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: What Docs Would You Like to See?

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Am I wrong, or have most of us read something in the newspaper, or come up with an inspiration, and thought to ourselves, “Wow, that would make a great documentary!” In honor of the POV series that starts this week — an incredibly diverse slate that covers everything from a performance artist in Belarus (Belarusian Waltz) to the creation of the Three Gorges Dam in China (Up the Yangtze) to the story of the daughter of a Nazi camp commandant (Inheritance) — I’d like to suggest we open a dialogue about the documentaries that should be made.

I’d love to hear from you if you have a documentary that you wish could be made. Of course, I imagine if you are a filmmaker, you might not want to spill the beans because you wouldn’t want someone else to take your idea, so I imagine this little experiment may not go too far. But, who knows, maybe a wealthy financier is reading this blog, will love your idea and write you a check for a million dollars! Or, maybe you’re just feeling generous. (I know that even the venerable Albert Maysles has a doc that he wishes could be made, but hasn’t. He’s been talking about it for years, and I believe he has even shot some of it. It has to do with people traveling on trains. He wants to make a sort of epic tale about humanity by telling a series of real-life stories of people from different cultures on trains.)

So, to get things started, I’ll be the first to toss my pitch into the ring. Here’s my idea for a documentary that I think would be great:

Deceitful Above All Things: The JT Leroy Story

You’ve probably heard about JT Leroy, the supposed son of a truck stop hooker, who went on to become a prostitute, and then became a celebrated writer of short stories and novels. Leroy was revealed to be a hoax, actually “played” by a woman, Savannah Knoop, when in public; while his/her writing was done by another woman, Laura Albert. The house of cards fell apart in 2005-2006, but they had a long run of it — for more than five years of increasing celebrity. I was one of the many suckers who spoke with JT a few times and believed he was legit. I even interviewed him in person in Toronto (Knoop was wearing her trademark sunglasses and wig). I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s already a movie of some sort in the works, but that’s fine with me if someone else gets there first: I’d love to see a stylish doc made, one about truth, celebrity and trust, focusing on the JT Leroy hoax.

Do you have a subject/idea you’d love made into a doc?

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
  • Dimitry

    FOREIGNID: 15943
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I am not a film maker and I have no intention. However, as a haitian living in the U.S, I think that an interesting film documentary would be on haitian immigrants living in the U.S. It would look at the history of the immigration of this group, its acculturation (becoming american), the challenges and tensions facing that community and its success as an immigrant group.

  • Doc Soup Man

    FOREIGNID: 15944
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Dimitry, I’d love to see that doc. As you probably know, there have been some films about Haitians in Haiti, the best being Ghosts of Cite Soleil, but I don’t know about anything on the immigrant experience in the USA. I live in a Brooklyn neighborhood that is strongly Caribbean and I’ve often thought about how interesting it is to see the relationship between African-Americans and recent immigrants from the Caribbean. Because the recent immigrant population is increasing here, there are tensions, but there are also bridges being built.
    This gives me another idea for a doc: how about one that follows the history of three different NYC parades: The Irish, the Puerto Rican and the Caribbean one? The doc could use current footage of parades and then cut to portraits of those communities in the city, how they’ve evolved, how the parades have evolved, etc. (And, wait, to make it an even more diverse and insightful portrait of parades/communities/NYC: include the Gay-Lesbian Pride parade.)

  • Dana Schmidt

    FOREIGNID: 15945
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Perhaps it’s still too early, but at some point I’d love to see a documentary about Chelsea Clinton. Children of politicians live complicated lives to begin with, but I think an in-depth look at Chelsea’s story would be fascinating. It has the potential to be incredibly controversial and genuinely inspirational.

  • http://chutry.wordherders.net/wp/ Chuck

    FOREIGNID: 15946
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    I’ve been thinking that a documentary about Fayetteville, NC, could be fascinating. One approach that I’ve considered is to build from observations or arguments made by Catherine Lutz in her fascinating history Fayetteville as military city, >Homefront (which explores the city’s complicated relationship to Fort Bragg), but I’d also be interested in exploring some of the other sides of Fayetteville–its relationship to the history of slavery and subsequently as the site of a historically black university. There’s also the divide between “old” Fayetteville and Fort Bragg.
    The approach I’d take, if I were making such a film, would look a bit like Margaret Brown’s fascinating film about Mobile, Alabama, Mardi Gras traditions, The Order of Myths.

  • Doc Soup Man

    FOREIGNID: 15947
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    Speaking of Chelsea, isn’t it incredible that there’s a Barack Obama doc in the works? Sam Pollard has apparently already shot a lot of footage. Can’t wait to see how that evolves. And, yeah, Chuck, I don’t know a thing about Fayetteville so i’d be curious to see that. maybe pbs and local affiliates should finance a series that features 52 documentaries in one year, aired each week, with each state (and puerto rico and guam) being highlighted. NC’s could be about Fayetteville.

