebiri. “Thousands of children have been detained and separated from their parents. A nation is being cynically and opportunistically divided around the politics of immigration. The labor movement is under fire once again from the reactionary forces of runaway profit in collusion with a vengeful government. And so we must confront the fact that the true protagonist of Bisbee ’17 is America as it plays itself, zigzagging in the treacherous and disputed frontier between past and present, fracture and community, victim and perpetrator, truth and lies.” Pick up a copy of our current issue to read a review of Bisbee ’17.

Liam Callanan, on the other hand, explores a strange chapter from the career of an artist whose work was tragically short-lived. Over at Slate, Callanan chronicles the final years of late director Albert Lamorisse and his venture making a film for the Shah of Iran. Lamorisse, best known for his Oscar winner The Red Balloon, died in Iran while filming. His final work will haunt film buffs as Callanan chronicles the filmmaker’s fateful journey towards the last shots of The Lovers Wind: “The shah had admired Lamorisse’s 1967 documentary short, Versailles, and so his advisers decided to call on the French filmmaker to make a documentary highlighting a culturally rich and rapidly modernizing Iran,” writes Callanan. “Though Lamorisse had misgivings—including a strange dream about drowning in the Caspian Sea—he headed to the Middle East… The result is a frenetic montage of all the second-round footage Lamorisse shot: clip after clip of Tehran University’s nuclear reactor control room, plus test tubes, lab coats, university students, bottling plants, tool-and-die machines.”

Short Doc of the Week:

Someone at the NFB has a good sense of humour. The Board’s put together a handy playlist of classics about Canada-US relations. Maybe some sage wisdom from the archives of the NFB will help audiences remember the benefits of the close relationship between nations as the Dotard in Chief continues to make things frosty between BFFs. Just look at Jean Palardy’s short doc Two Countries, One Street where residents from both nations literally share the same sidewalks, buying bread in one country and eating it on the walk home to the next. How times have changed!

Two Countries, One Street, Jean Palardy, provided by the National Film Board of Canada