After Self Health what was your next step

We made our first film about a na ve folk artist that I found. I went on a trip with my daughter, who was around fourteen, and it was one of those wonderful trips where you don't have an agenda. We saw a freeway sign in the Mojave Desert that said, Ghost Town, and we started toward the ghost town. And here, by the side of the road, was this very weird yard with almost life-size figures. And we stopped and I talked to the woman. It was really my first introduction to what's called na ve art, art...

After shooting do you figure out the film in the edit suite or do you know where youre going before you start editing

Well, I think I know where I'm going, but it does take me lots of different passes to get it right. I do seem to need to recut and recut and recut, and there's a fine line between working and not working. When it's too long, it's not very amusing and enjoyable to watch. So I think they're just strange things, films aren't they They just take a lot of working on, and I've been cutting this Tupac film now for three months and I've probably just about got a decent structure, but I'm sure there's...

And now the DV cameras

I like it that you no longer have the curse of the heavy equipment. It's kind of a blessed thing, now that I'm older and it's harder for me to lug around all the heavy camera stuff, that they made something small for me in my old age. There was a tape recorder that was half the size of the Nagra that was called the Stella Vox. I remember when I handed it to Chris . . . the look in her eyes, I will hold forever. It was half the size and half the weight, and it was just as...

Are there any ethical lines that you will not cross

I guess you could argue that I should not have given any money to the Salvadorian earthquake victim, that it was improper journalism. But, then, I do not think of myself as a journalist. And besides, I didn't give him money until I was partway into the filming, when it really occurred to me it would be tremendously appreciated by him and his family. I have absolutely no regret about having done it and would do it again. So that was my decision on that issue. In Six O'Clock News, I met a lot of...

Are there different challenges or advantages to being a woman in this industry

In the industry, people will often think of you for the films which have female subject matter, which is good because I like making some of those films, but that also can feel limiting. And the harder-edged subjects, you have to really make a harder sell for yourself. But for me, it's a little bit different, because the first film that I made which had notoriety was The Farm, which was so not female subject matter. I do think my approach to that film, in the editing and in the choice of music,...

Are there rules that exist in documentary filmmaking that you wouldnt break

I would never recreate something, and I would never tell somebody to say or do something. But there are subtle ways of getting people to give the information that you need to tell your story. You put them in situations that are comfortable to them where they can talk about certain things. But I would never say, Here, I need you to talk about this, that, or the other thing because I need that material. When I'm working on a film, whether on my own or with Joe, we would do these story conferences...

Are those issues the things that attract you the most or have they just been easy to go from one to the next

Growing up, my father was a lawyer he is still a lawyer. Justice. The courts. He did a lot of civil rights cases early. He was the associate director of the ACLU in the late sixties, early seventies, so there was always talk in my home about issues around justice, around fairness, about disproportionate incarceration of African-Americans. He was involved in a police brutality case in the South. So it was always something that made me feel very incensed, very...

Are you and Joe partnering still

Yeah, we're doing a film together with Metallica. We're doing a feature with those guys, with Elektra Records, and we're doing a film with a Mercedes group. We're always looking for projects. I'm helping him out on an HBO project. I'm meeting with Fleetwood Mac next week about a film. When Joe went off to do Blair Witch 2 , it made sense that we'd do different things. But we love working with each other. I think he appreciated the experience he had on Blair Witch . . . but also appreciated that...

Are you ever tempted to try experimental documentaries again or to do fiction films

I've always been lured by fiction film, which was my earlier love. But I had the desire to have carte blanche when I made my first documentary film. I didn't want anybody telling me to make it longer, shorter, sexier, faster, to use this talent, or don't use that talent, to do that subject or not that subject. So I can, after making documentary films out of college for twenty-six years, tell you that if you don't like my film, it's all my fault. And I never ever want to be in a position where I...

As youre filming do you know what the film is or do you discover your story in the editing process

I think the latter, probably, although you have to start with something, some kind of script, and then hopefully it's gonna enlarge and be greater Allie at the AVID editing system, working on Dialogues with Madwomen. Allie at the AVID editing system, working on Dialogues with Madwomen. than . . . you can have those moments that you never would have thought you had. You see the crew at the end of Dialogues with Madwomen, the crew working on the beach because I felt that I had tried so hard to...

As youre shooting do you know in your head how your story is evolving or does it evolve in the editing room

I don't think you ever have a different story in the editing room. When you're out in the field, if you don't get the material that tells the story, no matter what you do in the editing room you can't put it together to say something. And I think when you're in the field you see different themes emerging, different stories being told. And I think in the editing room you see strong scenes that take you to certain places and how things start to connect. Editing is really intensive and you have to...

At least now you have complete creative control

There's definitely a trade-off all the way down the line when you have less control and more people working, you can finish films faster. You make more money. But I'm mostly comfortable with what I've set up for myself in this approach to making films. It's altering from year to year a little bit here, a little bit there, but, basically, I'll keep doing it this way. It's certainly not the style for everybody, it couldn't possibly be my way of filmmaking would drive most...

At what point did you come to that ending

It was an evolution, but it really began before the film began, because I was on a television show with a number of women who had breast cancer in the Bay Area. And one of the women, she's actually in the film, died before the film was finished. But she said to the interviewer that day that she's been fighting cancer for so long, and she said, I'm alive now but behind me are four women who've died and behind each one of those are other women. I haven't forgotten that and it was so eloquent and...

At what point in the process do you know the scope of your film

Well, I think you have to get a sense of the size of the subject. I don't think you ever really do. I think you pick up your characters along the way. I never really ever, ever have any permissions before I start. I really don't have anything. I guess it adds something. It's not necessarily a very comfortable way to work, but I do think it produces something much bigger than the imagination. And generally, with a great deal of persistence, you're normally surprised at what you get. I think it's...

But audiences seem to think that thats a good thing

I think that even with audiences, I can't tell. I get responses from audiences from friends, acquaintances, or people who followed our films, and a lot of them are very surprised that our last film Blind Spot was not a big hit. I still love it and I think it's wonderful and we expanded the language of documentary film. And I still think it's going to find its place in the sun or in the darkroom. The marketplace, the festival directors and critics well, critics didn't get a chance at it...

Chapter The Road to Realism

The motion-picture camera made its full-fledged debut in 1895, courtesy of Frenchman Louis Lumi re. Others, including Thomas Edison, invented versions that predated Lumi re's camera, but his was the only portable all-in-one unit that served as camera, film processor, and projector. A few years after coming onto the scene, D. W. Griffith lensed his full-length epic Birth of a Nation (1915) with the new technology, opening up a new world of possibility for film as an art form. Short films and...

Confronting Humanity

A young eye in documentary filmmaking, Liz Garbus comes to the camera with a well-honed sense of social justice. And her films reflect that passion, focusing on judicial reform and youth issues. One of her first films, The Farm (1998), which she codirected with Jonathan Stack, won two Emmy Awards and captured the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival. Garbus's other films range from Boys Village, a look at four young men in the juvenile justice system, to The Execution of Wanda Jean...

Contents

Introduction Chapter 1 The Road to Realism 1 Chapter 2 Albert Maysles Father of Direct Cinema 3 Chapter 3 Susan Froemke Celebrating the Craft 21 Chapter 4 D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus Engineering Nonfiction Cinema 41 Chapter 5 Ken Burns Emotional Archaeologist 69 Chapter 6 Ross McElwee Personal Journeyman 93 Chapter 7 Liz Garbus Confronting Humanity 109 Chapter 8 Nick Broomfield Modern Adventurer 127 Chapter 9 Joe Berlinger Journalist Storyteller 141 Chapter 10 Bruce Sinofsky Experiential...

Critics have said Nick Broomfields films are as much about his pursuit of the story as they are about his subjects And

A lot of times it gets in the way of what the story is. He clearly has an agenda and he has an opinion, and he's not subtle about it. That's one of the other canvases that we have to work with. That's the one he chooses and is most comfortable with. I think what happens often when you do verite and you let people talk to each other and interact with each other it's their feelings that are coming across. When you do an interview, they are responding to a question, so it's not coming directly...

Do you always go into an interview shooting

I don't say that I may arrive and I might be filming. And what I normally do after the first magazine is spend a bit of time saying hello and all the rest of it. But I do think, particularly with the sort of stuff I've been doing where you're moving from house to house, you're moving from person to person quite quickly, you sort of want to see where they live and how they are and what it's like to meet them. You don't want to start with them sitting on a couch. I think...

Do you consider yourself a verite documentary filmmaker

Well, I'm certainly not a traditional verite I guess that's more almost observational. It's more in an anthropological way. I've never really liked the term verite very much because it sort of sets itself up to fall, because it's actually not verite you change every situation by just being there. But I don't think that's really what it's about, anyway. I mean, I remember looking at verite films years ago and being powerfully influenced by them, particularly in anthropological situations where...

