Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: Changing the World Through Docs

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Made any good docs lately? I just recently sat down with director Jehane Noujaim (Startup.com, Control Room), and she told me about an impressive project she’s working on. First, let me ask how many filmmakers under the age of 35 (Jehane is 33) have managed to knock out two great, successful, critically-praised, culturally-significant docs? Jehane is the only one I can think of. Startup.com, which she codirected with Chris Hegedus in 2001, took a look at an Internet company that goes bust, and is a definitive inside look at the recent boom that redefined our culture and economy. Then, with 2004′s Control Room, a film about the independent news outlet Al Jazeera and the people who work there, she provided an intimate understanding of the way the Arab world looked at the U.S. right at the outbreak of the Iraq war. With those two films, Jehane’s been on top of two of the most important happenings on our planet in the past ten years. (Oh, and she came very close to making a film about Al Gore’s failed presidential campaign, which would have made quite the hat trick.) Fifty years from now, which filmmaker will people be looking to as a witness to our time? She’s got to be near the top of the list.

Pangea Day LogoSo what’s Jehane up to next? She’s trying to use the power of film to bring the world closer together, no less! She was awarded the prestigious TED Prize (TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design; other winners of the TED Prize include Bono and Bill Clinton), a $100,000 grant from the non-profit foundation started by entrepreneur Chris Anderson that tries to grant the recipient one wish. Her wish? To create a day in which people across the world watch the same movies, hear the same speakers and listen to the same music, thereby breaking down some of the walls between nations and cultures. She’s calling it Pangea Day (Pangea is the name for the land mass on Earth that existed some 250 million years ago before the continents went their separate ways), and the first Pangea Day will be on May 10, 2008. Up to February 15, Jehane is looking for people to submit films to be included in the four-hour event. (She even asked me if I had made one.) So, if you’ve made a film, or if you know someone who has, or if you know a teacher who has students who have, or if you have relatives in the Outback who live in a tree who have, then you should check out the very inspiring trailer she and her team cut together at the website for Pangea Day.

Pangea Day is taking up most of Jehane’s time for now. We’ll have to wait to see if this latest project is another example of her being right on top of yet another critical shift on the planet. This one, however, would be one of her own making.

Try The Soup: How have documentary films made the world a better place?

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki