What’s Up, Weekly Round-up - Dec. 18

Colin Low’s Universe


By Madeline Lines

What’s up, doc lovers? We’re here with your latest fix of news and views to bring you up to speed before the holidays. 2020 has been a year that’s shaken the world of documentaries, and the world in general, irreversibly, but let’s start with a look back to the years of 1960 and 2001.

What might be “the most viewed film in NFB history” is celebrating its 60th birthday, writes Gerry Flahive over on the NFB Blog. Universe, the iconic space doc by Colin Low that captured the attention of international audiences and inspired Stanley Kubrick and NASA alike, has a rich history and relevance that’s worth the read (and the watch). “In a year when we have all questioned so much, and the appetite for understanding ‘the big picture’ has only grown, maybe Universe is the film we didn’t realize we needed,” muses Flahive. Discover more about the work and life of Colin Low in this interview from the archives, originally published in Take One.

Universe, Roman Kroitor & Colin Low, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

A handful of documentaries were among the 25 films recently selected for the 2020 National Film Registry, an honour in the history of American cinema. “Under the terms of the National Film Preservation Act, each year the Librarian of Congress names to the National Film Registry 25 motion pictures that are “culturally, historically or aesthetically’ significant,” wrote Dave McNary in Variety. Offhand, Buena Vista Social Club, Freedom Riders, Wattstax, and Mauna Kea are the docs that have been added alongside cult classics like A Clockwork Orange and even Shrek. To celebrate, mark your calendars for Hot Doc’s retrospective of Freedom Riders director Stanley Nelson at the 2021 edition of the festival following the announcement of his win as Hot Docs Outstanding Achievement Award winner in 2020. (The retrospective was delayed due to COVID.) In the meantime, you can crack open POV’s latest issue to read more on Nelson’s work in “To Be a Black Body in a White Space.”

Sundance recently announced a number of exciting docs that will be showing at the mostly online 2021 edition. Highly anticipated docs include Betsy West and Julie Cohen’s RBG follow-up My Name Is Pauli Murray as well as A Glitch in the Matrix, from Room 237 and El Duce Tapes director Rodney Ascher, which looks at the people who believe we are living in a simulation. Cocaine Prison director Violeta Ayala takes the worlds of simulations a step further with her VR project Prison X, which brings audiences new perspectives from inside Bolivia’s San Sebastian Prison. Read more about Cocaine Prison in this interview with Ayala from TIFF ’17.

Inconvenient Indian is the only Canadian doc going to Sundance in January, and the festival will mark the film’s international premiere. However, this news comes as director Michelle Latimer’s Indigenous identity is being questioned in the media after a news release circulated this summer indicated that she was from Kitigan Zibi Anishinabeg (Maniwaki), Quebec, and the community has contested this claim. “I have reached out to Elders and community historians in Kitigan Zibi, and the surrounding areas, to receive guidance and obtain verification,” wrote Latimer in a statement on Thursday. “The fight to uphold Indigenous rights and self-determination has been the focus of my work for the past twenty years and I remain committed to this cause.

It’s worth tuning into this week’s episode of The Secret Life of Canada to learn a little more about the history of Indigenous storytelling and the NFB. “In the late 60s, @thenfb decided after decades of being in charge of telling Indigenous stories they would hand the camera over. This was the creation of the Indian Film Crew and what they made would change filmmaking in Canada forever,” tweeted the show. Host Falen Johnson speaks with Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell, director of You Are on Indian Land (1969), who offers insight into the making of the film and the Indian Film Crew, working with the Film Doard at that time, and the doc’s ongoing relevance.

You Are on Indian Land, Michael Kanentakeron Mitchell, provided by the National Film Board of Canada

Filmmaker Madeline Anderson discusses her “upbringing, her career, and her extraordinary life as a working wife and mother of four” in a recently published interview with Rhea L Combs via OVID TV. Combs, Curator of Film & Photography at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, has worked to preserve and restore Anderson’s documentaries: Integration Report 1 (1960), A Tribute to Malcolm X (1967), and I Am Somebody (1970). Anderson was one of the first Black women to direct a documentary film, and bared witness to the civil rights movement with her incisive lens.


I Am Somebody from Icarus Films on Vimeo.

Short Doc of the Week: _A Sweet and Sour Christmas _

“I have nightmares about not having enough chicken balls or egg rolls,” says Ken Ho, who runs a Chinese-Canadian restaurant with his family in Kitchener, Ontario. A Sweet and Sour Christmas is a lighthearted and loving look behind-the-scenes at the Chinese restaurants that work hard to keep so many Canadians’ holiday traditions alive. The film shows the sacrifice and long hours poured into the Ho’s busiest time of the year, touching on the watering down of traditional Chinese dishes for Canadian taste buds as well as the dynamics of an immigrant family and their business. Hearing Ho talk about the sheer number of chicken balls he has to deep fry from December 24-26 will have you appreciating every bite of your next takeout order in a new way.