Do you do any preproduction with subjects before you get them on camera

Well, I almost never film without asking permission at least in a cursory way. I think it depends on the person some people are so self-confident and secure that nothing fazes them. But I always prefer to utter the simple phrase, Do you mind if I do a little filming here if, in fact, I've walked into a situation where I don't know anybody and nobody knows me and something interesting is happening. I never do formal preproduction where I fly down and meet somebody and prep them on what I'll be...

Do you do anything other than documentaries right now to make a living

Well, we make our living by selling footage of dead rock stars. We've been very lucky because Penne, mostly, but through the years both of us have been able to keep the rights to many of our films. One of the bad parts of funding these things by yourself is that you're poor when you're making them but afterwards, if you can sell them in a way that you retain the rights, or you can get back the rights, and not be a work for hire, the footage becomes valuable because it's part of history. You...

Do you do test screenings

I know filmmakers who don't do them, and I don't see how they can finish the films without doing them. I have to have them. In fact, I enjoy them a lot. I have a group of filmmaker friends and colleagues here in Cambridge and the Boston area that I rely on for advice and criticism, and I always show my films five or six times to this group of people to get advice. There are different kinds of test screenings, too. There's when you do it for a small audience...

Do you do test screenings and do you think they are important

I think test screenings are really important. Our films are very complex. The main reason I believe in a test screening is, after you have been locked in a room for sometimes as much as a year and a half, there is nothing like projecting it, and that's how we do our test screenings. I don't believe in bringing a bunch of people in front of the Avid or the Steenbeck. I believe in doing an interlock screening where you project the work print. There's nothing like sitting with an audience. You see...

Do you do test screenings Or when you finish the edit the way you like it is that the way the film lives

Once I get much closer to the fine-cut phase, I'll definitely show the film to four or five people because I think my films can often be confusing. One of the most important things for me is to figure out what's clear and what's not clear, because when you're so close to the material, it's hard to figure out. And then I always love to hear what people find most memorable and least memorable. So I'll do that with a very small group of people, but generally not until a fine-cut...

Do you do them to take a pulse then make changes accordingly

We do work-in-progress screenings, not finished films. That's almost impossible. Certainly difficult. The way we show it in the state that we think there is a story, in the rough cut, the story is coherent. The way we show it is one or usually two screenings, and we try to include as many strangers as we can find because we know that friends are going to be a little biased. If something is not clear, or something seems to be out of order or something is kind of over...

Do you ever have an underlying hope for some of your films To effect change for example

Well, it's hard to say that you have that kind of hope when you're not sure what the film is gonna be. I must say that for Revelations, we did hope that this was gonna help Damien. Because by then, we could fully articu late that we felt that these kids hadn't done the crime. That's one where we sort of skewed from the path that we normally take by being ambiguous. We were very pointed in saying that the system didn't work and that these guys deserved a new trial. I'm not saying that they...

Do you ever pay people to be in films

I don't think you pay people to be in films. Sometimes if somebody needs something and you want to do something on a personal level, at a certain point you might help them. After I did Harlan County, for example, different people would call me up and say that they needed certain things. Whenever I could, I would help them because I cared about them, as any friend would do. But I think there's no ironclad rules. Some people might feel that there are. Some places do pay people, and it opens up a...

Do you ever think about doing fiction films

I did some with Norman Mailer. I would do one under certain conditions. I wouldn't try to do what a lot of people can do much better and have already done much better and many times over, but I think you could do a fiction film kind of the way that we did with Godard. I think there's ways of doing a fiction film that would be kind of interesting. I think the Danish would be really interested if we did Dogme films, kind of maintaining the way we shoot and mixing it up...

Do you feel that your films are an exploration as much of yourself as of your subject matter

I think the inclusion of myself is more a device of telling you a fairly complicated story. I think in the earlier part of my career I made much more traditional verit subjects like institutions things that had a kind of built-in boundary to them that weren't particularly investigative, or they were more a portrait of a situation. I became more interested in doing different kinds of stories and, in a sense, moving back the boundary a little bit . . . also, being able to...

Do you go through different versions

The first script that came out is an interesting on-paper narrative thing. But you'd be hard-pressed in the first draft of the film you might wait twenty minutes to recognize something in that first draft that is in the actual finished film. We're constantly designing and redesigning. We hear a story, it gets moved up to the opening. An opening quote that lasted for 90 percent of the editing of Civil War suddenly got taken out and, I thought, would be put into the last...

Do you have a favorite film that youve done

Because it broke all the rules that we made for ourselves. We used to teach I taught for eighteen years, one course, and I always told my students never to make a film about more than three people there are about eleven principals in Shadow . It moves so beautifully and coherently and it has so many subplots that work so well. It's an intricate film. It flows like a perfect drama. And as I say, it has pathos and humor and all the things that work well in a drama and,...

