Doc U: Where We've Been And Where We're Going
Moderator and notable documentary filmmaker himself, Richard Pearce, lead the series alongside a panel including Joan Churchill (Jimi Plays Berkeley, An American Family,) Emmy Award nominated James Longley (Sari’s Mother, Iraq in Fragments) and considered to be one of the most important cinematographers working in the film industry today, Haskell Wexler (One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, The Living City.)
Discussion included ethical problems and boundaries of filmmaking, the introduction of new small, inexpensive, and light weight cameras, and how each filmmaker chooses to craft their projects and why.
While many believe that the person behind the camera has the power to control the situation, Haskell insisted the power of drama comes from you (the filmmaker) not being in control. Then the product of such lack of control can lead to entertainment and enlightenment. With new, personalized and more advanced technology and cameras as well, documentary boundaries are being crossed, composed, and faced in every direction.
In response to ethical concerns and controversial subject of “truth” within documentary content, Haskell notes that documentary filmmaking is ironically a selfish act of selflessness. The filmmaker has an obligation to ones self to see, learn, and engage themselves in their project whole-heartedly while also delivering “truth [that] is not presented to us by traditional sources.”
Churchill adds “small, tiny cameras allow anyone to go anywhere in the world with a little backpack and [they can] make a film” – a statement that is making many documentary filmmakers uneasy about the future of their industry, its exclusivity, and the validity of truth within films.
However, if seen through a glass half full, new smaller cameras are a gigantic leap for the future of “truth,” for it allows more people the opportunity to document people and places that otherwise would be ignored, overlooked, or non penetrable.
Churchill, who stressed the importance of small, light weight cameras, shared an anecdote of her being able to get a crucial, heart-wrenching shot for her documentary “The Resident” while in an ER room that would have been impossible with a larger, traditional camera. The small camera allowed her to no longer be merely a self-proclaimed “glass eye” and become a pathway to a very intense and personal experience in somebody’s life.
That extremely personal space represents the “inside of the circle,” as Churchill says, that she always strives to shoot from. Filming inside the circle is a concept similar to the famous ‘circle of trust’ from Meet the Parents.
Haskell even goes so far as to quote George Orwell, stressing that “in the time of deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.”
Further emphasizing the documentary filmmakers’ role as a “communicator” first and fore most, Haskell brought up the notion that “our media is imbedded into the corporate media state" - a statement illuminated and fought against by Longley’s filming philosophy and political films, many of which depict war and life in Middle Eastern countries that are a far cry from what the general public sees in the news.
Distinguished by his impressive and detailed cinematography for documentaries, Longley, currently working on two films in Pakistan, answers technical questions about the concept of time in documentaries, how to determine appropriate instances to shoot or not, and where he draws his ethical lines abroad.
While sharing a story of how is associate American filmmaker was captured and held in Pakistan blindfolded for ten days, reassuring the audience of the dangers that come with uncovering the truth, Longley attempted to divulge his theory and past experiences on how to capture that key shot while nervously walking the line of ethics and fear for one’s life.
As Haskell reiterates, “fear will drive us farther and farther away from the truth,” it is the duty of the documentary film maker to saddle fear and ride it into the unknown in order to share knowledge and truth to others in an entertaining fashion.
Pearce and his panel of remarkable documentary filmmakers marked a successful Doc U session as they discussed the unique point of view of the documentary filmmaker.
Reach Lauren Tarnofsky here.