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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

Emmy Noms: TV Docs, Directors to Watch


Looking around at the Emmy Award previews in Variety and elsewhere, I saw some familiar names in the directing categories.
First up: the nonfiction category. No surprise to see which network dominates the category: HBO devotes considerable support to the documentary form (though Cinemax, PBS and Showtime deserve praise for their doc series, too.)
If Spike Lee‘s shattering Hurricane Katrina epic WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE: A REQUIEM IN FOUR ACTS doesn’t win the award, I think you’ll hear shouts of protest. This is passionate, pointed filmmaking from a director working at the top of his form.

Troubled and angry times bring out the best in nonfiction films, so it’s right to see one of the finer Iraq docs, GHOSTS OF ABU GHRAIB, Rory Kennedy‘s examination into the lives and motives of the torturers and victims among US troops and personnel. (As strong as this doc is, PBS’ Frontline did a nearly identical doc on Abu Ghraib this past season, with many of the same interviewees.
The History Channel gets a nomination not for a battle doc the nostalgia of STAR WARS: A LEGACY REVEALED. Congratulations to Burns, who’s won for his Biography episodes, but come on. The slick Star Wars doc hit all the usual notes: Joseph Campbell, blah blah blah, and played like a promo for the DVD.
Most unusual among the nominees was an installment of Showtimes National Public Radio adaptation THIS AMERICAN LIFE, directed by Christopher Wilcha. A profile of a Mormon painter’s search for bearded Bible character lookalikes to pose for his photorealistic canvases, the doc used stunning Utah locations and evocative interviews with locals: Mormon believers (clean-shaven, obviously), bearded believers and unbelievers, and the girlfriend of the artist’s “Jesus,” a non religious New York woman who has found it difficult to live with a guy who looks like God’s gift. [That’s him in the illustration.]
Though “God’s Close-Up” is the shortest of the non-fiction entries, Wilcha weaves a thoughtful essay about the relationship between artist and model, and how subjects transform the viewer, and vice versa.
If the overwhelming political and artistic forces did not make Lee’s Katrina doc the deserving winner, I’d favor Wilcha and THIS AMERICAN LIFE. Showtime’s captivating series – once again, this is an audio-visual transformation of NPR’s radio series – don’t have current events, shock, or tragedy to draw in viewers. But somehow these minidocs, too, linger in the mind.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon