Documentaries Interesting Short Films

The Umbrella Man

A new short film by Errol Morris explores why a man was holding an umbrella just a few feet from where President Kennedy was shot in November 1963.

Like his friend Werner Herzog, the famed director has long been fascinated by the events surrounding the JFK assassination.

Morris has written an accompanying piece for the New York Times, in which he says:

For years, I’ve wanted to make a movie about the John F. Kennedy assassination.

Not because I thought I could prove that it was a conspiracy, or that I could prove it was a lone gunman, but because I believe that by looking at the assassination, we can learn a lot about the nature of investigation and evidence.

Why, after 48 years, are people still quarreling and quibbling about this case? What is it about this case that has led not to a solution, but to the endless proliferation of possible solutions?

The only thing I can recommend is that you click here to watch the video as soon as possible.

> NY Times directors statement and video
> More on Errol Morris and the JFK assassination at Wikipedia
> Thoughts on his nw film Tabloid

Directors Documentaries Interesting

Errol Morris at BAFTA

Famed documentarian Errol Morris was at BAFTA this week where he gave the annual David Lean lecture and a Q&A with Adam Curtis.

He has been in London this week promoting Tabloid, his new film about a bizarre scandal involving a beauty queen and a mormon, and the event was live streamed over the web on BAFTA Guru.

To watch the full 30 minute speech head on over to the BAFTA site, but here is a clip:

Afterwards he engaged in an interesting Q&A session with fellow director Adam Curtis which can be seen here:

I first saw Tabloid at the London Film Festival last year and it is going to be a strong contender for the inaugural BAFTA documentary award.

Interestingly, the film hit the headlines this week when Joyce McKinney (the main subject) announced she was suing Morris for her portrayal in the film, which has echoes of Randall Adams suing Morris, despite the fact that (or maybe because?) his 1988 film The Thin Blue Line got him off death row.

Perhaps there is a follow up film to be made?

> Tabloid review from LFF 2010
> BAFTA Guru
> Adam Curtis’ essential BBC blog which regularly culls interesting material from the archives
> More on Errol Morris at Wikipedia

Amusing Festivals Interviews

Errol Morris and Joyce McKinney at DOC NY 2010

Tabloid recently screened at the New York Documentary Film Festival and its subject Joyce McKinney joined director Errol Morris on stage.

One of the best documentaries of the year, it tells the story of McKinney and the tabloid feeding frenzy she was involved in back in the 1970s.

When it screened at this year’s London Film Festival the producer Mark Lipson hinted to the audience that Joyce was more than a little upset with how the film portrayed her.

It seemed there would be an ongoing rift until someone had the brilliant idea of reuniting Joyce and Morris on stage at the New York Documentary Festival last night.

The following video of their post-screening Q&A is priceless:

Notice how Joyce can’t stop talking, the look of bemused delight on Morris’ face and a hilarious climax provided by her dog.

There is also this video of McKinney after the screening:

I suspect that both with be included on the DVD extras.

As an aside, this website was one of many that received a comment threatening legal action against the London Film Festival, the filmmakers and anyone who didn’t take a basic description of the film down from their site.

Was Joyce doing blog searches and trying to ‘correct’ the image presented of her in the film?

[via The DailyMUBI]

> New York Documentary Film Festival
> Follow DOC NY on Twitter
> Errol Morris
> My review of Tabloid at the London Film Festival
Reviews of Tabloid via MUBi

Cinema Festivals London Film Festival

LFF 2010: Tabloid

A former beauty queen, a Mormon missionary, British tabloid newspapers and cloned dogs all provide Errol Morris with some riotous material for his latest documentary, which ranks alongside his finest work.

After two serious documentaries about figures involved in US military conflicts – The Fog of War (2003) and Standard Operating Procedure (2008) – Morris has returned to the quirkier territory of earlier work like Gates of Heaven (1978) and Vernon, Florida (1981).

In the late 1970s when a former Miss Wyoming named Joyce McKinney, caused a tabloid scandal in England by allegedly kidnapping a Mormon missionary in Surrey and ‘enslaving’ him in an episode which was soon dubbed the ‘Mormon sex in chains case’.

The resulting media feeding frenzy increased when she was arrested and imprisoned only to later escape to the US, where she surfaced many years later in a very different story.

