Monthly Archives: March 2009


Of late, I am enamoured with feature-length, biographical docs.  Most recently, I watched the French-produced “Marilyn: The Last Sessions.” The same folks at Films D’Ici, also brought us the amazing animated auto-biographical “Waltz With Bashir.”  I quote directly from CBC’s The Passionate Eye website:

“Marilyn: The Last Sessions, a revealing documentary about the Hollywood icon paints a rare portrait of Monroe, based on tapes made during psychoanalysis sessions in the months prior to her untimely death.”

I would certainly recommend this film to anyone interested in Monroe – I hope that it is available at your indie video store. More likely, you will come across another great artist’s super biog, “Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson.” Alex Gibney just about masters the documentary biography with this exhilerating and touching film.

Some of my other favourite biogs:

– “The Devil and Daniel Johnston,” directed by Jeff Feuerzeig, is a aching portrait of the tormented musician who suffers from bi-polar disorder.

– “Crumb,” directed by Terry Zwigoff, is an unsettling film about “outisder” comic book artist Robert Crumb.

– “Grizzly Man,” directed by Werner Herzog, is a cobble of Timothy Treadwell’s own footage of himself living (and dying) with the grizzly bears of Alaska.

All of these are great portrayals of unique characters marked by brilliant and inspirational yet tragicly flawed artistic careers. Each film breaks the formula of the documentary biography established by television series such as “Life and Times,” “Biography” and “Iconoclasts,” which are too often a litenaty of dates and facts and talking heads.


Golden Sheaf Awards Nominees

The Yorkton Film Festival announced its 2009 Golden Sheaf Awards nominees. There are several CBC TV docs nominated that I helped get on the air

This Prairie festival has more documentary categories than most – nine in total – which I think is pretty darn cool.

Allan King Film Festival on TVO

Starting today, you can watch 3 short films on the TVO website and vote for your favourite. The subject matter is Canadian social commentary – what filmmaker Alan King did best, hence the festival is named after him.

Take a look at all 3, they are only a couple of minutes long. My friend and former colleague Adrianna Capozzi has an entry.

The winner will be announced April 10th, and starting on the 26th, TVO will begin a retrospective of King’s work including the critically acclaimed “Empz 4 Life,” “Warrendale” and “Dying at Grace.”

I haven’t see either and I will be sure to PVR them.  I am particularly interested in Warrendale, the CBC-commissioned film that was so upsetting it was shelved for many years. Since I work with CBC commissioning editors, I am interested in learning more about the history of the commissioning process. The film is about disturbed youth living in a facility called Warrendale. I have close friends who have worked with troubled youth and I am always compelled to watch films about this topic.

I also have a personal interest in Dying at Grace because my mother was a geriatric nurse for ten years and I know the particualar challenges that are associated with that work and would like to see how it was translated to film.

Difficult subjects documented with compassion – King’s goal and the goal of the filmmakers whose short films are available for your two cents worth.

Canada Media Fund

Yesterday, the Minister of Canadian Heritage announced that the Canadian Television Fund and the Canadian New Media Fund are being almalgamated into the Canada Media Fund.  Any news concerning changes to the CTF sends shivers down the spines of commissioning editors, as well as independent producers, throughout Canada. In the case of CBC Independent Documentaries, it relys on independent producers to access the CTF before it commits with a broadcast license – the CTF’s contribution boosts the overall budget of a doc which means, ususally, a better quality product. And CBC Documentaries wants viewers to watch a good product – so that they will come back for more.

Here is a quick breakdown of the announcement and the new CMF as quoted from a article. As you will notice, documentaries are not mentioned:

Four principles guided the government’s decision to create the new fund, Moore said.

  • Get governance and accountability right, including having a smaller, more independent board to manage the new fund.
  • Reward success and require innovation, favouring projects developed in high definition, those likely to have the most success with audiences and those planned for distribution to a minimum of two platforms, including television.
  • Focus the investment on what Canadians want, including an emphasis on drama, comedy and children’s programming on television, as well as on internet and mobile devices.
  • Level the playing field, encouraging competition among all players, including by removing the guaranteed funding envelope for CBC/Radio-Canada and provincial educational broadcasters.

What’s particularly alarming to the independent documentary community is that 5 out of 7 of the new controlling board of the CMF will be nominated by the cable companies that in effect will be only accountable for themselves – will they care about documentary programming that historically pulls in little profit for them? The Documentary Organization of Canada has published their opinion on the matter and it’s a rather dark view of things to come.

But the world of broadcating has been changing for some time and now even the Minister of Heritage  is sitting up and taking notice.  At CBC Docs, it is work as usual today, but who knows how the dust will settle and if the changes will translate into a reduction of original programming – or if it will translate in a request for programming that will take a different form than what came before it.

Of course, the whole point of the changing of the fund is that it is meant to match the changing world of media content and consumption. CBC Documentaries has recently expected to perform cross-platform. It now offers much of its programming on demand through the CBC Documentaries portal. And just a few weeks ago, I took over building the social media networks for CBC Documentaries through Twitter and Facebook in order to communicate more frequently and effectively with our audience. A little late maybe, but way better than never.

Documentaries are changing in form and presentation and now CBC Docs has to sit up and take notice – if Minister Moore can, so can CBC Docs. Maybe we should start by watching CPAC’s coverage of the CRTC’s hearings on new media that are happening right now.

And as I write this, thinking about the changing world of broadcasting, I am listening to songs on YouTube, that place where you can “broadcast yourself,” and my mind is being expanded by musian Kutiman who has created new music from video posts of other muscians. And after clicking through each song, I end up on his About Thru-You film, a little documentary about this project and my favourite documentary of the day – also a testament to the changing world of the consumption and creation of video and television.

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden

Last night, looking for some “light and entertaining” documentary watching, I selected “Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden” from my Rogers On Demand listings.

For the most part, I had enjoyed Morgan Spurlock’s FX Network series “30 Days” in which he challenges people of opposable faiths, creeds or lifestyles to live in close quarters for 30 days. Sounds like cheap reality TV, but I found it to be an original and bold concept, a sometimes fascinating look at human nature and the variety in our ability to love and hate, judge and condone.

Watching “Where is OBL,” I determined that Spurlock has a keen desire to promote dialogue. He’s a self-appointed diplomat and his goal is to prove that we all share a common human experience. Throughout all the conflicts he witnesses, his narration displays his naivete yet flows alongside a more reflective undercurrent. Spurlock is charmingly thoughtful but can be frustratingly loquacious.

The premise of “Where in the World” is to make the world a safer place for his soon to be born child: find Osama Bin Laden and reduce the incidence of terrorism worldwide. He himself jokes that singing “Kumbaya” is useless, so he embarks on an entertaining quest through Egypt, Morocco, Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

The search for Bin Laden is a ruse – Spurlock’s true goal is to meet everyday Islamic people and show his audience that they are very similar to everyday Americans: most work hard at menial jobs to put food on the table for their families.

Spurlock’s approach is superficial and targets a lower common denominator – the young, disengaged male – through funny (though glib) animation. But I can’t help forgiving his lack of journalistic depth for his desire to reach that next generation and humanize the faces on other side of the conflict. 

Spurlock’s egotistical pontification and his failure to present any practical solutions is cringe-worthy – but I say good on him for getting out there and bringing something back. Especially the laughter – it’s refreshing to see laughing faces from the Middle East.