Category Archives: Documentary

Remembering Dennis Stock


Magnum Photographer Dennis Stock sadly died today.

Stock started his career as an apprentice to Life magazine photographer Gjon Mili and joined Magnum in 1951. Although best known for his intimate portraits of James Dean he was also a prolific Jazz photographer taking some of the most iconic Jazz portraits in history for his book Jazz Street. in 1968 he founded the production company Visual Objectives and shot several documentaries but returned to Magnum to serve as president of Magnum’s film and new media division in 1969 and 1970. Stock generated a book or an exhibition almost every year since the 1950s.


“Art is a well-articulated manifestation of an aspect of life. I have been privileged to view much of life through my cameras, making the journey an enlightened experience. My emphasis has mainly been on affirmative reactions to human behavior and a strong attraction to the beauty in nature.”


Get the whole story »

  • Share/Bookmark

Top 15 Documentaries of 2009

1. Antoine

(Laura Bari, Canada, 2009) – websitetrailer


As usual I couldn’t stick to convention and pick 10 or 20, but this is the list that just appeared when I began writing down the documentaries I’ve loved most this year. I know there are some big films missing but there are a few that I haven’t had a chance to see (Collapse, Objectified and Best Worst Movie being three in particular that I’m itching to get hold of.)

As with the decade list this isn’t in any order, I still can’t bring myself to do that. All of these films I absolutely adore and have championed to anyone who’ll listen. I really think it’s been a great year for documentary, there have been more feature docs than ever coming out of the UK, which is great as we tend to be broadcast oriented, and there have been a lot of great international co-productions that have really pushed some films that might not otherwise have been made. Also check out The Documentary Blog’s year end list here.

As with the decade list I’d love to know what you think I’m missing, I watched some great documentaries I might not have found off the back of all your suggestions so please feel free.

2. The Cove

(Louie Psihoyos, USA, 2009) – websitetrailer


3. Sweethearts of the Prison Rodeo

(Bradley Beesley, 2009) – websitetrailer


4. Mugabe and the White African

(Lucy Bailey & Andrew Thompson, UK, 2009) – websitetrailer


5. Last Train Home

(Lixin Fan, Canada, 2009) – websitetrailer


6. Sergio

(Greg Barker, USA, 2009) – websitetrailer


7. The Red Chapel

(Mads Brügger, Denmark, 2009) – imdbtrailer


8. Anvil! The Story of Anvil

(Sacha Gervasi, USA, 2009) – websitetrailer


9. Dancing with the Devil

(Jon Blair, UK, 2009) – website


10. Winnebago Man

(Ben Steinbauer, USA, 2009) – websitetrailer


11. Kings of Pastry

(DA Pennebaker & Chris Hedegus, 2009) – website


12. I’m Not Dead Yet

(Elizabeth Stopford, UK, 2009) – imdb


13. Afghan Star

(Havana Marking, UK, 2009) – websitetrailer


14. Presumed Guilty

(Roberto Hernández & Geoffrey Smith, Mexico, 2009) – websitetrailer


15. RiP: A Remix Manifesto

(Brett Gaylor, Canada, 2009) – websitetrailer


Honourable Mentions:

21 Below
Shelter in Place
Burma VJ
The Time of Their Lives
Along Came Kinky
The Most Dangerous Man in America

  • Share/Bookmark

50 Documentaries of the Decade

Last week Paste declared their 25 Documentaries of the Decade. To be honest it was a bit of a disappointingly obvious list, in terms of safely including most of the biggest docs of the decade. Every film on their list is a great documentary but there were also a great amount of other films that possibly should have seen a mention.

I tried to limit to 25 but it’s just impossible. This isn’t necessarily in any order, I hate the idea of saying one is better than the other, especially when you’re talking 10 years of filmmaking and also the sheer spread of importance and subject matter, feel free to call me a wimp.

