Doc Trendz

My brain has been thinking WAY TOO MUCH about documentary film. It might be because I went to True/False this year and gorged on the best of the best. Or because I watched 60? 70? docs on fest screening committees this year. Whatever the reason,  I've been starting and stopping blog posts about the most random aspects of the contemporary documentary for months, never reaching enough of a point to hit the publish button... So I decided to compile a bunch of fleeting ideas that have been chugging around in the strange part of my brain that continues to process the onslaught of budding independent filmmakers and the real world stories they choose to portray. My dreams are totally weird lately.

1. Docs and the narrative tradition. Documentary subjects have many story conventions built in and in this world where nearly everyone can, and is, making movies, the doc is tending towards better independent cinema storytelling. Many good, first time directors see some of the daunting aspects of making an entire fictionalized universe on a low budget and, instead of making really shitty sets (or worse, filming in their friend's house that is too small for any shot to make any sense) or hiring low grade actors from hell, they are taking the access to new technology and turning to the real world to learn the ropes. I'm not saying docs are easier to make by any means but I am saying that they are a great way to learn about how to craft a film and a great way to potentially be noticed (primary ex. Zachary Heinzerling).

2. Hollywood chimera? Woah, woah woah. What the hell was that? I watched a film that was a fact/fiction hybrid doc whose fictions played like a straight up Hollywood movie. The blurring of fact and fiction on film continues to be a popular genre, it takes a real intelligence to augment reality in a way that can add depth, social commentary, or even just art, to a real life subject. But what happens if this augmentation is codified? What if the addition to the fiction is a set of expectations we already have as an audience? To me what it did was diminish the strength of the reality in the film by saying "This is only important if I add swelling strings. And famous people for no reason. And an overdramatic, actor-ly quality to the real life subject. And 'make it better' using only really obvious, boring tropes." Shit was weird. Is this the beginning of Hollywood/mainstream chimeric cinema or did biopics just become something else?

3. Artful archives. FINALLY! YAY! Besides digital cinema making documentaries easier to produce, another thing it is doing is making vintage footage more readily available and challenging the pretty dry conventions we've come to know when it comes to combining historical document with contemporary documentaries: no longer do we have to see the still photograph (seriously that Darger doc almost killed me with its two or three photographs)!!! The director of Black Power Mixtape & Concerning Violence and filmmakers like Jonathan Caouette (his Tarnation made largely thanks to the early days of another tech revolution-home VHS, word is that he's currently working on a documentary about Marianne Faithful! Can't wait! Love him!) produce reflections of a visual past, mirroring concerns of the present in a completely new form that, based on film fest submissions, is going to continue to sky rocket. For me it isn't the awesomeness that is being made now with the digitization of archival image that is exciting, it is the future potential for this idea: the constant recordings of today's world will be the next historical documentary director's medium. Expect lots of movies about cats doing whacky stuff.

Pic from Nanook



Donna K. lives in the Midwest and on the internet. Mostly she writes about her interest in the offline world.