Are you wondering who I’m rooting for in the documentary category this weekend at the Oscars? If you read my review of Minding the Gap, you will see why Bing’s got my support:
Well my book is really out there! I’m starting to see reviews (gulp), which is both terrifying and thrilling! This review comes from Markee Magazine, and I am absolutely thrilled they took the time to not only read it, but offer up their thoughts! The reviewer here suggests that I make a distinction between the spiritual truth-telling genres I introduce in the book, and what he calls educational films. I completely agree, and I’ll be sure to make that distinction next time I write about documentary. I’ve actually been thinking a lot about the role of the essay in society, and there is a sense in which expository documentaries function as pubic essays, which can be very helpful and educational. There is a sense in which I wanted to highlight another aspect of documentary: documentary as artistic practice, something I’d been seeing over and over at film festivals, and find fascinating. Thank you Markee Magazine for joining the conversation! Book Reviews
Slow cinema has a long history in what is known as spiritual film, dating back to Paul Schrader’s articulation of what he calls transcendental style in his book of the same name written in the late 70’s. Director Paul Harrill provides a lovely contribution to the genre in Light from Light, the title phrase taken from the Nicene Creed, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ… God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made…” In the question and answer session after the screening of the film at Sundance, Harrill explained that he likes the idea of “Light from Light” as an articulation of the mystery of existence. How is it that something like light could have its origin in light? Why is there any light at all? This is a mystery. Perhaps the question of mystery is central to Paul Harrill’s exploration of the world of grief in the wake of lost loved ones. The inexplicable nature in which the light of life vanishes when a loved one dies is just as mysterious as the question as to why we are here at all. Our existence and the subsequent (apparent) ceasing of that existence […]
Something I learned this week at Sundance: Kindness is radical – empathy is radical – tolerance (towards those in the other tribe) is radical. Even Neville, director of the beloved Sundance hit from a year ago, the Fred Rogers biopic, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor,” thinks documentary can model these counterintuitively radical actions. “A debate I’ve had with my documentary peers,” Neville said, “is who do we make films for? Do we make films to make each other feel good, pat each other on the back, preach to the converted, or argue with the converted? This was an opportunity to make a film to reach all kinds of people. Mr. Rogers was a unique cultural figure; he has no cultural attachments. When you watched him, you didn’t know what a Republican or Democrat was. It speaks to the fundamental ways we speak to each other. If we can’t agree about Mr. Rogers, then we are really screwed.” “I wanted to make a film to remind people about the value of radical kindness,” he said. “Fred’s message, when I distill it, he talked about grace. It’s this idea that kindness is not a naive notion like believing in unicorns and rainbows […]
One of the lesser-known civil rights leaders was Howard Thurman. I got a chance to see an advanced screening of a new documentary about him that was picked up by PBS, “Backs Against The Wall: The Howard Thurman Story.” There are so many notable aspects to his life and legacy: he was MLK’s pastor, he learned the nonviolent approach from Gandhi and helped move MLK from treating nonviolence as a tactic to thinking of it as a way of life. “Martin Doblmeier, the film’s director, said Thurman’s voice is needed even more today because of pervasive political and religious tribalism. Thurman constantly sought common ground with people who were different.” I highly recommend this doc! https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.cnn.com/cnn/2019/02/01/us/howard-thurman-mlk-gandhi/index.html
I had the privilege of seeing a Tara Donovan instillation at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver yesterday and I was BLOWN away! Look at the SCALE of these! Tar paper made to look like waves or shale rock or lava flows perhaps. Mylar folded up to look like some kind of otherworldly plant, strips of Mylar arranges in circles on the wall made to look like oyster shells in a coral pattern, index cards meticulously stacked up to resemble salt or tufa towers, straws made to look like a mist… Each installation is sticking with me. In some ways, her pieces could be about the passage of time, and the way things form and grow over time in nature. She’s undoubtedly taking the time to place each piece of paper, or strip of mylar, or plastic straw or index card in ways that mimic organic growth. We tend to think of space and time as two separate concepts, but can time be “seen” in this way?
I have been writing a lot about boredom lately, and my first podcast episode was on how slow cinema provides space for contemplation. Well if you’d like to know some of the science behind this idea, check out this excellent TED talk by Manoush Zomorodi. In particular, check out the quote from Dr. Sandi Mann at 3:45 “Once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to really wander, you start thinking a little bit beyond the conscious, a little bit into the subconscious which allows sort of different connections to take place. It’s really awesome actually.” In the “default mode” our brains do some of their best work, connecting disparate ideas and (get this) put the moments of memories together to construct a personal narrative, which allows for us to set goals and plan our future actions. So boredom leads to creativity, leadership skills, a heightened desire to solve problems in the community, and saves precious glucose in the brain. This all lines up with the book I’m reading about boredom and the literature I’ve been studying regarding slow cinema. The really fascinating aspect of this (which is not in her talk) is that artists seem to instinctively know this, […]
Alissa Wilkinson reviews the latest Errol Morris Documentary here. This is another in a long line of interview-based films my Morris about divisive political figures (Robert McNamara in “Fog of War” and Rumsfeld in “Unknown Known” among others). While I haven’t gotten a chance to see it, Morris has a propensity to let the powerful talk, to such a degree that they often end up revealing more about themselves then they had intended. I have no doubt this is the same.
New York Times Columnist David Brooks has written a lovely piece about the new Mr. Rodgers movie. There’s of course SO much to say about this movie, and I’ll write something soon about why I think it should be picked for the Academy Award this year. But I’ll let Brooks do the talking for today. “Once, as Tom Junod described in a profile for Esquire, Rogers met a 14-year-old boy whose cerebral palsy left him sometimes unable to walk or talk. Rogers asked the boy to pray for him. The boy was thunderstruck. He had been the object of prayers many times, but nobody had asked him to pray for another. He said he would try since Mister Rogers must be close to God and if Mister Rogers liked him he must be O.K. Junod complimented Rogers on cleverly boosting the boy’s self-esteem, but Rogers didn’t look at the situation that way at all: “Oh, heavens no, Tom! I didn’t ask him for his prayers for him; I asked for me. I asked him because I think that anyone who has gone through challenges like that must be very close to God. I asked him because I wanted his intercession.”” “And here is the […]
Congratulations to these nine filmmakers who were selected as 2018 Film Independent documentary fellows! https://www.filmindependent.org/blog/reality-empathy-announcing-2018-documentary-fellows/