1. The Fog of War (Morris, 2003) – trailer
2. The Staircase (de Lestrade, 2004) – trailer
3. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (Lee, 2006)
4. Journeys with George (Pelosi, 2002)
5. Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (Stone, 2004) – trailer
6. Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story (Forbes, 2008) – trailer
7. Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple (2006) – trailer
8. Dark Days (Singer, 2000) – trailer
9. Power of Nightmares (Curtis, 2004) – Part 1/3
10. Grizzly Man (Herzog, 2005) – trailer
11. Please Vote For Me (Chen, 2007) – trailer
12. 49 Up (Apted, 2005) – trailer
13. Etre et Avoir (Philibert, 2002) – trailer
14. Aileen: Life and Death of Serial Killer (Broomfield, 2003) – trailer
15. Sergio (Barker, 2009) – trailer
16. King of Kong (Gordon, 2007) – trailer
17. Capturing the Friedmans (Jarecki, 2003) – trailer
18. Scottsboro: An American Tragedy (Anker & Goodman, 2001)
19. Control Room (Noujaim, 2004) – trailer
20. Abel Raises Cain (Abel & Hockett, 2005) – trailer
21. Jesus Camp (Ewing & Grady, 2006) – trailer
22. The English Surgeon (Smith, 2007) – trailer
23. Iraq in Fragments (Longley, 2007) – trailer
24. Chicago 10 (Morgen, 2007) – trailer
25. Paradise Lost 2: Revelations (Berlinger & Sinsofsky, 2000) – Part 1
26. Prodigal Sons (Reed, 2008)
27. Al Franken: God Spoke (Hedegus & Doob, 2006) – trailer
28. Excellent Cadavers (Turco, 2005)
29. Taxi to the Dark Side (Gibney, 2007) – trailer
30. Stevie (James, 2002)
31. The Weather Underground (Green & Siegel, 2002) – trailer
32. Born into Brothels (Briski & Kauffman, 2004) – trailer
33. The Gleaners and I (Varda, 2000) – trailer
34. Kurt Cobain About a Son (Schnack, 2006) – trailer
35. Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Gibney, 2008) – trailer
36. Waltz with Bashir (Folman, 2001) – trailer
37. Avenge But One of My Two Eyes (Mograbi, 2005) – trailer
38. The Prisoner or: How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair (Epperlein & Tucker, 2006) – trailer
39. Billy the Kid (Venditti, 2007) – trailer
40. Man on Wire (Marsh, 2009) – trailer
41. Death in Gaza (Miller, 2004) – Part 1
42. Robert Capa in Love and War (Makepeace, 2003) – trailer
43. Bus 174 (Padilha & Lacerda, 2002) – trailer
44. The Devil and Daniel Johnston (Feuerzeig, 2006) – trailer
45. Standing in the Shadows of Motown (Justman, 2002) – trailer
46. Helvetica (Hustwit, 2007) – trailer
47. Beneath the Veil (Harrison, 2001) – clip
48. Cry Freetown (Samura, 2000) – trailer
49. Last Party 2000 (Chaiklin & Leitch, 2001) – trailer
50. The Bridge (Steel, 2006) – trailer

So, what have I missed?

  • Share/Bookmark

Final Doc/Fest Recap

I had planned on blogging every day from Sheffield but almost from the moment I woke up on Friday morning I was run off my feet. Thank god for the hotel breakfast as it kept me going through the day. Weirdly it’s difficult to grab something to eat as you run around the festival and forever etched in my mind was having to track down a vegetarian sandwich last year for a panellist and being handed a raw onion baguette as their only option.

After catching up on emails and various meetings my first stop was to see Nick Fraser introduce La Vida Loca, a film both he and I have been fiercely supporting after the tragic death of it’s filmmaker Christian Poveda in El Salvador. We showed it last month at the Frontline Club to an absolutely heaving audience.

From there we headed straight for what was obviously going to be the most entertaining and dramatic panel of the festival Campaigning Documentaries: The Thin Line Between Passion and Propaganda.

On the panel were Nick, Jess Search of BritDoc, Ceri Dingle from WORLDwrite, Kevin Toolis from Many Rivers Films and chair Claire Fox from the Institute of Ideas.


This was a session I particularly wanted to see as we had arranged to do it at the club with Nick but unfortunately at the last minute he couldn’t make it and our panel turned out to be incredible. It was chaired by Roger Graef (Films of Record) and saw Hamish Mykura (Head of Documentaries and More4), Havana Marking (Director of Afghan Star), and John Battsek (Executive Producer of The Age of Stupid) duke it out. The full video of that panel is here.

This was a slightly different type of line-up and was much more centred around the commissioning and place of campaigning docs. Everyone had expected Nick and Jess to completely butt heads but within the first five minutes they had united in opinion and were facing extreme opposition from Kevin and Ceri. I have to say it was slightly weird to see a battle between two of my previous employers, but that actually made it more fun as I had an idea of what was coming. Claire Fox was a very bizarre chair as she refrained from the usual role of moderating the discussion and instead provoked it to an extreme degree.


I live tweeted throughout the whole thing, much to the annoyance of a lot of people I’m sure. Sheffield provided hashtags for all the sessions so if you are interested then you can see them here #dfcampaigningdocs

Nick made a call to arms for industry to not lose the British tradition of the best investigative journalism and added that he hoped more NGOs can be inspired to fund really good, critical, independent documentaries.

Here are a few of my favourite quotes from the panel:

Nick Fraser: The problem with US filmmaking is too many trustafarians making docs, not the amount of campaign films

Jess Search: Long term social impact is more satisfying to a filmmaker than lone tv broadcast

Ceri Dingle: Its a shame Jess doesn’t realise how middle of the road her films are
Jess Search: Get the fucking list out!

After a brief break we made our way to the BritDoc Bar to see AJ Schnack and Debra Zimmerman’s A-Z Chatshow which was a lot of fun


The main discussion for Friday was about shorts and filmmakers having to do their own PR. AJ was very much against filmmakers touring with their films becoming standard practice as he felt that once one film was done he was very keen to get onto the next and would rather a distributor handled that aspect and got in touch when he was needed. Debra agreed saying it should be the filmmaker’s choice to tour with the film. There was a minor disagreement about the amount of women filmmakers in this year’s Cinema Eye nominations but they both agreed that often women producers are forgotten about when the director is male.

