Women in Documentary Filmmaking

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Digital Screen Room Thu, Apr 29 8:00 PM - Thu, May 20 8:00 PM


For the first time ever, two women are nominated for Best Director at the Academy Awards this year, bringing the grand total number of women to receive the nomination to a whopping seven. But women have been breaking ground behind the camera for as long as movies have been made, and nowhere is the influence of women felt more strongly than in the realm of documentaries.

In this four-week, discussion-based class, we’ll examine trends and genres in documentary filmmaking through the lens of four films by women directors. We’ll learn about the directors themselves; the process behind the making of each film; and the overall impact each film had on the medium.

Small group discussions, facilitated by instructor Kia Geraths, will cover topics such as documentary form, filmmaker ethics, and how documentaries can both reflect and shape the world around us.

Please note that we will not be providing access to these films, though all are widely available on streaming services.

This is a participatory, discussion-based class. Discussions will be held on Zoom at 8:00pm. You also can choose to watch the film “with” us; we will convene on Zoom at 6:00pm on class nights and sync up the movie's start time on our own devices (you will have to find the films on your own).

This class will be held on Zoom.


GIDEON’S ARMY (Thursday, April 29, 8:00pm)
A film by Dawn Porter, GIDEON’S ARMY is a must-see example of the social justice genre of documentary. Following three public defenders in the Deep South, the film uses observational and participatory methods to connect the audience with its subjects, creating a minimalist, vérité tone which helps make the moments captured by the filmmaker all the more powerful.
GIDEON’S ARMY is streaming for free on Tubi; free for Amazon Prime members; and available to rent on other subscription services. Run time: 96 minutes.

THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES (Thursday, May 6, 8:00pm)
Streaming services these days are pumping out documentaries that all follow a similar formula: Talking-head interviews, mixed with cameras that follow the film’s subjects, edited to create a packaged story. (Many of these resemble reality television.) THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES, from director Lauren Greenfield, begins in this standard formula. It’s the tale of a crazy rich family building the largest house in America. But when the 2008 recession hits, we get a far deeper look at a family that has no idea what it means to not be wealthy.
THE QUEEN OF VERSAILLES is streaming for free (with ads) on Tubi, by subscription on Amazon and Hulu, and available to rent on other major platforms. Run time: 103 minutes.

SURNAME VIET GIVEN NAME NAM (Thursday, May 13, 8:00pm)
This highly personal and experimental documentary by director Trinh T. Minh-ha delves into the experience of being a Vietnamese woman in both the past and present. With the use of stock footage and both staged and real interviews, Minh-ha’s work asks you to think about whether documentary and translation can ever be trusted.
SURNAME VIET GIVEN NAME NAM is available free for library card holders via Kanopy. Run time: 108 minutes.

BLACKFISH (Thursday, May 20, 8:00pm)
One of the challenges of documentary filmmaking is how to tell stories about events that happened in the past. When she set out to tell the story of the orca Tillicum, who killed his trainer at SeaWorld in 2010, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite used archival footage and intimate interviews with people with first-hand knowledge of events to build a case similar in style to something you’d see in a true crime documentary.
BLACKFISH is free for library card holders via Hoopla; streaming via subscription on Netflix and Hulu; and available to rent on other major platforms. Run time: 90 minutes.

About the instructor:
Kia Anne Geraths is a West-Coast based filmmaker and multimedia artist, specializing in directing, cinematography and editing. For Movie Madness University, she recently presented an in-depth lecture on Joe Dante’s horror-comedy THE BURBS.