On the intersection of docs and lit magazines

In addition to the dozens of docs screened during the True/False Film fest, a number of workshops and classes are offered. Wanting to deepen my knowledge of the industry, I checked out a couple, including “Hybrid Cinema: A Filmmaker’s Guide to DIY, Web and Self-Distribution.”

Jon Reiss, director of Bomb It, a doc about the “battle for public space throughout the world” (or graffiti), led the presentation. I was struck with the similarities of marketing a literary journal and marketing a documentary film. At one point, Reiss stated that when the doc was completed, the filmmaker was only half-way through the process. He or she must get it out in the public. I think, in some broad way, that’s true of a literary magazine. After we’ve accepted the final prose or poetry piece for our journals, we’re ready to put our feet on the desk, lean back in our office chair, and congratulate ourselves on putting together another fine publication. But as wonderful as our magazines may be, we haven’t done our job fully until we’ve reached the largest audience possible given our budget, personnel, and time constraints.

For many in literary publishing, marketing may be the least favored part of the job. As Reiss said early in his presentation, he went into filmmaking because he didn’t want to go into business—but that career choice turned him into a businessman. Likewise, I’m sure many of us feel the same way about marketing, but if we want our journal to succeed, we need to make smart choices.

Reiss uses his blog (http://jonreiss.com/blog/) to raise attention for his films and long-term audience development. You can check out his blog to see what he’s doing in this regard. And if anyone is interested in some of his specific blogging tips, comment below and I’ll add a “part two” later in the week.



The Q Line

A teenager in a hoodie and frayed sneakers gave me a bright blue slip of paper. She wore a festival pass hanging from a metal lanyard–it said Volunteer and contained a sketch of a human heart. The slip she handed me said 156. I was number 156 in the Q line. 155 people would get into this film before the veteran volunteers inside the theater would consider giving me the nod. That is, after they let in the first 1,000 True/False Film Festival goers who actually bought tickets beforehand to see the Oscar nominated documentary film, Waltzing with Bashir.

I got in, as did several dozen others with numbers higher than mine. The rainbow-painted cardboard Q that watched over us from the top of a ten-foot pole in the lobby of the Missouri Theatre blessed us. And the Q line continued to bless me all weekend.

I saw seven films, including No Impact Man and Burma VJ. As I write this, the festival continues on with the closing night film, The Yes Men Fix the World, and Busker’s Last Stand, one final opportunity for festival musicians to perform and pass the hat. Seven films was enough for me – thank you, oh Q line – and I’ll have to wait for Yes Men to find its way to RagTag in the months ahead.

I wouldn’t watch documentary film if it weren’t for this festival. Documentaries are hard work, and I don’t mean for the filmmakers, though, of course it’s tough work for them, too. As an audience member, witnessing Buddhist monks beaten and thrown into police trucks on the streets of Rangoon or untangling an Isreali soldier’s memories (or lack) about the Palestinian genocide in Beirut is not easy, but True/False makes it possible. Indeed, this festival has convinced me that documentary film is an art form essential to understanding what it means to be human. Documentary shows us how to “make sense of our own role in the daily global drama,” as T/F co-conspirators Paul Sturtz and David Wilson put it.

It’s not all death and destruction. Going green in the heart of NYC has its charms, as one family does in No Impact Man. One of the best lines of the festival was when Colin Beaven, in response to an audience member’s question about toilet paper, explained that half of the world sees “washing better than smearing it around.” Colin, his wife, Michelle Conlin, as well as the directors were on hand to discuss the film afterwards. One of many unique aspects of T/F is that every film has someone in attendance to answer questions after each screening–a director or a producer, and in some cases, the people whose lives are actually examined in the films.

It’s been a long weekend. Did I mention the party Friday night? The parade? Oh, and the four other films I saw. It’ll have to wait–the pillow is calling… I’ll write more this coming week, and several other folks at The Missouri Review will have their own stories to tell, too. Check back soon.

TMR Podcast: Audio Winners Series: Documentary: Dan Collison "Lord God Bird"

On this Missouri Review podcast, we have for you the audio feature “Lord God Bird” produced by Dan Collison and Elizabeth Meister, which was the 3rd runner-up in the Documentary category of our 2007 audio competition.

You can listen to this podcast directly here.

TMR Podcast: Audio Winners Series: Ken Cormier "The Secret Pianos of Manhattan"

On this Missouri Review podcast, we’re happy to share “The Secret Pianos of Manhattan,” by Ken Cormier, which was the 2nd runner-up in the Documentary category our of 2007 audio competition.

Ken Cormier is editor and producer of The Lumberyard, a radio magazine of poetry, prose, and music broadcast on WHUS in Connecticut, and also available online. His first book, Balance Act, a collection of poems and short stories, was published by Insomniac Press in 2000.

You can listen to this podcast directly here.

TMR Podcast: Audio Winners Series: Documentary: Richard Paul "Shakespeare in Black and White"

On this Missouri Review podcast, we’re pleased to present “Shakespeare in Black and White,” by Richard Paul, which was the first runner-up in the Documentary category of our 2007 Audio Competition.Richard Paul was also a winner in the Narrative Essay category, and you can listen to that program along with other winners in our previous Audio Winners Series podcasts.

You can listen to this podcast directly here.

TMR Podcast: Audio Winners Series: Documentary: Lu Olkowski "Grandpa"

 On this Missouri Review podcast, we present the first place winner in the Documentary category of our 2007 Audio Competition.

Lu Olkowski, in her documentary “Grandpa,” looks at the Zagar family and how they deal with death. A father and son have a contest to take the best photos of their dying father/grandpa. The result is an up-close portrait of death.

Olkowski is a regular contributor to Studio 360. Her work has also appeared on All Things Considered, Day to Day, This American Life and Weekend America. “Grandpa” appeared on WNYC’s program Radio Lab.

You can listen to this podcast directly here.