After this I ran over to the BBC dinner which was really nice, it was an absolute pleasure to get to talk to Chris Hedegus more and DA Pennebaker told me all about filming Monterey Pop with Albert Maysles, at which point I felt as though I was in documentary-geek heaven.

I woke up on the Saturday in a state of complete fear about the Frontline Club panel. Late the night before one of our panellists had had to drop out. Unfortunately putting on a panel that features war filmmakers means that often they have to quickly react to developing stories.

We had already lost one who was stuck up a mountain and this time we’d lost another to the big story in Equitorial New Guinea. Luckily Jules Williamson, who is an outstanding filmmaker, was at the festival and came on board at the last minute. I owe her a huge amount as her contribution actually gave the discussion far more depth as she came from the perspective of someone embarking on a project that had potential to be dangerous, rather than just past experience.


My summary of the panel is on my Frontline blog here.

The session went really well and we had a great Q&A. My stress levels instantly dropped and I really felt I could begin enjoying the festival. I had to persuade Jemma slightly that going to the tapeless filmmaking session would actually be interesting and it really was. All manufacturers were present and it was fascinating to hear about where they’re heading in the next few years and the possibilities within that.

We decided to head back to the BritDoc bar for the next A-Z and the stress of the day unleashed some sort of crazed desire to dance, which carried on until very early the next morning.  Luckily the next morning the bar was having sunday papers and bloody marys and, fortunately for me, they provided a virgin option. We then sheepishly attended a few remaining sessions, which included the amazing Leslie Woodhead talking about his history of making documentaries about Russia, before the very long drive home.

Overall the festival was manic but wonderful. There was a great atmosphere and the panels were fantastic. Huge thanks to the wonderful Doc/Fest team.

  • Share/Bookmark

Sheffield Doc/Fest


This year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest kicked off on Wednesday with the DFG’s DocDay, which is a great event for aspiring 16-19 year old filmmakers. I was asked to go along and mentor a group for the second half of the day. It was a really great session and the quality of their film ideas was incredibly high. We had to talk them through their pitch proposals and then select the best to be pitched to a panel. Our group settled on a really fun idea for a mockumentary but alas didn’t win.

After the 4 hour drive and the hectic afternoon of doc ideas bouncing everywhere we decided to have an early night in preparation for the full programme beginning the next day.

We woke up early, incredibly excited as we were heading off to interview Chris Hedegus and D.A. Pennebaker first thing. The interview went well and it was incredibly inspiring to hear them talk about their career and the ways in which they approach filmmaking. I decided to ask them towards the end the obvious question of whether there was anyone they wish they’d made a film about but hadn’t and I was given the unexpected, but superb, answer of Richard Nixon at Thanksgiving dinner. We filmed the interview and hopefully I should be able to get it up here soon.

The rest of the day saw a fantastic line-up of screenings and panels. The first we went to was Working Your Film, a session run by BritDoc’s Jess Search and joining her on the panel were Robert West, David Bond, and James Franklin. It was a really great session looking into how to approach the campaign/NGO side of documentaries and James Franklin’s masterclass in online marketing was particularly interesting. Afterwards Jess did a call for all organisations in the room that aim to support docs to stand up and I had a sudden out of character burst of bravery and talked about the different things we are trying to do at the Frontline Club. Whilst talking my nerves overcame me and I honestly have no idea what I said but I’m told it was good and lots of people came to talk about possible collaborations afterwards. We also got a shout out from Jess Search who said how much she loved the club which is a fantastic endorsement.

Our second panel of the day was Co-Producing with the Brits – Heaven or Hell? with Nick Fraser, Simon Dickson, Tom Koch, Hans Robert Eisenhauer and chaired by First Hand Films’ Esther van Messel


Left to Right – Tom Koch, Hans Robert Eisenhauer, Esther van Messel, Nick Fraser and Simon Dickson

The session was a really in-depth look into the world of international co-production and the behind-the-scenes deals and negotiations that go on in the hope that films can find the funding to get made. There were a few disagreements about the difficulties involved in the way co-productions are now arranged but ultimately you were left feeling that these people truly would fight to find funding for films they believed in. There was an ever present cloud of doom hovering over the panel when the decline of available slots was mentioned but you did realise that there was a big battle going on to preserve the importance of documentary and the players involved in co-productions were at the forefront of it.

The rest of my day was spent in meetings with some really great filmmakers and also with people who had great ideas about projects they wanted the club to be involved with. We bowed out early and headed back to the hotel room but the rest of the festival made a beeline for the annual roller disco which also included AJ Schnack’s announcement of the 2010 Cinema Eye Nominees.

Tomorrow is possibly our businest day event-wise. I am going to try and take more photos and will hopefully get more time tomorrow to do another re-cap.

Aside from all of this I am covering the films at the festival for The Documentary Blog. Click the logo below to follow….


And if by any chance you’re reading this and you’re at the festival please excuse my shameless plug and make sure you check out the panel I’m producing on Saturday – Filmmaking on the Frontline: In association with the Frontline Club

  • Share/Bookmark