Do you have a favorite part of filmmaking

The one that I think I'm really good at is editing. I feel very, very confident as an editor. I've had jobs where people filmed a lot, not a lot, but some, and to take that and make something out of it and end up with a good film. . . . I like to make films in which you are not aware of the editing at all. They just progress naturally and they go down like a good meal. You're just in the story and you're not aware that's it's not just one shot. So that's a fun process. And it's really cheating....

Do you have favorite filmmakers

When I was young, I loved the work of Bela Lorenz. People said he was a nut and egomaniac, but I didn't care. I wasn't a Flaherty fan. I mean, they were okay, but they didn't turn me on. Then, when the verite people came, the whole Bob Drew group, I was flabbergasted, I was crazy about that stuff. Every once in a while, I come across a film where I say, I wish I could do a film like that. I really love good work and I am expressive about bad work, which gets me into trouble, because you're...

Do you have favorite films that youve done

I think Harlan County is definitely one of my favorites. Nobody believed in it, and I was really young at the time I was doing it. I'd come back to New York every now and then and different people would say, Are you still working on that And I didn't know how to explain to them what it was about. And I think, also, understanding what life and death was all about with the coal miners and watching that whole struggle, that that was a really, really important film for me. I think also another film...

Do you have favorites

Definitely, there are films of ours that are more interesting than others at different times. Little ones have their jewels, too. There's moments in every film that I love. One of the interesting things, I think, about documentaries is that sometimes they're for a very narrow audience and they mean a lot to a certain audience and other people who are interested in peering into a different world can enjoy them, too. There's that aspect of films that aren't made for major distribution they're...

Do you have heroes in the documentary world

I think there are favorite filmmakers who have influenced me, and there are just favorite filmmakers. Errol Morris I think he is a genius, and Assembly Line is definitely a film which inspired me to be a filmmaker. I don't emulate his style at all, but I think he's fabulous. And I'm a huge Wiseman fan. I studied Wiseman, and he definitely influenced me, but clearly, I've strayed from a strict verite fold. And then, Barbara Kopple, who I met early on in my career just as a personal role model,...

Do you learn something about yourself in each film you make Is that part of the appeal

It's hard to know when you learn something about yourself you're so well disguised to yourself. It's like taking a trip where hardly anyone's ever been before. When you come back you're a foot off the ground and you're bejeweled in some way, and that's a great feeling. It disappears rapidly, but just the film itself, playing it before an audience, you feel like you're some sort of minor celebrity. It's that you've brought back some treasure that people didn't even know existed and it's always...

Do you pay people to be in your films and does it violate anything

In the Heidi Fleiss story, I made a point of letting everybody know how much everyone was being paid, and I kind of Aileen Wuornos. Photo courtesy Lafayette Films. Aileen Wuornos. Photo courtesy Lafayette Films. did the same thing in the Aileen Wuornos film. I think it is a reality of filming today that people want to be paid, and if you want to make the film you kind of have to pay them. Otherwise, I don't think you will be shooting anything. And ideally, I don't think you would want to pay...

Do you see documentary filmmakers and films pushing boundaries or moving into new arenas

There are so many different things that are considered documentary, or considered nonfiction programs. There's been this terrible thing of reality programming. A lot of people think that that's what documentary is. It's not what I do. It's its own thing that has its own internal rules and structures that I'm not familiar with. And then, there's docu-entertainment that's on every night. There's the Biography series those are all documentaries the History Channel, filled with documentaries. I...

Do you see parts of your style in the first films you made in college

The way I make films is so much about getting intimate with people, bonding with them, and having a good ole conversation. That is a big part. There's the verite, where I just follow the scene, but a lot of the other stuff is me in conversation with people. People who I feel intimate with, people who trust, people who I trust, people who I like, people who like me on a personal level, and talking to them, not only in an interview, but often I'll be sitting around with a character and...

Do you still have anxiety about the same things in the process How has making films changed for you over the years

Maybe they're slightly easier to fund, but making them is no easier. Each one is really, really hard. I always start off thinking that this one's going to be easier. It's more straightforward than the others. It's about something I'm really interested in. I don't have to deal with sad things in this one. And this one's going to be, not a piece of cake, but like sitting down to a nice dinner, with many courses the courses will take me a while to get through, but I'll finish the meal, and I'll...

Do you still shoot some

I don't like the responsibility of the film on my shoulder because it's really hard to concentrate on three different things at once. I try to interview from behind the camera, and to be the interviewer from behind the camera, I find, is extremely difficult. Or, rather, ineffective. As a secondary, it's great, because if you have an idea or there's something that's been missed, it's natural to ask. We use the principal interviewer and secondary interviewer...

