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Documentary

My wife’s workplace has decided to show some documentaries over lunch breaks sometimes.  She asked me to suggest some favourites from my collection, because documentary is one of my several obsessions.  It was an interesting exercise for me, not least because most of my favourite docs are much longer than an hour, but also because I wanted to include a variety of time periods and directorial styles.  In the end, I settled on these, in order of release:

1) Song of Ceylon, directed by Basil Wright (1934)

2) The Plow that Broke the Plains, directed by Pare Lorentz (1936)

3) Night and Fog, directed by Alain Resnais (1955)

4) Vernon, Florida, directed by Errol Morris (1981)

5) Lessons of Darkness, directed by Werner Herzog (1992)

Feel free to let me know of others that you might include.

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The Guelph Festival of Moving Media is coming up soon, running from November 7 to 10. Since I was privileged enough to have some input into the titles that were selected, I have something extra invested in the festival this year, and I hope to attend several of the films that I have not yet seen, particularly Hole Story and Chasing Ice, which is supposed to have some absolutely stunning cinematography.  The schedule also includes some great films that I have already seen, of which I would especially recommend Smoke Traders and Meet the Fokkens.  There should be something for everyone, so check out the schedule, and go see something.

The Guelph Festival of Moving Media has sent me to the Hot Docs Festival for four days this year to identify some films that we might want to screen at our own festival, and though I am only two days into my trip, I have seen some really wonderful films.

Most of my viewing has been in the Doc Shop, where industry representatives can access most of the films on demand through computer terminals.  The viewing experience is not quite the same as the theatre, of course, but it is much more convenient that running around Toronto from theatre to theatre , and it enables me to see films that are not actually playing while I am here.  Of those that I have been able to see in theatre, I particularly enjoyed the festival’s opening night doc, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, about Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei.  Weiwei’s story alone would probably carry the film, because of the issues it involves, particularly those of censorship and activism in modern China, but Weiwei’s art and personality add a depth and a humour and an intimacy that make the film stand apart from the others that I have seen so far.  Though the choice of which films come to GFOMM is certainly not mine, I will recommend this one very highly to those who are making the selections.

There are several other films that I will recommend also: Smoke Traders, which explores the role of cigarette trade in Canadian native communities; Crayons of Askalan, a partly acted, partly animated, partly documented look at an imprisoned Palestinian artist, though this one may be a bit  experimental for our audience; One Day After Peace, the story of an Israeli woman pursuing reconciliation in the wake of her son’s death by a Palestinian sniper, which includes some absolutely astonishing scenes, like a former South African minister coming to wash the feet of a woman whose son his orders had killed; Planet of Snail, a really lovely portrayal of the relationship between a deaf/blind poet and his physically disabled wife, which includes a great scene of him changing a complicated lightbulb that she cannot reach and he cannot see;  Breath, the life of a female chimney sweep in Estonia; Mom and Me, a partly animated look at the Hell’s Angels turf wars in Quebec; Canned Dreams, an almost surreal portrayal of how a can of ravioli is made; and Brooker’s Place, in which a filmmaker returns to a documentary that his father made during the civil rights movement that may have resulted in a man’s death.  I think any and all of these would make great editions to our festival, and hopefully we will be able to bring at least some of them in this year.

The 2010 edition of the Guelph Festival of Moving Media opens today and runs through the weekend.  It is my favourite local festival because it focuses mainly on documentary film, so it always has something that appeals to me.  This year I will to try to see Neil Diamond’s Reel Injun on Friday night, Kevin McMahon’s Waterlife on Saturday afternoon, Michael Madson’s Into Eternity on Saturday night, and Jacob Andrén and Helena Nygren’s I Bought a Rainforest on Sunday afternoon.  I will not likely make all four shows, not considering everything else that needs to get done this weekend, but I will see as many of them as I can, and I would encourage you to do the same.  You will not have many other chances to see screenings of these films, and many of them are well worth seeing.  So check out the festival’s full schedule, find something that piques your interest, and join us for some worthwhile screen time this weekend.

My friend Dawn Matheson has just sent me a link to the newly launched HotDocs Doc Library, which contains hundreds of documentaries by Canadian filmmakers that users can stream free of charge.  Along with many films that I have not seen, the site has several of my favourites, including How to Eat a Cat by Michael Connolly, The Take by Avi Lewis, and Thai Girls by John Haslett Cuff.  There are many films here worth seeing, and when they are combined with those that are available through The National Film Board of Canada, all free and legal, you are now officially without excuse to do away with cable forever.

I posted a few weeks ago about the letter I received from the firm of Patton Boggs in regard to my screening of Bill Haney’s The Price of Sugar documentary.  At that time I also contacted the film’s production company about providing a statement to balance the one from Patton Boggs.  They put their lawyer in contact with me, so I have exchanged a few emails with Thomas Curley from the firm of Levin Sullivan Koch & Schulz, and he has just sent me this letter that outlines the position of Bill Haney and Uncommon Productions.  It is three pages rather than forty-five, and it addresses the claims of the Vicini family rather succinctly, so it is worth having a read.

I very seldom write only to link to something else, but this particular something else relates to one of my favourite directors, Errol Morris, and to one of my favourite documentaries, The Thin Blue Line, so I am making an exception.   It is a letter posted on the Letters of Note blog, originally written to Morris in 1988 by Harvey Weinstein, the head of the studio that produced The Thin Blue Line, and it illustrates both why the film industry so often produces junk and why interesting directors like Morris tend to find themselves on the fringes of that industry, no matter how good their films might be.