Last week New York Magazine published film critic David Edelstein's assessment of current documentary as the most interesting and dynamic genre of cinema. His piece points to the currently unspooling Tribeca Film Festival, which champions documentaries and selected "Mistaken for Strangers" -- a doc about indie rock band The National -- for its opening night.
In his article, Edelstein wrote a hefty list detailing 17 sub-genres of documentary filmmaking -- though there are surely more -- tipping his hat to recent docs including the Oscar-winning "Searching for Sugar Man" and the maddening, out-to-sea "Leviathan." Read a few below, and the full list here.
1. Verite. "Fly on the Wall." Think Frederick Wiseman and his landmark sixties and seventies films. The camera runs on and on, but the filmmaker still shapes our perceptions. The Maysles films ("Salesman," "Grey Gardens") were more shaped and even more influential. There’s not much rigorous verite these days, because the audience won’t sit still.
4. Errol Morris, or Anti-Verite. Stylized reenactments and talking heads shot from a fixed perspective, as in "The Thin Blue Line" and "The Fog of War," with Philip Glass music to provide momentum. Some purists don’t like how Morris makes implicit fun of his subjects. Others love how he lets liars hang themselves in front of our eyes.
11. Odyssey/Mystery (related to Memoir). Tracking down a famous figure, as in "Searching for Sugar Man," or the guy who swore in the outtakes of the Winnebago commercial. "Catfish"-style treks for strangers.
13. Arty/Collage. Chris Marker is the gold standard. Meditations on places, usually too impressionist to be commercial. "Koyaanisqatsi" gives it a head-trip soundtrack. Much love for the current "Leviathan."
Meanwhile in other documentary news, the American Film Institute announced its Opening Night and Centerpiece films for the upcoming AFI Docs festival (June 19-23 in Silver Springs, MD) presented by Audi.
The opening night selection is "Letters to Jackie," directed by Oscar winner Bill Couturie (1990's "Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt). In the film, public letters to Jackie Kennedy written in the aftermath of JFK's assassination are read by 20 actors including Chris Cooper, Zooey Deschanel, Kirsten Dunst and Anne Hathaway.
Also having its world premiere as the centerpiece film is Jose Antonio Vargas' "Documented," a self-reflexive doc in which Vargas examines the plight of undocumented immigrants in the US through the lens of his own personal story.
A must-see 1980 short doc made for British TV about people hit by lightning by arthouse English director Peter Greenaway was recently spotlighted online. In "Act of God," Greenaway -- perhaps most famous for his elegant 1989 shocker "The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her Lover" and for publicly decrying most of contemporary cinema -- profiles victims of lightning strikes between 1961 and 1980.
In Greenaway's trademark cinematic
parlance, the filmmaker frames his subjects amid highly mannered
mise-en-scene, like fresco paintings drenched in chiaroscuro. Read a
recent Indiewire interview with Greenaway here, and view "Act of God" and other trailers below.