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September 28, 2010



Some thoughts in response:

There is no objective basis for determining what is and is not 'well made'.

"All art is by definition useless", said Wilde - thinking also of Morris and Herzhog saying making a film is indefensible. There is no nobility in it, etc.

Re: character driven documentary films - seems to me like the successful types of these are often set against 'sociological backdrops' - people want to see a character driven documentary about Chinese families coping with massive cultural change for reasons that are not inherent to the film's 'quality', also (thought the quality of the films I refer to here is kind of amazing, must admit).

Is this what you mean by 'well-made'?

Frequently, to me, it seems, I am most interested in films that should not really exist. Wherein the maker's intentions and objectives are as mysterious and confounding as the world they report on.

So I am not interested in social issues films, or anything funded with an explicit political goal (this includes those films whose cause I am sympathetic with). Likewise I am not interested in 'sensationalized' accounts of banal subjects or characters.

I feel near complete apathy towards competition films.

In this media landscape there are so many people making so much noise... it makes sense that organizations with money and people have less trouble making themselves heard through non-fiction film. Art and Copy... what was that about?

What do you really want from a documentary film? I think I want to feel like I have gone on a healing voyage. I want to see things anew - not just to see new things. I don't want to be preached to. I don't want to have my intelligence insulted. I don't want vainglorious. I want to learn.

Sorry for what this turned into :)

E. Jesse

A few clarifying questions:

How does one determine "inequities in documentary funding" between "character-driven" docs and "socially-important" docs? Is there some percentage of funding that character-driven documentarians deserve and why?

ROGER & ME and THE THIN BLUE LINE seem like socially-important, i.e. advocacy films to me, although they are formally character-driven. Are these the kind of films you are saying are being crowded out by the liberal establishment?

Also, you don't do yourself any favors by referring to people who support advocacy filmmaking as "knee jerk liberal/leftist(s)" who "enslave" people and have "unquestioning loyalty." It just could be that these people are as thoughtful as you are and not zombies who brainlessly take marching orders from some ideological establishment. Your condescension does not help your argument.


i'm not sure i entirely follow the topic, but it feels like this is more about expanding/maintaining a mass marketplace for docs:

One of Fraser's key points in Sheffield was that the search for money - and the availability of funding by agenda-driven companies and organizations - meant that lots of films were being made with no (or little) aesthetic or cinematic ambitions. In short - topic was trumping craft.

What might make the discussion more interesting - and relevant – is to actually cite examples: Which funded films have aesthetic or cinematic problems? What is the universe of docs being discussed? Who is funding docs (and how much)? What kind of film is being made outside of this funding structure (and why aren’t “we” talking about it)?

Some of the best films I have seen this year are at the edges of the documentary marketplace – Sweetgrass, 45365, It Felt Like a Kiss, Disorder – and I am certain I have missed dozens that are even more marginal. Does it make sense for “the doc community” to support superstar outsiders such as James Benning or Rick Prelinger over folks mired in typically milquetoast trappings of mass marketplace character-driven films like Tyson or The Fog of War. I’m not saying these are bad films, just that they are very safe films from aesthetic and formal considerations. Also, and this should be obvious, this does not mean that character-driven docs cannot be formally interesting and “good for” The Field – e.g., About a Son. While I’m Still Here has tanked in the marketplace, I think it is more interesting for documentary than anything that is likely to be awarded at the Oscars or Anti-Oscars hosted by dozens in The Community. I’d like to see more attention given to the edges of The Field, this includes re-imagining “poorly-crafted” docs as aesthetically and culturally valuable; experimental and academic fare somehow discussed alongside the expected docs of the mass marketplace; less talk of budgets, grants, and distribution; etc.

It is only our limited discussion and imagination of The Field that is killing it.

Sheffield Doc/Fest

More on this at this year's Battle of Ideas at Sheffield Doc/Fest - http://www.battleofideas.org.uk/index.php/2010/session_detail/4711/


Docs as spinach seem to be balanced by Catfish (doc as sitcom). There's got to be someplace in between.

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