Doc on docs bows at doc fest

Dispelling fears that it would be too 'inside' the genre, the blessedly jargon-free feature Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary drew an enthusiastic...

AMSTERDAM — Dispelling fears that it would be too ‘inside’ the genre, the blessedly jargon-free feature Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary drew an enthusiastic response at its world premiere here at the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam. Director Pepita Ferrari (The Unsexing of Emma Edmonds) joined forces with the National Film Board’s's Michelle van Beusekom to produce the sprightly and thought-provoking survey of the contemporary documentary scene.

The film, which premiered over the weekend, features luminaries Werner Herzog, Michel Brault and Joan Churchill as well as a lively assortment of directors who have films in at this year’s festival — Brits Kim Longinotto (Rough Aunties) and Nick Broomfield (Battle for Haditha); Brazilian Eduardo Coutinho (Playing); Canadians Velcrow Ripper (Fierce Light), Paul Cowan (Paris 1919) and Peter Wintonick (PilgrIMAGE); and American Errol Morris (Standard Operating Procedure).

Rounding up this stellar group ‘wasn’t that difficult,’ says Ferrari. ‘Pretty much everyone who was asked agreed to come on board.’

The project came out of a series of master classes that the NFB has held off and on for decades. In January 2007, Jennifer Fox (An American Love Story), Hubert Sauper (Darwin’s Nightmare) and Rakesh Sharma held a session dealing with politics, character and art, which inspired van Beusekom, formerly in program development at CBC, to look further into the form.

After a talk with NFB director general Tom Perlmutter, she was told, ‘It’s time to do something about the art of the documentary. Take a look at the footage of older master classes and find out if there’s something we can use.’

Van Beusekom, who is assistant director general of the board’s English Program, chose the independent Ferrari because she ‘has a genuine appreciation of documentary and its history. Pepita has lamented to me about the decline in the craft in some docs over the last few years, bad framing or a lack of rhythm in the editing really upsets her.’

For Ferrari, ‘this was an amazing opportunity to survey the field from experimental, Velcrow Ripper; to artistic, Errol Morris; to political, Hubert Sauper.’

Capturing Reality will have its Canadian launch in the spring of 2009, the 70th anniversary of the board. ‘We want to emphasize the tradition of quality at the NFB. This film fits within that framework. We went international in scope in Capturing Reality because it’s important to place the NFB in that context, as one of the most illustrious places for documentary filmmaking,’ says van Beusekom.

‘It’s so much a part of the history of documentary — particularly in the glory years of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s when Colin Low, Pierre Perrault, Roman Kroitor, Michel Brault and Donald Brittain were producing work.’

Capturing Reality has been presold to Super Channel, which has the first window. The Documentary Channel has the second, while Mongrel Media has home video/DVD rights.