Nomadland leads new wave of hybrid dramas

Image for post
Image for post

If hybrid documentaries were all the rage in the 2010s, now is the time for hybrid dramas. An emerging trend sees filmmakers cast people as themselves in stories dramatizing their experiences. These films follow a decade in which documentaries increasingly gravitated towards fictional elements while Hollywood doubled down on non-fiction properties. New evolutions in hybrid film employ the power of self-representation to move audiences with the drama of our increasingly fragmented world.

The popularity of hybrid docs, loosely defined as non-fiction works that incorporate elements of dramatization and performance, is reframing the definition of documentary itself. Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing (2012) features Indonesian right-wing murderers re-enacting their crimes from the mid-1960s civil annihilation of the Communists after the overthrow of Sukarno. These über-theatrical performances include musical numbers and Spaghetti western drag shows amid interviews with the criminals. Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell (2012), meanwhile, incorporates dramatic B-roll within a tapestry of home movies. The collage of archival elements and re-enactments evokes the ways in which memories become fictitious as people re-interpret them over time. The films of Robert Greene — Actress (2012), Kate Plays Christine (2016), and (2018) — contrast conventional elements of documentary and explore the fissures between social roles, media images, and historical records, respectively. Whether it’s Brandy Burre playing herself, Kate Lyn Sheil interpreting ill-fated newscaster Christine Chubbuck, or local workers re-enacting history, Greene’s interplay between documentary and drama finds truth in performance. …


Everything is on the table with this year’s awards race

Image for post
Image for post
Robert in Boys State | AppleTV+

As the annual Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) approaches, now is the time when pundits usually prepare their Oscar predictions. The September festival traditionally shapes the race and sets the frontrunners. Just look at previous TIFF People’s Choice Award winners like Green Book, 12 Years a Slave, Three Billboards, La La Land, and Jojo Rabbit, which all won Oscars and became Best Picture nominees. (Some even won that prize.) …


Image for post
Image for post

Some thoughts on the meaning of festivals pre- and post-plague

This March, before the full force of COVID-19 hit, the documentary community flocked to Missouri’s True/False Film Festival (T/F) to be immersed in other realities. We feigned fist bumps before going in for inevitable and enthusiastic embraces, 15,000 documentary lovers, thrilled to be converging yet again at the “funnest festival.” We had no real sense that this would be the last event we would attend together for the foreseeable future.

As the last documentary festival to operate with relative normalcy, in the before times of the pandemic, T/F 2020 glows with an afterimage of what festivals represented to us all. …


Image for post
Image for post
A still from The Reason I Jump by Jerry Rothwell, an official selection of the World Cinema Documentary Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Jerry Rothwell

Naoki Higashida’s ground-breaking book The Reason I Jump receives a documentary treatment that is equally revelatory. The Reason I Jump debuts in the World Documentary Competition at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and, like Higashida’s landmark book, it provides a valuable window into the experiences of non-speaking autistic people. The film is directed with sensitivity and ingenuity by Jerry Rothwell (How to Change the World, Sour Grapes) and it uses Higashida’s book (translated into English by Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell) as the jumping off point for a global study of the diversity of experiences for non-speaking autistic people. Rothwell introduces audiences to a quintet of characters and the range of supports they receive as society gradually understands a condition that is often impenetrable to the average mind. …


Showing daily life in a region mostly represented through images of war

Image for post
Image for post
Kedi

When I first arrived in Toronto from my home in Amman, Jordan, I was struck by how few people here had any understanding of what life was really like in the Middle East. I was in the MFA in Documentary Media program at Ryerson University, where I created a short documentary about my grandparents and their unusual love story, Teta, Opi & Me. At one point, my rough cut was screened for feedback and there was one remark by a professor, of Canadian origin, that at first angered me, then saddened me and finally drove me to ask, “Why?” His only remark after watching my film was that he was genuinely surprised that we, the Middle Eastern people, live “normal” lives. He was taken aback that the film did not show war, but instead featured beautiful scenery, three-dimensional people and everyday “normal” living. So, why was violence the only reality he knew of the Middle East? Is his attitude similar to most, if not all North American audiences? …


Image for post
Image for post
All photos courtesy of Metrograph

Marcus Lindeen’s latest documentary revisits a 1970s radical social experiment by way of a creative and revelatory re-enactment involving the surviving research participants. For 101 days in the summer of 1973, ten volunteer subjects and one principal researcher — Mexican-Spanish anthropologist Santiago Genovés — drifted by wind and current across the Atlantic in a 12 × 7 metre raft aptly named the Acali (an ancient Mexican word for ‘the house in the water’). Though Genovés officially presented the expedition as a “Peace Project”, this cloying epithet was misleading. Genovés’s longstanding research interests had revolved around the origins of aggression and violence. …


Image for post
Image for post
Arabian leopards in Oman, as seen in Netflix’s Our Planet

As viewership of nature documentary series continues to soar, it’s clear that these types of shows are resonating with audiences and have the ability to change conversations around their subject matter. Take Our Planet, the new series from the BBC’s Natural History Unit (NHU). The ambitions of this new series are clear: to “inspire and delight hundreds of millions of people across the world so they can understand our planet and the environmental threat it faces.” That’s what Alastair Fothergill, former head of the NHU and Our Planet co-producer, has said about this high-profile undertaking. Keith Scholey, who is the series co-producer and former NHU Head, reiterated this sentiment to POV, noting that “right from the get-go we were planning a big landmark series, which shows the wonders of the world but really points out what the issues are.” …

About

POV Magazine

Canada’s documentary magazine covering the best in non-fiction. In print and online: POVmagazine.com

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store