Fellow Torontonian, Corey Atad, who writes at Movie Mezzanine has discussed the responsibility of documentarians to stick to facts in their films in a piece titled 'Honesty in Documentary'. The discussion is prompted by his experience with Searching For Sugar Man after he found a number of details were omitted from the film. I'm writing about it because no piece this year has changed my opinion of a film as much Corey's has. I simply cannot look at Sugar Man the same way anymore.
In essence, there is nothing wrong with being innovative in documentary cinema. It is appreciated, in fact. John Grierson, one of the earliest pioneers of the form, referred to his own aesthetics as the "creative treatment of actuality." Corey mentions examples of other films that present their story creatively, bringing up Waltz With Bashir as a great example, but he's asking whether that type of creative control over the material is allowed extend to the facts therein.
"Anytime we walk into a film we are making an implicit agreement. If I go see a fictional film I expect that it will be a fiction. I suspend my disbelief and allow the story to do what it wants. When I walk into a documentary, that agreement is different. There is an implicit expectation that no matter how much slant or bias or editorial influence is being had on the subject, at the very least the film is presenting factual information as accurately as possible. Sometimes accuracy is difficult to achieve, but distorting facts is a no-no."
When I watched the film myself, I was quite taken with it. I find it heartbreaking and heartwarming in equal measure, but I was quite surprised at how Rodriguez remained completely unfazed by his new found success. Though the omissions aren't huge, the fact that Rodriguez had been aware of his success in places like Australia explains why he wasn't at all shocked by the warm reception he received in South Africa.In Corey's words: "The fact is, Rodriguez was not as obscure as the film claims, nor was he as difficult to find as the documentary implies. It’s not an outright lie, but it is a lie by omission, and the information was clearly left out in order to juice the drama in Rodriguez’ story. It’s still an incredible story, just not as incredible as the filmmakers would have you believe going on their account alone."
I can't help but feel cheated a bit, having realized that my emotional reaction to the film wasn't entirely merited, and I've slowly and quietly slipped Sugar Man out of my top 20 films. You can read Corey's piece here. I couldn't recommend it enough.
Next up is perennial favourite, Nick Prigge of Cinema Romantico, who has summed up the narratives overtaking this year's Oscar race in a 100% accurate, 137% hilarious piece titled 'Emerging Oscar Storylines.' I don't agree with his predictions entirely: I refuse to believe Argo can win best picture until I see Affleck jumping up and down on the Oscar stage with a little golden man in his hands and I don't think Tommy Lee Jones is a lock. Then again, I've predicted both of those categories exactly like him, so what the hell is up with my disingenuous disagreement? I am, however, entirely consumed by the idea that Michael Haneke may have an agenda of snuff films.
"The story of Best Actor is that there is NO story. Daniel Day Lewis will win. He will win because he floats in the regal ether above the pedantic stories of the Academy. Hype rolls off of him. Backlash is frightened to death of him. Twitter is powerless to stop him. Daniel Day Lewis is Daniel Fucking Day Lewis and that is why he will win."
You can read his piece here, and if you don't, you deserve the same twitter hate attack as Anne Hathaway.