Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Outsiders In: Four Veteran Documentarians on Covering Communities Not of One’s Own

When it comes to social issues filmmaking, are there any advantages to being an “outsider” to the community one is documenting? I recently put that question to a diverse group of award-winning filmmakers – Pamela Yates (The Resistance Saga Trilogy), Steve James (Hoop Dreams, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail), S. Leo Chiang (Mr. Cao Goes to Washington, Out Run) and Andrés Cediel (longtime producer for PBS’s Frontline) – and got a wide range of thought-provoking responses.


To read the rest (of my conversation that started at Documentary magazine) visit Global Comment.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Viewer Beware: Doubting the Documentary “Truth” Onscreen

“Fake news” think pieces have been all the rage since Donald Trump took hold of the media spotlight (and never let go), yet far less has been written about questioning the documentary “truths” we see onscreen. While it doesn’t take a genius to spot the alt-right bias in Steve Bannon’s oeuvre, too often subtler – nonpartisan and nonpolitical – filmmaking is simply given an inexplicable pass. So with this in mind I thought I’d offer a few handy tips over at Hammer to Nail for increasing viewer vigilance.

Friday, December 1, 2017

The Year of the Woman: The 30th International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam

Though it’s been half a decade since I’ve covered Amsterdam’s International Documentary Film Festival, this year’s 30th edition was a welcome reminder as to why IDFA is often heralded as the crème de la crème of doc fests. First there’s its sheer size and scope — this year, a whopping 319 documentaries were presented over the festival’s 12 days. Fortunately, these nonfiction projects of every stripe were helpfully divided into a surprisingly navigable 20 sections — everything from your standard competitions (and not-so-standard, as IDFA DocLab has both a Competition for Digital Storytelling and a Competition for Immersive Non-Fiction) to specialty programs such as “Shifting Perspectives: The Arab World” (a series of films and debates viewed through a non-Western eye) and “The Visual Voice.” For that specific 30th year celebratory section, 18 top-notch directors were invited to screen their personal faves, which made for some unexpected selections. Frederick Wiseman, for instance, chose Marcel Ophuls’s Hotel Terminus: The Life and Times of Klaus Barbie, while The Yes Men presented Josh Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing.


To read all about my visit visit Filmmaker magazine.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Ask the Sexpert: Can a gynecologist's advice column change Indian culture?

Ask the Sexpert is a fascinating portrait of Mahinder Watsa, a 91-year-old former gynecologist who writes the “Ask the Sexpert” column for the Mumbai Mirror. From the start, we learn that India’s Dr. Ruth is a beloved figure in his conservative country, but abstinence activist Pratibha Naithani is taking him to court to “preserve the nation’s morality.” She believes his column is akin to pornography and “debases” Indian society. Many conservatives believe a moral line has been crossed when children can read a column that discusses everything from masturbation to golden showers.


To read the rest of my review visit Bitch magazine.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

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Spotlight on UXdoc at The 20th RIDM (Montreal International Documentary Film Festival)

Running November 9th-19th, this year’s 20th edition of RIDM (or the Montreal International Documentary Film Festival for us non-Québécois) once again proved that big things come in small(ish) packages. Though not nearly as big as that other international doc fest directly on its heels, RIDM’s charm lies precisely in the fact that it’s both wide-ranging and easily navigable. In other words, a docuphile can relax and focus on the inspiring work in front of their eyes at any given moment instead of lamenting over the dozen other screenings, panels and events they’re inevitably missing.

Which is not to say there isn’t a wealth of activities to choose from. In addition to the opening and closing night flicks (both helmed by women — Quebec native Céline Baril’s world-premiering 24 Davids and Sonia Kronlund’s Nothingwood, respectively) RIDM features an Official Competition, Panorama and Retrospectives sections, UXdoc for interactive work plus assorted art exhibitions, master classes, parties and more. Also, in its 13th year is Doc Circuit Montreal (DCM), Quebec’s only documentary market, which runs for five concurrent days during the fest.


To read all about it visit Filmmaker magazine.

“I Don’t Think Movies are Old-Fashioned”: James N. Kienitz Wilkins on His RIDM Retrospective (and Making Art in the Internet Age)

For this year’s 20th anniversary of RIDM, the Montreal International Documentary Film Festival teamed up with Visions, the city’s experimental documentary film series, for a truly cutting edge retrospective titled “James N. Kienitz Wilkins: Vessels/Containers.” Wilkins, a 25 New Face” of 2016, was honored with four programs containing seven of his works, created from 2012 through 2017. This includes 2012’s nearly two hour Public Hearing, a 16mm, B&W-filmed performance of the transcript from a town hall debate about replacing a Walmart with a Super Walmart, all the way to 2017’s 38-minute Mediums, a medium-length movie made up entirely of medium shots in which actors play potential jurors passing the time outside a courthouse (using actual words from material such as a Dunkin’ Donuts franchise contract and a Volkswagen car manual. This might be my favorite Wilkins work).

So it was with great pleasure that I was able to catch up with Wilkins once again to discuss his delightfully unorthodox approach to the documentary form.


To read the rest visit Filmmaker magazine.