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: Announcing a New Series: What Ever Happened to… ?

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What ever happened to the boys — now, men — from Hoop Dreams? Where did Little Edie, now deceased, end up after Grey Gardens? Are any of those old guys from Brother’s Keeper still kicking?

If you have ever found yourself asking any of these, or similar, questions, then I’m here to help. I want to begin a series called Documentary Update: What Happened to the Subject?, in which I track down the real life “characters” who have “starred” in some of our our favorite non-fiction films. I imagine, most of the time, that these people will have benefited from allowing a documentarian access to their lives. But I also bet some were not so happy with the results of being in a film. I am open to both discoveries.

We all know that, for audiences, documentaries can be so edifying. They can make us feel closer to faraway people in desperate situations. They can drive us to act. Heck, they may just be able to help save the world — just look at how An Inconvenient Truth helped revolutionize environmental awareness.

Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth

But what about those subjects? We could start with an already famous subject: Al Gore. Our former vice president was already well known for his environmental scholarship and activism, but Davis Guggenheim‘s An Inconvenient Truth pushed Gore to new heights. Truth was one of the highest earning docs of all time, as well as the Oscar winner for best documentary in 2006, and the film spread Gore’s gospel; I’d say it permanently put his face on our generation’s environmental movement. And then, of course, Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize the next year. Was there cause and effect at play there, between the film and the award? I’d venture to think so.

An Inconvenient Truth led to some big changes in Al Gore’s life. But even more than that: documentaries can also save subjects’ lives. Of course, every doc fan knows that one of the most dramatic examples of this is The Thin Blue Line, which literally got a man exonerated from a life sentence in prison.

Poster for The Thin Blue Line

When filmmaker Errol Morris directed his attention to Randall Dale Adams, who had been convicted of killing a police officer, he found inconsistencies in the prosecution’s case that ultimately got Adams out of jail. It’s interesting to note that Adams ended up in a legal battle with Morris, after apparently giving him exclusive rights to his life story. They settled out of court.

There’s a whole world of people who’ve been featured in docs, and I want to know what’s become of them. So, if you have a favorite documentary subject that you are interested in, leave me a comment, and I’ll endeavor to track your subject down. If you yourself have been in a doc, leave me a comment as well, and I’ll get in touch with you.

My mind is already running with possibilities. Some subjects will be easy to find. (Newspapers give regular updates on the Hoop Dreams men; the brothers from Brother’s Keeper are all indeed dead, but what happened to them in the interim?) But I’m wondering what happened to a variety of Michael Moore interviewees, that funny kid from Spellbound, Philippe Petit (from Man on Wire), and on and on…

Look for entries in the Documentary Update: What Happened to the Subject? series in the coming months right here on the POV Blog.

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
  • Matt Groff

    FOREIGNID: 23197
    Mr. Death: Fred A. Leuchter, Jr.
    Without spoiling anything, the video footage from the end of the film is truly incredible and indelibly marked in my mind.

  • Doc Soup Man

    FOREIGNID: 23202
    Good one! Wikipedia’s last update on him is that he was a “telephone solicitor,” but that doesn’t appear to be very up to date. I’ll put him on the list.

  • Carlos Alberto Mattos

    FOREIGNID: 23203
    Congrats for the great idea. Sometime ago I intended to do the same regarding Brazilian doc characters. Your series wull push mine ahead.

  • John Mattie

    FOREIGNID: 23214
    I would love an update on Michael Peterson, the center of Jean Xavier de Lestrade’s incredible series “The Staircase.”
    This is a great idea, and already I’ve queued up a ton of favorites. Jesco White, the Dancing Outlaw? The boys of Paradise Lost? A return to Darwin’s Nightmare? What’s Mark Borchardt up to these days?

  • Misty Wilger

    FOREIGNID: 23215
    What about the kids from Mad Hot Ballroom? If or how dance has influenced their lives so far, if at all. They were in 4th/5th grade five years ago, so they’re about high school age now.

  • Troy

    FOREIGNID: 23216
    the guys from American Movie

  • Lee

    FOREIGNID: 23217
    I’d love an update on Juanita and Darrel Buschkoetter from the PBS Frontlines series, The Farmer’s Wife. I believe they ended up getting divorced, but I’d love to know what happened to them and their daughters.

  • Jennifer

    FOREIGNID: 23218
    What about the people from the House series – Frontier House, etc.

  • Trina Nussbaum

    FOREIGNID: 23219
    What a great idea! I’m interested in what happened with the folks from Lost in La Mancha, and especially Amma, from In God’s Name. Also I would agree with finding Michael Moore’s subjects – I would love to know what happened to the young man recovering from gunshot wounds in Bowling for Columbine. He was very captivating for me.
    Can’t wait to see what you come up with!!