  • George Allen

    FOREIGNID: 15948
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    A good documentary shows us what we did not know existed and how it fits together.
    It is hard to say what would be a good documentary because shining light into dark spots of life can take place any where. There are heroes among us everywhere, and I like to see them, learn about them, see problems up close, and all that goes with it.
    What strikes me as bad documentaries are people selling a political person or selling a politically correct point of view, a documentary that is aimed to manipulate the participants and or the viewers seems particularly bad. These are not shining the light of truth on a subject as it stands but “shining” darkness on something to hide the truth or create a lie.
    We have a celebrity focused nation today. Documentary is the opposite at it’s best: the average men, women or children doing good, heroic, hard, things in life, and standing up under the weights of life, daring to try, not giving up, finding a meaning, righting a wrong, telling a story that is untold. I don’t want to see “elite” anyone, just humans dealing with events, challenges, problems, and doing so with valor, dignity, tenacity. Exposing errors, problems, successes, tranquility, confusion, and you can go on, but the central theme is honest and real without acting or pretense.
    You might think about screening documentary of self indulgence, self pity, self loathing, or anything else that seeks to be glorified or to glorify self through guilt, winter soldiers manipulated to “confess” some atrocity to justify activists against the war to spit on soldiers, or any form of manipulation of the viewer for base ends by the producer to use others.
    Those are my thoughts off the top of my head about what I want and do not want to see in documentary.
    Stay honest and you cannot get too far off the mark.

  • George Allen

    FOREIGNID: 15949
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    A good documentary shows us what we did not know existed and how it fits together.
    It is hard to say what would be a good documentary because shining light into dark spots of life can take place any where. There are heroes among us everywhere, and I like to see them, learn about them, see problems up close, and all that goes with it.
    What strikes me as bad documentaries are people selling a political person or selling a politically correct point of view, a documentary that is aimed to manipulate the participants and or the viewers seems particularly bad. These are not shining the light of truth on a subject as it stands but “shining” darkness on something to hide the truth or create a lie.
    We have a celebrity focused nation today. Documentary is the opposite at it’s best: the average men, women or children doing good, heroic, hard, things in life, and standing up under the weights of life, daring to try, not giving up, finding a meaning, righting a wrong, telling a story that is untold. I don’t want to see “elite” anyone, just humans dealing with events, challenges, problems, and doing so with valor, dignity, tenacity. Exposing errors, problems, successes, tranquility, confusion, and you can go on, but the central theme is honest and real without acting or pretense.
    You might think about screening documentary of self indulgence, self pity, self loathing, or anything else that seeks to be glorified or to glorify self through guilt, winter soldiers manipulated to “confess” some atrocity to justify activists against the war to spit on soldiers, or any form of manipulation of the viewer for base ends by the producer to use others.
    Those are my thoughts off the top of my head about what I want and do not want to see in documentary.
    Stay honest and you cannot get too far off the mark.

  • George Allen

    FOREIGNID: 15950
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    A good documentary shows us what we did not know existed and how it fits together.
    It is hard to say what would be a good documentary because shining light into dark spots of life can take place any where. There are heroes among us everywhere, and I like to see them, learn about them, see problems up close, and all that goes with it.
    What strikes me as bad documentaries are people selling a political person or selling a politically correct point of view, a documentary that is aimed to manipulate the participants and or the viewers seems particularly bad. These are not shining the light of truth on a subject as it stands but “shining” darkness on something to hide the truth or create a lie.
    We have a celebrity focused nation today. Documentary is the opposite at it’s best: the average men, women or children doing good, heroic, hard, things in life, and standing up under the weights of life, daring to try, not giving up, finding a meaning, righting a wrong, telling a story that is untold. I don’t want to see “elite” anyone, just humans dealing with events, challenges, problems, and doing so with valor, dignity, tenacity. Exposing errors, problems, successes, tranquility, confusion, and you can go on, but the central theme is honest and real without acting or pretense.
    You might think about screening documentary of self indulgence, self pity, self loathing, or anything else that seeks to be glorified or to glorify self through guilt, winter soldiers manipulated to “confess” some atrocity to justify activists against the war to spit on soldiers, or any form of manipulation of the viewer for base ends by the producer.
    Those are my thoughts off the top of my head about what I want and do not want to see in documentary.
    Stay honest and you cannot get too far off the mark.
    I read a comment above about Chelsea Clinton- that is the worst use of documentary- to promote family dynasties to the harm of the nation. That is shining darkness on the land through documentary.

  • Doc Soup Man

    FOREIGNID: 15951
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    That’s a lot to chew on, George, and that’s cool with me if that’s what you like but I have to disagree with your idea that documentary should be one thing. docs can be pretty much anything. sure, i agree that we don’t really need to stoke even more celebrity obsession, but if a documentary can give us a new way to look/think about celebrity, then i am all for it. if say, alex gibney did a doc about chelsea clinton, i’d be the first on line to see it.

  • http://chutry.wordherders.net/wp Chuck

    FOREIGNID: 15952
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    The 52 “state” project is a good idea. Maybe a small tweak and have one week focus on DC and another focus on one of the territories, etc. It still wouldn’t be enough, of course, but I think that form of localism could be very interesting.

  • Kurt Bonifay

    FOREIGNID: 15953
    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    How about one on the Reconstruction Period ? There is not much being told about the occupation of the South, and it sure would raise a lot of eyebrows regardless of whether the truth were told or not. If you think the deWolfe family had skeletons, they would just be beginners. Carpetbaggers and our local scalawags have made their sinecures very stable sources of income and power.