During a panel discussion last week at the Sundance Film Festival, Werner Herzog made what seemed a veiled jab at “Weiner,” Josh Kriegman with Elyse Steinberg’s documentary. A Utah newspaper quoted Herzog as saying, “You see too many documentaries where you see all of this investigative reporting that is finding out that this guy is bad and not only did he expose himself to a woman, but that he also has a bad political agenda. It goes on and on ad nauseam, but it’s just journalism.”
“Weiner,” about former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s campaign for mayor of New York City in 2013, which was done in by a sexting scandal, premiered at the festival. So did Herzog’s own “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World,” which explores the perils of the Internet, of which the Weiner case would seem a prime example.
Herzog was making a distinction between films that merely report the facts and his own films that seek what he has referred to as the “ecstatic truth.” “Sometimes they are outlandish and sometimes fictional,” he said of his documentaries. “But as viewers we know that you are taking us to a hidden truth. I want to take the audiences just under the arm and take them with me into pure poetry, fantasy, and illumination.”
Josh Oppenheimer, who joined Herzog on the panel and whose documentary “The Look of Silence” has been nominated for a best documentary Oscar, said, “Yes, most documentary films are an extension of journalism, so do them and declare them journalism.
“I think it’s a pity that nonfiction cinema, and documentary filmmaking in the United States in particular, is colonized by this,” he added. “It may be perhaps because of the mainstream media’s failure to deeply investigate what we, as nonfiction filmmakers, care about in the world.”
Justice for all
The hot-button issues of reproductive rights and immigration coalesced in a little-known 1975 lawsuit. A group of Mexican immigrant women who were coerced into sterilization after giving birth at the Los Angeles County-USC Medical Center in the late ’60s and early ’70s sued the doctors, the state, and the federal government. The case of Madrigal v. Quilligan argued successfully that the Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade did not just grant all women the right to an abortion but also guaranteed a woman’s right to bear children. A strange and disturbing instance of xenophobic eugenics and the triumph of justice is the subject of Renee Tajima-Peña’s “Frontline” documentary “No Más Bebés,” which can be seen on PBS Monday at 10 p.m. Perhaps an example of what Herzog would label as “just journalism,” but essential viewing nonetheless.
For more information go to www.pbs.org/independentlens/films/no-mas-bebes.
Shaggy dog story
The death of a pet leaves one with a unique, intense grief that is hard to explain to those who have not experienced it. The multi-talented, polymorphous performer Laurie Anderson attempts to do so in her documentary “Heart of a Dog,” in which she celebrates the life of her deceased rat terrier Lolabelle. She takes a collagist approach, layering together home movies, video diaries, and her own violin compositions and artwork along with her musings about life, death, art, reincarnation, 9/11, Kierkegaard, and her late husband, Lou Reed, who died in 2013 and whose song “Turning Time Around” closes the film.
“Heart of a Dog” screens Thursday at 5 p.m. and Friday at 7 p.m. at the Wellfleet Preservation Hall.
For more information go to www.wellfleetpreservationhall.org.
Channeling the ’80s
Like the ’60s and ’70s, the ’80s produced some of the worst hair and clothing styles but also some of the best music. You can reminisce about both in “Life on the V: The Story of V66,” Eric Green’s documentary about the legendary local music video channel that first broadcast in 1985, when it showcased local musicians including J. Geils, the Cars, Aerosmith, and the Del Fuegos. Sadly, it was ingloriously sold to the Home Shopping Network in 1986.
“Life on the V: The Story of V66” screens on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at the Regent Theatre in Arlington. It will be followed by a Q&A with Green and the producer, Matthew Nerney.
For more information go to www.regenttheatre.com/details/life_on_the_v_the_story_of_v66.
Beyond Edward Snowden
Has Laura Poitras switched from the investigative documentary epitomized by her Oscar-winning “Citizenfour” to a kind of feel-good, amorphous video art? As described in a recent New York Times profile, her art exhibit “Laura Poitras: Astro Noise” at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art includes one installation showing colorful, fuzzy, abstract images that fluctuate and sometimes burst into vibrant flashes.
It turns out, however, that the images are from drone surveillance footage taken in the Middle East — footage that was included in the huge cache of restricted material covertly copied from NSA restricted files by Edward Snowden, the subject of “Citizenfour.”
Other displays in the exhibit are more explicit. They include a pairing of videos of Ground Zero after the 9/11 attacks and of the interrogation of a suspected terrorist during the subsequent War Against Terror; a recording of a Turkish citizen describing his experiences as a prisoner of war held by the Americans during the invasion of Afghanistan; and, perhaps most chilling, the records — obtained through the Freedom of Information Act — of the government’s surveillance of Poitras herself.
“Laura Poitras: Astro Noise” opens on Friday at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
For more information go to www.whitney.org/Exhibitions/LauraPoitras.
Peter Keough can be reached at email@example.com.