Series Preview: The Alt-Doc Canon, Programmed by Filmmaker Magazine’s Vadim Rizov

The Alt-Doc Canon, a series presented by Filmmaker Magazine, begins this Monday, February 18, at AFS Cinema. Get your tickets today.

Beginning on February 18, AFS is proud to welcome Vadim Rizov, Managing Editor of Filmmaker Magazine, and his collection of formally innovative documentaries in a new short series, The Alt-Doc Canon. Vadim has written for Sight and Sound, The Dissolve, and Indiewire and maintains a comprehensive blog devoted to his extraneous writings at Infinite Philistinism.

Since becoming Managing Editor in 2014, Vadim has consistently championed documentaries and brought much needed attention to underseen films.  With his use of “canon”, Vadim reminds one of T.S. Eliot’s “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” in which Eliot argued that, rather than existing as an immutable selection of pre-existing works, the canon is something in need of constant modification so that unknown and/or overlooked artists can be included.  We had a few questions for Vadim on his interest in documentary filmmaking, the Alt-Doc Canon, and what he believes would be the benefit of seeing these three films on the big screen.

What draws you to documentaries?

I don’t think I’m necessarily a “nonfiction advocate,” that I’m deeply drawn to documentary as a specialized thing. I see it in a way that seems simpler to me: a lot of ambitious, formally driven and compelling work has been done in the nonfiction sphere that’s under recognized. Public perception of the “documentary” is still pretty static, despite loads of exceptions to the dreaded image I think people still have in their minds of some dull but worthy PowerPoint presentation and/or the seeming chaos of vérité. There are loads of nonfiction films that don’t operate that way, and part of what I’m supposed to do is try to draw attention to films that could use the help. In general, I think that thinking of “documentaries” as somehow of a class their own, rather than operating within the broader spectrum of filmmaking as a whole, is a common but regrettable misperception.

Out of the three films in the series, do you feel there is one in particular that would benefit audiences by seeing it in a theater with people as opposed to a solo home viewing?

Maybe RULES OF THE GAME, since it’s interesting in any comedy to hear what some people do and don’t laugh at. The answers aren’t always intuitive.

In your description you compare parts of STRANGER IN PARADISE to a “Lars von Trier provocation.” Besides their common ability to handle the heavy subject matter of refugee politics while infusing bits of comedy, can you expand on the similarities between Von Trier and STRANGER THAN PARADISE director Hendrikx?

I think that [Hendrikx] has instincts similar to Von Trier’s, in that he’s creating situations in which certain things are scripted and beats need to be hit, but once the camera starts rolling everything can change. It’s a controlled experiment, which is one way that Von Trier works.

Right off the bat, RULES OF THE GAME comes across as a comedy of manners.  The film could have easily been seen as making a mockery of modern-day millennials but I found that the filmmakers have quite a bit of sympathy for their subjects and side with them when it comes to the crippling absurdity of interview etiquette and conventional “polite” behavior.  Do you agree with this and do you feel as though the film has anything to teach American audiences?

I think the film absolutely sides with the prospective employees, and I don’t think it’s that different from what American audiences have experienced in similar professional situations. Finding dignity in labor under late capitalism is difficult everywhere. What makes RULES OF THE GAME more distinctively French is the bluntness with which everyone recognizes and articulates this; in America, you have the same ideas dressed up in more flowery language.

Thanks To Our Annual Sponsors