Coming to theatres today, Friday, November 15:
RECORDER: THE MARION STOKES PROJECT
Hot Docs, AFI Docs, London, New Orleans, Melbourne, Montclair, Maryland, SF DocFest, Sidewalk, Heartland, Antenna
The story of a woman who recorded television news around the clock for thirty years.
Beginning in 1979, during the Iran Hostage Crisis, Philadelphia-based librarian-turned-social activist Communist Marion Stokes began an unusual obsession. Noting how excessive news coverage of the crisis was simplifying the larger issues at play, and suspecting that the whole story was being reduced to black and white us vs them stakes, Stokes sought a visual record. As the coverage gave birth to ABC News’ pioneering NIGHTLINE, the forerunner for the soon-to-emerge 24/7 cable news era, Stokes expanded her own efforts, drawing in others in her circle to aid her efforts. Director Matt Wolf creatively makes use of her recordings, while also delving into Stokes’ personal history through interviews with family members and associates. What emerges is a compelling portrait of a woman on a mission that was part hoarding – reflective not just in her VHS taping, but in other, more familiar collections of newspapers and books – and part media and cultural researcher and critic. At the same time, it’s never exactly clear to what end Stokes saw her project – while it has been embraced after her death by the Internet Archive, and certainly seems prescient in this era of polarized, subjective news broadcasting and fake news, aside from maintaining her mission, she did not really do anything concrete with her recordings, resulting in a feeling that this is more curiosity than revelation.