Speculations on Openings, Closings, and Thresholds in International Public Media
Thursday, January 6, 2011
Blog posting written by Patricia Zimmermann, professor, cinema, photography and media art at Ithaca College and codirector of the Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival
What Makes Me Mad
We need more top ten lists of the best documentaries of the year.
Enough of this entertainment industry pablum about the rise of the theatrical documentary. Most of the documentaries celebrated in these reviews are American, use narrative arcs and characters, and draft genre conventions to minimize complexity, abstraction, and explanation.
Here’s my challenge: we should multiply and amplify as many lists as possible of the best documentaries of the year. And not just the wanna-be-theatricals-coopting-community-as-outreach-until-the-feature-is-greenlighted films.
This is that endlessly fun time of year when e-blasts from Variety, the New York Times, The Village Voice and Indiewire announcing endless top ten lists percolate like mustard seeds popping in hot oil in a wok in my inbox.
Okay, I’ll admit it: I love the lists.
They rank up there with the Academy Awards as beloved film rituals that mean everyone I know will want to chat about film rather than the Republican coup d’etat in Washington. How glorious: at my local haunts, Island Fitness and Gimme Coffee, the talk shifts from Obama and nautilus and sustainable coffee to…cinema. Heaven!
These lists jab me with guilt about films I saw earlier in the year that drifted away from memory. And then they flood me with regrets about other films that I never got around to seeing or that only had a short run at Cinemapolis in Ithaca. Netflix can’t remedy the exhilaration of a packed house and popcorn.
But something really, really bugs me about these lists. They overflow with commercial American industry narrative films with big budgets for marketing even though the films pirate the ambiguities of episodic plots and exploration of philosophical ideas from international art cinema. So please, DO NOT TALK TO ME ANYMORE about BLACK SWAN!
Professional film reviewers joust to outdo each other to write the most pithy one-line descriptions advertising their penetrating wit and puns. They always seem to toss in a film that only rarefied people who go to film festivals in Rio, Seoul, Mumbia or Berlin can see.
What I Did About It
So, I am fighting back.
I'm reverse engineering these lists. I ‘m crowdsourcing top ten lists, call it participatory listmaking, or the end of the US centric cinematic empire of the top ten list.
I popped out a status update on Facebook asking my friends for their picks for groundbreaking and game-changing documentary of 2010. Then I culled the lists and put them in alphabetical order.
If you want to know what the films are about, just click on the link. If you want to add a film, just slide it into the comments section of this blog, or find me on Facebook.
Oh, I forgot to mention something. On my lists, the films don’t have to be theatrical. They just need to be game-changers.
Bhutto (Duane Baughman and and Johnny O’Hara, USA, 2010), submitted by Elisabeth Hoffman, Northwestern University in Qatar
Catfish (Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, USA, 2010), submitted by Terry Huynh, Los Angeles
Exit through the Gift Shop (Banksy, USA/UK, 2010), submitted by Jason Longo, self-employed Director of Photography
His and Hers (Ken Wardup, Ireland, 2009) , submitted by Matt Fee, Ithaca College
I’m Still Here (Casey Affleck, USA, 2010), submitted by Emily Gallagher, Lower East Side Tenement Museum, New York
Last Train Home (Lixin Fan, Canada/China/UK, 2010), submitted by Elisabeth Press, Open Plans, New York
Sweetgrass (Ilisa Barbash and Lucien Castaing-Taylor, USA, 2009) submitted by Patricia Zimmermann, Ithaca College
Tears of Gaza (Vibeke Lokkeberg,Norway/Occupied Palestinian Territory, 2010) , submitted by Bjorn Sorenssen, Norwegian University of Science and Technology
The Regretters (Marcus Linden, Sweden, 2010), submitted by Patrick Sjoberg, Karlstad University, Sweden
Waiting for Superman (Davis Guggenheim, USA, 2010) , submitted by Dave Prunty, Ithaca College