A Documentary Twitterthon Roundup

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Last night SundanceNow hosted a “Twitterthon” to promote its new VOD documentary subscription service, Doc Club, with some figures in documentary such as Thom Powers, festival programmer and the curator of Doc Club; Basil Tsoikos, a Sundance Film Festival programmer; and Christopher Bell, who blogs for IndieWIRE’s The Playlist. While the asynchronous format made things a bit difficult to follow at times, several interesting questions and ideas emerged from the conversation.

One question was, how are films curated online? One host noted Doc Club noted having curation while Netflix lacked it. Another part of the question came back to platform availability, namely through Apple products such as Apple TV and iPads, and with finding alternatives to Flash-based video. An interesting point raised was about short-form documentaries — so many get made, yet they are often hard to see. Why not bring more of them online?

The audience’s experiences with and motivations for watching documentaries offered some of the more interesting exchanges and questions. One fun question came from Tsiokos: “What docs do you find yourself rewatching all the time?” Another, from Powers, was, “What are your favorite first-person docs?” A third, from Bell, was, “Are you more drawn to fiction films or documentary? Why?”

One question in particular struck me. Tsiokos asked, “Are you mostly interested in new docs or do you try to discover older films too?” Replies to this question were mixed, but mostly with a lean toward newer titles or a balance of newer titles with some older ones. Arguably, getting audiences interested in older titles might prove more challenging than getting them interested in newer ones.

One problem discussed briefly was related to global documentaries. Most media flow out of the United States quite easily and in abundance, but not as much media flow in. This imbalance is particularly noticeable with documentaries. Unless a title gets some kind of festival recognition or mainstream media showing, it generally remains unavailable.

A surprising theme centered on documentaries about people falling in love. Several titles were mentioned in connection with this subject, including Crazy Love, The DeVilles, Seventeen, and Billy the Kid. When it didn’t come up, Marshall Curry added his own film, Racing Dreams (POV 2012), to the conversation.

A common thread overall was just this massive sharing of favorite documentaries, both recent and historical. For those seeking some inspiration of documentaries to watch next, the thread offers an amazing array of ones generally available. An exception is Icarus Films’ offering of Jean Rouch’s classic Chronicle of a Summer — the $440 price tag would probably give most some sticker shock.

Some of the more readily available titles mentioned include Spellbound, Mad Hot Ballroom, Hands on a Hard Body (which is becoming a musical), Lost in La Mancha, Jazz, The Civil War, The Up series (with a new installment imminent), Nanking, Paris Is Burning, Salesman, Grin without a Cat, Sans Soleil, Dear Zachary, Hearts of Darkness, and Middletown, just to name a few mentioned by others participating in the thread.

Another Twitter conversation from last night was the live Tweeting of a DocU session about “The Future of Docs on PBS.” More information about that conversation can be found through the hashtag #docu or @idanews. To check out the SundanceNow conversation, search for the hashtag #sundancenow on Twitter.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh started Documentary Site as a resource for documentary media and has greatly enjoyed the connections it has fostered over the years.