What do a bunch of documentarians — all potential Oscar winners — discuss when brought together for an informal if artificially arranged chitchat? Do they fill the time with backstabbing, veiled putdowns, hypocritical sycophancy, and awkward silences, the way most competitive professionals would behave in a similar situation?
Apparently not. The Hollywood Reporter hosted a round table with filmmakers shortlisted for the best documentary Oscar (nominees are announced on Thursday) and their remarks proved illuminating.
Laura Poitras, director of “Citizenfour,” opened the session by stating that “all of us are filmmakers first. And documentary filmmaking, even though it involves journalism, is also storytelling.”
Orlando von Einsiedel, director of “Virunga,” a film about endangered humans and gorillas in the war-ravaged Congo, suggested that even though documentarians tell fascinating stories, they involve real issues, a turnoff for many moviegoers. He said enlisting a movie star like Leonardo DiCaprio as producer helps. “Having Leonardo on board,” he said, “brings an audience who wouldn’t otherwise care about a film about the Congo.”
“What’s happened in recent years is that traditional media has retreated from dealing with stories in any kind of depth,” added Steve James, director of the Roger Ebert chronicle, “Life Itself.”
“It used to be, a long, long time ago, that the networks actually did documentaries. Some really great stuff. I think documentary filmmakers are the ones now to whom this [responsibility] has fallen.”
For the whole discussion go to www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/documentary-roundtable-roger-eberts-final-760965#sthash.j2ruLxZW.dpuf.
As I recall, the age of 11 was a particularly problematic period. That is not an uncommon experience, as Australian filmmaker Genevieve Bailey’s documentary “I Am Eleven” demonstrates. She travels the world to record the stories of those passing through that trying and transformative year. It’s part of Belmont World Film’s 12th annual Family Film Festival, which takes place Jan. 16-19. Also on the schedule is the program “It’s Easy Being Green: Short Films About Animals and the Environment,” which includes three shorts from Cape Cod filmmaker Lynne Cherry’s “Young Voices for the Planet” series soon to be aired on PBS. These films inspired a Lexington girl to start her own environmental group called SaveTomorrow. She will speak after the screenings, and — you guessed it — she’s 11.
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In our Dec. 21 “Documania” column, IFFBoston programmer Nancy Campbell listed “Genghis Blues” (1999), a documentary about the unlikely convergence of a blind Chicago blues musician and Tuva throat singers, as one of her favorites. You can see if you feel the same way by heading over to the Museum of Russian Icons in Clinton (which you should check out beforehand anyway), where it will screen on Saturday at 3 p.m. Then you can go home and watch Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Andrei Rublev.” Just planning your weekend for you.
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Peter Keough can be reached at peterv