I got to watch the entire hour, twenty-two minutes and nineteen seconds of the Doc Challenge finalist films this weekend. Sure, it was from the lobby of Currents, the indoor water park in Missoula. Sure, I sat there with my headphones hoping people weren’t judging me, wanting to post a sign that let everybody know I was watching super-cool documentaries and not The Mindy Project. Sure, I was periodically interrupted by dripping-wet-chlorine-laden-kid-bombs who were alternately hungry or cold or wanted to show me their cool water moves. But I did it. And, boy, was it fun.
The Doc Challenge, originally started in 2006, is a timed documentary challenge ran by the creative, yet masochistic, geniuses who make up the film company FilmSpur. Participating filmmaking teams have just five days to do it all – research, write, shoot, edit and finalize a short documentary, just four to seven minutes in length. In the end, out of 103 submissions, only 12 finalists prevail. This year’s theme was Behind the Curtain.
For me, the most fascinating part of getting to view all the films at once was seeing, in quick succession, how different filmmakers interpreted the theme. There were literal interpretations, like in Showered where interviewees were questioned while they bathed, the only visual a vast array of shower curtains. There were films that spent their minutes trying to expose the pieces of ourselves we keep hidden: the grandmother who spends most of her time in the virtual world she built for herself, the 25-year-old asexual woman coming to terms with her sexual identity or the Montana man with beautiful blue eyes, only one of which is real.
Then there were the films that were harder to pin down, documentaries that examined a life up close and left the viewer to determine what the curtain was and in what way the subject was living behind it. These documentaries investigated what it means to be a triumphant survivor of human trafficking or a practitioner of the ancient Chinese custom Da Siu Yan (demon exorcising)
or a developmentally disabled punk rock artist or a husband/father/doctor/secret writer of love letters.
I’ll get into specific detail about some of these documentaries in blog posts to come, but trust me when I tell you: the majority of these films had the power to do what art does – and with the barest of resources, in such a short amount of time – to lift the consciousness, to evoke emotion, to touch the heart – even if you’re viewing them on your laptop in the lobby of a kid-infested-pee-pool.
You will be able to view The Doc Challenge Showcase in Late July and vote for your favorites at The Audience Awards where the films will compete for $1000 (Thanks VideoBlocks!)