In his latest film, We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks, Alex Gibney once again treads a fine line between serious journalism and sexed-up storytelling, offering both a penetrating critique of the way that powerful people protect their secrets, be they in the U.S. government or its most famous whistleblower, Julian Assange, as well as more salacious revelations about the sexuality of the characters involved.
Get ready for a gross generalization: There are two kinds of documentaries being made today—those about people you know, and those about people you don’t. This spring, plenty of prominent docs about people you know—or many of us know—have hit theaters, from author Philip Roth to tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams. There have also been documentaries featuring people you probably don’t know. What’s the difference between these two types of documentaries? A whole lot, and also not very much. … Read More
China’s New Documentary Movement—which has its own acronym “NDM”—is not exactly new, and nor is it a coherent movement, per se. But for nonfiction connoisseurs, particularly in the U.S. where the films are hardly known outside of scholarly and intellectual circles, NDM serves as a convenient way of bracketing one of the most auspicious and aesthetically daring outpourings of documentary films in recent memory.
The hypocrisies of the rightwing media are fascinating to behold: Claiming bias while engendering further bias; disavowing race and class warfare while fomenting racial and class divides; and taking the position of the victimized underdog while representing the most dominant and powerful ideological positions. These films not only manage to have their cake and eat it, too, they perpetrate the idea that documentaries in our current postmodern zeitgeist are less about reporting the truth than manipulating it.
During the actual ten days of the Tribeca Film Festival, with its red carpet star sightings—Naomi Watts! Zac Ephron!—and celebrity talks—Ben Stiller! Clint Eastwood!—it’s easy to forget that the fest has become one of the country’s preeminent launching pads for documentary films. Jesus Camp, Taxi to the Dark Side, and Jiro: Dreams of Sushi are among the stellar nonfiction films that have premiered at Tribeca. While these docs might have gotten shorter shrift from the paparazzi, their legacy has endured … Read More
Docutopia #43: Truthiness and Performance in Portrait of Jason and An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty
Made nearly fifty years apart, Shirley Clarke’s newly restored Portrait of Jason and Terence Nance’s An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty share little in outward appearance: the former consists entirely of direct address interviews with a single person in a living room over one night; the latter mixes animation, documentary and fiction in a postmodern mixed-media mélange that spans years. Yet these two unconventional documentaries both reflect an enduring fascination with the nature of truth, and the ways that people perform … Read More
Roger Ebert reviewed movies with an accessibility that made him the most well-known movie critic in the world. But contrary to public opinion, Ebert could also be an outlier and an iconoclast, especially when it came to documentaries. Few mainstream critics have gone to bat for nonfiction films—not to mention formally adventurous docs that didn’t play by the rules—with as much vigor as Ebert.
There are no copyrights on reality. This makes for a tricky situation when multiple documentaries simultaneously arise around the same subject, with each having to fight for attention in the cultural and commercial marketplace. For instance, Marco Williams’s upcoming The Undocumented covers much of the same territory—and even shares some imagery—as another recent high-profile doc, Marc Silver’s Who is Dayani Cristal?
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise that critics hailed Rodney Ascher’s Room 237, opening in theaters and on VOD this week, as Sundance 2012′s best documentary. The film is, after all, about critical interpretation. But the multilayered Room 237 is more than just a cinephile’s inside joke—it joins a long list of acclaimed documentaries that focus on the vagaries of truth.