Six of the most celebrated documentaries of 2021 reflect subjects that span the spectrum of fascinating subjects. They touch on a legendary filmmaker and conservationist, a broken police system in North America’s most populous city, an under-recognized civil rights leader, the stories of families displaced by a brutal civil war and one of the defining rock bands of the late 1960s. In a recent discussion, we got to hear what the filmmakers behind these docs thought about the current state of documentaries and some of their favorites in the genre. Gold Derby recently got to ask these questions with Dan Cogan (“Becoming Cousteau”), Elena Fortes (“A Cop Movie”), Betsy West and Julie Cohen (“My Name is Pauli Murray”), Megan Mylan (“Simple as Water”) and Julie Goldman (“The Velvet Underground”) during our recent Meet the Experts panel.
You can watch the film documentary group panel above with the people behind these five films. Click on each person’s name above to be taken to their individual interview.
When asked about what he enjoys most about documentary filmmaking today, Cogan says it’s the incredible homogeneity of what is being offered that he truly loves. “There is such an extraordinary range of storytelling from experimental to more broad subjects and there’s a bigger audience than there has ever been.” He remembers talking with Goldman around 25 years ago about how their films did not have any sense of a broad appeal to viewers. “Now they’re reaching so many millions of people and they’re featured on the streamers and it is just really exciting to those of us who have been in this priesthood for a long time.”
When it came to the subject of which documentaries influenced them to become part of that genre, Mylan says it was Les Blank’s, “Burden of Dreams,” about Werner Herzog’s attempt to make “Fitzcarraldo” that left an impression on her. “That was a film I just remember sitting in and being like, ‘Whoa! I want to grab any piece of creating things like that.’” Fortes pointed to Ari Folman’s animated film, “Waltz with Bashir,” as one that really stood out. “This idea that you tell yourself stories about your past and how to use a film as a way of accessing memories that you blocked. I thought that film was mind-blowing. To this day I still rewatch it.”
The assembled filmmakers also discussed their favorite recent documentaries. Goldman thought of “Man on Wire” and recounted how James Marsh and Simon Chinn were trying to figure out how to tell the story that involved the World Trade Center. “James had the idea of starting the film with the building of the twin towers and I just loved that. He came up with that and you could find joy in this space again through this moment in time where somebody did something for the total thrill of doing it.” Cohen singled out a film Goldman had produced, “The Mole Agent,” citing her love of films about old people. “Seeing the richness and the beauty of elderly people told in a loving, hilarious and romantic way is one of my favorite things and ‘The Mole Agent’ hit all those points for me.”
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