A week ago in Cannes, the American Pavilion hosted a panel called “Documentary: The New Journalism”. In a world where print journalism is collapsing and long-lead stories are becoming a luxury of the past, what role can documentaries play in providing an alternative to traditional journalism? The panel was moderated by Thom Powers and included distributor Richard Lorber (Alive Mind), filmmaker Anne Aghion (MY NEIGHBOR, MY KILLER – playing at Cannes) and David Fenkel (Oscilloscope Laboratories).
The panel started off on a lighter note with Thom Powers reassuring the audience that there would be “no genital mutilation on our panel this morning” (a reference to Lars Von Trier’s ANTI-CHRIST that premiered the prior night) “and if it were to happen – true to documentary, it would be real”. On a more serious note, Powers then went on to trace recent developments in journalism. He observed that as one media form truncates, we see a different form of media move-in and expand: namely that of documentary filmmakers. He posited that documentarians can follow a story longer than deadline-driven journalists to get at a more nuanced truth.
Aghion confirmed that hypothesis. Prior to spending nearly 10 years filming in Rwanda, she worked at mainstream news organizations. She left those traditional posts frustrated by the pressure of working under daily deadlines. “I wanted to slow down and look at the world differently and make less mistakes in how I was portraying the world.” Before she began filming in Rwanda, she visited the country four times and spent several months getting to know her characters. In her films she tries to convey “what it feels like to be there” and does not feel pressure to fill her films with hard facts. “Too much information detracts from connecting on an emotional basis.”
Alive Mind and Oscilloscope Laboratories are both actively distributing a wide range of documentaries. At Alive Mind, Lorber specifically selects “transformative films” where poetics and content are equally on par. His acquired films include THEATER OF WAR, INTANGIBLE ASSET #82, and many others. At Oscilloscope Laboratories (a company owned by Beastie Boy Adam Yauch), Fenkel similarly selects docs that have a “positive message for the world” – be it environmental or political. In both companies, new distribution models combining theatrical, DVD and digital help these films reach new audiences.