AT LACMA Wed 7.23.2014

Op-Docs Screening Spotlights Shorts That Spark Debate

Joshua Izenberg, Paula Schargorodsky and Elvis Mitchell

“Shorts are ubiquitous… but not shorts with a point of view,” said Film Independent Curator Elvis Mitchell at last night’s Spotlight on The New York Times Op-Docs at Film Independent at LACMA. As Op-Docs series producer/curator Jason Springarn-Koff explained, there’s a reason for that. The series has a very clear editorial mission, he said. The idea was to provide filmmakers a space akin to what they offer writers for Op-Eds. It’s an opportunity to say something that sparks dialogue. “We’re always trying to challenge our audience about what can be called an Op-Doc,” Springarn-Koff said.

Op-Docs is the newspaper’s online video channel showcasing short films: “the editorial department’s section for short, opinionated documentaries, produced by independent filmmakers and artists with wide creative latitude, covering current affairs, contemporary life and historical subjects.”

The eight films screened at the Bing represented some of the most memorable and lively Op-Docs to have premiered on the site in the last 12 months, including: When Loud Music Turned Deadly by Orlando Bagwell; Daredevil on a Snowmobile by Oscar-nominee Lucy Walker; the comedic performance film Verbatim by Brett Weiner; the Peabody Award-winning A Short History of the Highrise by Katerina Cizek, Slomo directed by Joshua Izenberg and the international hit 35 and Single by Paula Schargorodsky.

“Op-Docs was a whole new language for film,” said Orlando Bagwell, one of the filmmakers who took part in a post-screening Q&A. Bagwell’s When Loud Music Turned Deadly recounts the murder of a black teenager in Florida by white man, after an argument over the teen’s loud music—the kind of tragic local news story that speaks to a larger social issue that could have easily slipped off the radar were it not for Bagwell’s documentary.

The interactive space of The New York Times’ Op-Docs site allows the audience to play an integral role in the discussion of the film, noted Springarn-Koff, pointing out that “the comments are such an important part of Op-Docs.” For instance, Izenberg’s Slomo, about a neurologist who abandoned the medical profession to devote his life to skating on the beach boardwalk in San Diego, generated 200 comments about how you should live your life: helping others or following your happiness. Izenberg remarked on how stunned he was that Slomo could cause such heated debate—but that is what Op-Docs is all about.

Annie Jung / Intern Blogger