This year’s new rules for the Academy Award for Best Documentary will drastically change the voting process, favoring more recognizable and popular titles. During the process of whittling down this year’s 149 eligible docs to the final five nominees, time-stressed documentary branch members may only watch and therefore nominate the most recognizable of titles. As HBO’s Sheila Nevins told Variety, “The underdog is not going to make any noise. Only the ones that are most known will be seen.”
This Thursday, while most of us celebrate Thanksgiving, some Native Americans will gather together to commemorate a very different kind of holiday. “National Day of Mourning” aims to highlight the historical atrocities committed against Native American peoples and the continuing challenges they face today. In honor of the country’s First Peoples, PBS has premiered a new documentary called Young Lakota, an intimate look at life “on the Rez,” that also serves as a compelling microcosm of the country’s culture wars … Read More
Narco Cultura, which premiered at Sundance and opens in theaters this week, effectively reflects the weird disconnect that exists between the Mexican “narcocorrido” drug ballads that glorify the country’s drug cartels and the horrible realities of death and destruction that those mythic outlaws have inflicted on their society.
Though drastically different, the stories of William Philips, Joe Sarno, Kathleen Hanna and the Mekons are all variations on themes of un-sugarcoated perseverance and the need to adapt—to change, as the old adage goes, or die. Similarly, the DOC NYC festival, which continues to grow and meet the increasing demand for these types of stories, doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
Although Frederick Wiseman’s latest documentary, At Berkeley, focuses on an educational institution—the legendary Northern California university of the title—its reach is actually much wider, making it the most potent examination of the country’s financial crisis since Inside Job.
Philosophers don’t often become movie stars. But it’s easy to see why Slavoj Zizek, the prominent Slovenian Marxist-Lacanian thinker, has become a central figure in several documentaries. A teddy bear of a man, with deep-set eyes, graying hair, quickly moving hands and rapid-fire speech that evokes an even faster-moving brain, Zizek looks like a typical European philosopher pumped up on amphetamines.
While much of the information may be familiar to followers of Egypt’s continuing political crisis, The Square stands as a compelling example of documentary cinema’s ability to take the long view on a particular subject, to foster for the necessary contours and context of a subject in order to make more meaningful sense of it.
Nearly 20 years after Steve James’ seminal documentary Hoop Dreams reflected the outsized expectations put on two boys from inner city Chicago, Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson’s American Promise shows little has changed for young African-American males. Though the films are different in significant ways, American Promise is a fitting complement to Hoop Dreams, updating many of the earlier film’s interrogations of race, class and the American Dream.
One can see this nonfiction explosion as a sign of the form’s flowering acceptance—perhaps there are just more people interested in docs. On the other hand, you could see it as an indication of the form’s exploitation. Are all these inevitably brief theatrical runs only about getting press for their digital distribution launches, and not about attracting audiences to theaters?