Recent Documentary Articles

I’ve pretty much put the finishing touches on my horror film article, just missing my June 15 goal. Should hit the mail tomorrow. Now I’m starting to think about my conference paper on Capturing the Friedmans, a paper that I’m hoping will allow me to reflect on some key debates in documentary filmmaking. I’m way too exhausted to write anything terribly coherent about the questions I’d like to address right now.

With that in mind, I’ve linked to a few recent articles on doucmentary films. David Sterritt, writing for The Christian Science Monitor, has recently written an article discussing the recent trend of political documentaries. Sterritt attributes the rise in political documentaries to the polarized political atmosphere, and to some extent, I agree. Joel Bakan, co-writer of the Canadian documentary, The Corporation, echoes many of these claims:

Bakan started writing “The Corporation” in the mid ’90s, when he decided that “globalization, deregulation, privatization, [and] relaxation of merger and acquisition laws” were leading to “our democratic institutions being subsumed to the corporate agenda.”

The movie is catching on, he says, because people increasingly sense that the the world is facing real problems. Yet when they watch the news and read the paper, they don’t have a sense of why it’s happening the way it is happening. Documentaries try to make sense of the big picture, he says, and viewers welcome the engagement such films provide even if they don’t always agree with a film’s conclusions.

To some extent, I agree, documentaries allow for greater reflection than either news broadcasts or radio talk shows. I’d also agree that Bush’s policies have led to widespread opposition and energized people on the left. But, as Bakan’s experience suggests (he began writing the film in the good old mid ’90s), this opposition has been building for some time, and Michael Moore has been producing significant anti-corporate documentary work since 1989. I don’t know that I have any complete answers here. Certainly having access to cheap equipment has been critical, but again, that’s only part of it.

This emphasis on politcal documentaries also appears in Stephen Holden’s New York Times review of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (HRWIFF). Like Sterritt, he mentions The Corporation. The connection Holden makes between the HRWIFF and the photos and videos from Abu Ghraib also seems very much relevant.

Finally, Matt at Rashomon also has a recent blog entry on political documentaries helpfully collecting some links and listing some of the key films in this cycle.

Now, I’m off to watch one of the classics, Primary, Robert Drew’s documentary about the 1960 Democratic primary race between John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey.

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