Morris explores this bizarre tale through extended interviews with McKinney herself; Peter Tory, a journalist for the Daily Express close to the story; Kent Gavin, a photographer for the rival Daily Mirror who had a different take on McKinney; Troy Williams, a Mormon activist who provides religious context; and a Korean scientist who clones dogs.

Using his trademark Interrotron camera, which creates the effect of the subject talking at the audience, Morris elicits revealing testimonies which relay events like a compulsive, page-turning novel.

He certainly struck gold in finding McKinney: energetic, talkative and at times seemingly delusional, she has a turn of phrase which is infectious, ridiculous and hilarious.

Providing a nice counterbalance is Tory, who gives a more sober account but also has an intriguing part in the story he reported on.

Not only was he MacKinney’s unofficial ‘minder’ for the Express, accompanying her to a film premiere for publicity, but his recollections are not always what they seem.

Another perspective is provided by Gavin, who as a deadly rival to Tory, embodies the tenacity of old-school Fleet Street veterans. His relish and glee at uncovering certain photos is as revealing as McKinney’s delusions.

But tabloid is more than just the hilarious recollections of a juicy story: it is a shrewd dissection of tabloid culture itself through its use of inventive graphics and judicious editing.

One dazzling technique used throughout is the accentuation of the interviewee’s words with on screen graphics, highlighting the way in which tabloids interpret language for effect.

Morris also uses graphics to visualize the story, as archive tabloid coverage comes alive with headlines, pull-quotes and cartoons cleverly synced with the words we hear from the people on screen.

Seeing the fonts of various English newspapers flash up on screen conveys the hysterical, funny and often cruel nature of how tabloids present information to the world.

It nails the peculiarities of the British tabloid press: the screaming headlines, bitter rivalries, fascination with smut and the overblown, self-important nature of their coverage are all deftly conveyed.

The editing by Grant Surmi is also outstanding and the film flows with consummate ease between the different interviews, often punctuating them with marvellous audio and visual flourishes.

On a deeper level Tabloid is about how stories and events are remembered.

There are different points of view on MacKinney’s story and the film is fascinating precisely because it leaves room for our own conclusions.

Ironically, this is the polar opposite of tabloid coverage which seeks to paint things in black and white, and provide a definitive viewpoint on even the most contentious of matters.

Morris takes quite the opposite approach and by probing the details of this odd case, appears to suggest that the attention seeking subject reflects the very culture that showcased her.

But Tabloid is by no means a cerebral, academic exercise.

One of the most purely entertaining documentaries in years, it makes you think whilst you laugh and is another reminder of why Errol Morris remains one of the best filmmakers working today.

Tabloid played at the London Film Festival over the weekend but a UK release date is TBC

> Tabloid at the IMDb
> Official website of Errol Morris
> Reviews of Tabloid via MUBi
> Tabloid at the LFF

Directors Documentaries Interesting

Errol Morris talks about The Thin Blue Line

Errol Morris talks about his classic documentary The Thin Blue Line.

Directors Interesting

Errol Morris talks about his 5 Favourite Films

Director Errol Morris has done an interview with Current TV in which he talks about his five favourite films (kinda).

They are: Detour, Fallen Idol, Psycho, Sullivan’s Travels and The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On.


> Errol Morris at the IMDb
> Current TV


Standard Operating Procedure website

The website for Standard Operating Procedure is now live.

It is the new documentary from director Errol Morris and deals with the photographs taken during the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq.

The website for his last filmThe Fog of War – won a Webby Award in 2004 and this one has a similar use of flash.

It also stresses the the importance of the actual photos as they are scattered all over the site.

As Morris says in the official Q&A:

It all starts with the photographs. They are at the core of this whole project.

270 photographs were given to the Army Criminal Investigation Division, and many of them appear in the movie.

Standard Operating Procedure is my attempt to tell the story behind these photographs, to examine the context in which they were taken.

People think they understand the photographs, that they are selfexplanatory.

They think they know what they are about – but do they, really? That’s the question.

Megan Ambuhl, one of the soldiers in the movie, asks: have we looked “outside the frame?” This film is an attempt to do that.

The film opens in the US on April 25th in limited release

> Official site for Standard Operating Procedure
> Participant site for the film