  • Doc Soup Man

    FOREIGNID: 23220
    So many good ideas here. I’m taking notes…I should mention that in addition to being generally interested in where these folks are at now, I’m also specifically curious about how being the subject of a documentary had an impact on their lives.

  • Sophie

    FOREIGNID: 23221
    Michael Peterson remains incarcerated for life without the possibility of parole in Nash Correctional Institution. His appeals have all failed yet he and his supporters still float any number of theories/efforts to gain a retrial: a killer owl, a rogue tire iron, prosecutor misconduct, ineffective counsel, etc. For those interested, Aprhodite Jones will have an “exclusive” jailhouse interview with him on her upcoming True Crime with Aphrodite Jones show on the Investigation Discovery channel (premiering 3/25 at 10pm). Here’s a preview:

  • Amy

    FOREIGNID: 23222
    I’d like to know how the kids from Jesus Camp are doing.

  • Misty Wilger

    FOREIGNID: 23223
    “I’m also specifically curious about how being the subject of a documentary had an impact on their lives.”

    What about the families from the doc “For the Bible Tells Me So”?

  • Gene

    FOREIGNID: 23224
    I saw a doc on HBO years ago and finally got a copy. Sometimes I show it to my class, but it is so disturbing I usually cant. It is “Just Melvin, Just Evil” by James Ronald Whitney about child sexual abuse and its effects on a family. I would love to know what happened to the family and the filmmaker. I know he went on to make a few more docs, but the web doesn’t give a lot of detail.

  • Connie Bottinelli

    FOREIGNID: 23234
    “I’m also specifically curious about how being the subject of a documentary had an impact on their lives.”
    Philadelphia, 1990. Scarlet was homeless and shown frozen to a steam grate. Georgianna lived out of a shopping cart. Mary was an old woman living in a doorway at 30th Street Station. The documentary was titled “Women of Hope”, named after the home run by Sr. Mary Scullion. Congressman Jack Kemp’s aid saw the film and took him to visit Sr. Mary Scullion at Women of Hope. Kemp brought the homeless crisis to the attention of Capitol Hill. Sr. Mary today is known across the country for her advocacy of homeless and safe, clean, affordable housing. She runs Project Home in Philadelphia. Jon Bon Jovi is her biggest fan, supporting her in building residences. Scarlet reunited with her family after the film aired, got a job and her own apartment. Georgianna became a public spokesperson for the homeless. Mary visited the Women of Hope facility to watch the film the night it aired, and never left.

  • monica

    FOREIGNID: 23256
    Love this idea! I agree with the family from ‘The Farmer’s Wife’, and ‘Darwin’s Nightmare”, and would add Wendy from “Every F*ing Day of my Life”.
    Some others:
    -Haitian 2Pac from “Ghosts of Cite Soleil”, especially since the earthquake.
    -The kids from “Which Way Home”
    -Black Kold Madina from “Trouble the Water”
    -Emily from “Zombie Girl”

  • thom

    FOREIGNID: 23280
    I would love to hear what has happened with JoJo from Etres et Avoir. Or any of the kids, really.

  • Chris

    FOREIGNID: 24804
    The Farmer’s Wife. All time favorite documentary. I”ve heard they are divorced and would like to see what happened to them and if they are doing better these days.

  • Shirley Mae

    FOREIGNID: 35456
    I just finished watching ‘The Farmers Wife’ about Juanita & Darrel Buschkoetter’ farm life. I, also, am interested in what became of them these past 15 years??
    I live in a rural area, Whatcom county, & felt like I was on their farm going through their trials.
    Thank you for the update!

  • Mccraysteph

    What ever happened to the families from the PBS series Frontier House?

  • Berni

    I would like to know how the Dominican students and teachers featured in the documentary, “Mad Hot Ballroom” are doing.

    • Bronx in Israel

      Me too! I just saw Mad Hot Ballroom again in Israel and can’t wait to hear what paths the kids have taken.

    • Michele Bogdon Valdez

      I , too, am wondering how these ladies & gentlemen have fared in the years since the competition ended. Wondering, specifically, about Michell & Kelaey – the movie commented several times on positive changes in both of them since beginning dance classes. Also wondering whether any went on to further dance lessons or careers or did any become teachers,. Lastly, where are the teachers & principals today? Is the competition still taking place?

  • Allison

    Yes please find those kids from Mad Hot Ballroom and let us know how their lives are working out —- Please!!!!!!!