Beginning this week, indieWIRE joins Hulu for a unique partnership, becoming the curator of Hulu’s Documentaries page. This is the first time that Hulu has entrusted a guest curator with this role, and iW is thrilled to be given the opportunity to bring our selections to Hulu’s audience, and to introduce them to what we do. Of course, it’s also a chance to let our readers know about the exceptional films that are part of Hulu’s library, so this column will appear as often as the Hulu Documentaries page is updated.
I’ll be the primary curator for iW and will be writing this column to give some insight into the selection process and offer brief thoughts about the documentaries I’ve chosen to highlight.
To kick things off, since the Fall festival season is officially in full swing with the opening of the 35th Toronto International Film Festival, I thought that venerable festival would be a perfect place to start. TIFF has long been a Fall showcase for the newest crop of world-class non-fiction cinema, and with new documentaries from Errol Morris (“Tabloid”), Kim Longinotto (“Pink Saris”), and Werner Herzog (“Cave of Forgotten Dreams”), among others, its 2010 edition shouldn’t disappoint.
So, for this week’s inaugural indieWIRE @ Hulu Docs, the films selected not only screened in past editions of TIFF, but are also loosely inspired by or in dialogue with some of the hotly-anticipated new titles screening at the fest over the next week and a half.
In the carousel at the top of the page, you’ll find three of our selections, including, appropriately enough, the Canadian film “Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media,” directed by Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick. This thought-provoking doc, which screened to great acclaim in the 1992 Toronto fest, was the winner of more than twenty international film awards and one of the most successful theatrical non-fiction films in Canadian history. It profiles the controversial linguist, philosopher, and political activist Noam Chomsky, and explores his critique of media and its use to further the agendas of corporations and the government, making viewers unthinking participants. While I haven’t yet seen TIFF ’10 selection “The Game of Death,” Christophe Nick & Thomas Bornot’s premise seems equally provocative, wondering whether our society has become so desensitized to violence and death that we might willingly inflict pain for the sake of a reality TV competition.
Also featured in the carousel is Margaret Brown’s masterful “Be Here to Love Me: A FIlm About Townes Van Zandt,” which premiered at TIFF in 2004, and had a limited release the following year after a healthy festival run. The film is an intimate portrait of the musician, eschewing the typical talking heads focused praises that are often found in music docs to craft a much more evocative and impressionist tribute that is able to speak effectively to audiences who aren’t even necessarily familiar with his music. The biggest music doc at this year’s Toronto is, without question, “The Promise: The Making of Darkness on the Edge of Town,” which offers a look into the artistic creative process by going behind the scenes with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band in 1976-1978 for the recording and rehearsals of the titular album.
The third iW-curated title in the carousel, “Summercamp!,” screened at TIFF 2006. Directors Bradley Beesley and Sarah Price capture the ups and downs of life at Swift Nature Camp, exploring the magic of adolescence for nearly 100 kids one summer. Magic of a different sort is the subject of a Toronto title screening this year, “Make Believe,” also focused on adolescents and the special sense of community and belonging that comes from shared experiences and interests. In the film, screening in the Sprockets Family Zone, director J Clay Tweel follows a group of teenaged magicians competing for the title of Teen World Champion Magician.
In the center of the page, iW has also curated three titles under “Featured Content:”
Included here is the UK/Canadian co-production “Diameter of the Bomb,” directed by Andrew Quigley and Steven Silver, which was part of Toronto’s 2005 lineup. The film is an in-depth analysis of a suicide bombing that took place in Jerusalem on June 18, 2002, killing 20 people and injuring more than 50 others. Taking a multi-perspective approach, the filmmakers investigate the Hamas cell that planned the bombing, the various entities who dealt with the physical aftermath, the Mossad agents who went after the bombers, and the friends and families of the victims who had to move forward. What results is a carefully composed dialogue between two opposing sides and an intelligent assessment of a single, life-changing incident. Vibeke Løkkeberg’s “Tears of Gaza,” screening at Toronto this year, takes a more expansive view, focusing not on a single attack, but on the bombing of Gaza between 2008-2009 by the Israeli military, and its effects on those who live there.
Art making is central to a selection from TIFF 2003, “The Five Obstructions,” directed by Jørgen Leth with Lars von Trier. This unique and playful documentary project pits the two filmmakers against one another when von Trier challenges his friend and filmmaking mentor to remake his 1967 film, “The Perfect Human” (von Trier’s favorite) five times, but each time with a different constraint posed by the younger filmmaker. Exploring the impact of collaboration (and impediments) on the creation of art, the film is as immensely inspiring as it is entertaining. Leth returns to Toronto this year with “Erotic Man,” a meditation on love, aging, and loss that promises to match or even surpass his earlier work’s unconventionality.
Finally, rounding out this week’s selections is Academy Award-nominated director Scott Hamilton Kennedy’s “OT: Our Town,” which screened at TIFF in 2002, and went on to have a successful festival life, winning numerous jury and audience awards. Documenting the unlikely story of a Compton, CA high school’s performance of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” – the school’s first stage production in over 20 years – “OT” challenges stereotypes and expectations through the exploration of art and performance. What could be a more perfect tie-in to this year’s “The Sound of Mumbai: A Musical,” directed by Sarah McCarthy, a compelling and surefire crowdpleaser detailing the lead-up to a one-night only concert performance of “The Sound of Music” by a chorus of lower-caste Indian children?
ABOUT THE WRITER: Basil Tsiokos is a Programming Associate, Documentary Features for Sundance, consults with documentary filmmakers and festivals, and recently co-produced Cameron Yates’ feature documentary “The Canal Street Madam.” Follow him on Twitter @1basil1 and @CanalStMadamDoc.