Outside the Broadcast Box – Doc Stew on the table

On Tuesday evening, November 2/10, Liz Marshall introduced the main ingredients for the evening’s event, and I watched as the panelists and audience cooked up a strangely familiar stew of this and that, with many flavours mixed in.

Acknowledging the panelists and the audience of practitioners, Marshall spoke briefly and directly about how committed documentary filmmakers have a tough, demanding time of it.

The panel presentations and discussion reminded me of two periods in my lifetime when social values were on the table.  Beginning in the ‘60’s, thoughtful, passionate youth (in the western world) decided the recipe for our lives was too bland.  We gave up on ‘Fanny Farmer’ and the ‘Joy of Cooking’ with their patriarchal roots and scents of sexism, and we wrote ‘Yoga Natural Foods Cookbook’ and ‘Mama Never Cooked Like This’.  Like last night’s doc stew, many of the recipes needed work to reach any level of excellence (or even provide basic nutrition).  But the point for today is that many documentary filmmakers are trying to break old, unhealthy funding dependencies or, especially the emerging practitioners, never get hooked on that diet.   I heard some complaints after the panel that ‘nothing new’ came out of the discussion, but that’s not the point; good recipes have always come out of collaboration, tasting and sharing, and even competition.  On a slightly deeper level, this is the social, cultural process of mutual storytelling that has nurtured and sustained us since time immemorial.  Without this, cultures starve.

The second was the period we were developing non-profit co-operative housing in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s.  Government funding was flowing like the Nile in flood.  We could not break the ground fast enough and raise enough homes to capture it all.  We got better and better at it though, and buildings seemed to grow out of the ground and communities sprouted. We had the infrastructure to negotiate the Byzantine relationships of private and government sectors, with thousands of people employed and volunteering to harvest it all.  Then came the dry season.  Some bright leaders in the co-operative housing sector felt the change coming and invited American social housing practitioners to a conference.  Too busy, too dependent and too blind, almost everyone attending rejected the entrepreneurial vigour of our colleagues in the south.  When governments changed, we were not ready when the river of plenty dried up.  Sound somewhat familiar? Documentary filmmaking in Canada has burgeoned in the past decade or so, nurtured by a river of funding.  Practitioners and DOC have evolved to capture the opportunities and now continue to evolve into new realities.

I think documentary filmmakers in Canada have the creativity, energy and profound commitment to storytelling, both as production and process, to survive and even thrive. Last night, I applauded the commitment of the organizers and the panelists and even the disgruntled in the audience, because everyone there is writing the next recipe book. There will be a more diverse diet than in the recent past.  Some of the ingredients will be familiar but they will be blended with the new and (dare I say) some less digestible ingredients laid aside in fatter times.  Our moderator and panelists reminded us of both, so if you weren’t able to be there, check it out when DOC posts the evening’s proceedings.

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