Do you think that you make the same film each time with different subjects or do you push the envelope in some way and

I've certainly made different films from when I started and gone through different styles. I think at a certain point I discovered a style or a form that kind of worked. And then, I applied different subjects. And maybe there's a similarity in the subject, too, in that the subjects were all very complicated and they had lots of different layers and they were a combination of sometimes the people were dead sometimes there was a lot of archive stuff sometimes there was a lot of disparate...

Do you think there are certain traits that are beneficial to doing this work

I think you have to have a thick skin and you really have to persevere, because getting permission. . . . With Paradise Lost, we had the benefit of making Brother's Keeper. And the idea of cameras in the courtroom we could have the judge call the judge up in Munnsville, New York, and tell him we weren't going to be disruptive and things like that. But in terms of the people you meet, you have to be patient. You can't force yourself. We always say that the work we do before and after we film is...

Do you think there is a type of person better suited to documentary filmmaking than another

I do think one needs to be pretty fit, and I think you need a lot of stamina. And you need to be genuinely interested in people. And to have that sort of curiosity I think there has to be that thing of just going out and doing it even if all the funding isn't in place and you have to go on shooting for several weeks longer than is budgeted. I think that's all pretty important. It's very rare that it all sort of works out. There has to be a certain, that kind of slight madness to keep doing it,...

Do you think you have different experiences as a woman filmmaker that a man doesnt have

I think that either man or woman, you cannot be afraid of your subject. If you are afraid of something like incest, you can't do a good interview with somebody who's been in that experience and wants to talk about it. And the best example that I can think of happened with In the Shadow of the Stars, where Irving and I were interviewing an African-American opera singer. And in the world of opera, there was a time when there wasn't any place for a black singer, so we wanted to talk to him about...

Do you try new things in your filmmaking consciously Do you try to challenge yourself

I think each story is a challenge in itself, because each one is constructed differently, because they're about different things. So you don't go in saying, I'm going to try this, or, I'm going to try that. You go in hoping to uncover things you didn't know before and hoping to be able to take your audience on a journey that you're on. And maybe you find different ways to communicate with people depending on who they are. But, for me, the most important thing is the people and making the...

Do you watch your films after youve made them Do you watch your first film ever

I hardly ever look at them, although if there's a screening or something and I happen to walk in, I'll generally sit down and watch it. But most of them . . . probably a couple of them, I have a problem sitting through, but most of them I like, just because they remind me of those characters, they remind me of that time, and I don't wince in pain. Wild horses couldn't drag me to see my first feature. I've watched it once with an audience, and I didn't think...

Doing documentaries is disruptive to your regular life more so than fiction films especially films like Paradise Lost

Films like that . . . it's your responsibility to be a sponge and to soak up the emotions and what these people are going through on either side of the issue. Because we were just as time-intensive with the families of the victims as we were with the accused's families. And your job is to hold in, and you become like a water balloon and you can't let that water out until you get into the editing room. These films that we made are really impressions of what we experienced. It's what...

Funding

We're not good fund-raisers. So what we mostly do is, we start the project with our own money and then, we'll limp along and we'll get a few grants and we'll make films on incredibly small budgets. Dialogues was ultimately ninety-three minutes long and cost 63,000 that was cheap. Rachel's Daughters, I think, was 280,000, or was it 180,000 In the Shadow of the Stars was just under 200,000. We eventually get our money back, for the most part. We have a new film that has not...

Giving money makes you a part of the story does it not

I think we affect the lives of our characters in our films no matter what we do if we take them out to lunch, or if we pay their rent. I will draw the line at paying somebody's rent because it affects the purity of the story, in which they would have been out on the street, versus they would have been in this house, which is a huge difference. It also affects your relationship. There's a power dynamic. Is this person in the film because they think they can get money from you Is this person...

Has September affected in any way what types of projects youll do

September 11 affected me more than any event in my public life, having lived through missile crises, fifties nuclear hysteria, assassinations and riots and the sixties, Vietnam and Watergate, and many other things. Nothing has been, in my life, more important than September 11. You're talking to someone who has spent his entire life trying to understand and love and criticize his country, and I took it extremely personally. And the effects in the weeks and months afterwards have been absolutely...

How did your narration evolve It feels like its effortless

I have a horrible time with narration, I don't know why. I look at the transcripts of my narration, ten pages, it's simple prose . . . there's nothing complicated about the syntax. It's intentionally unpoetical. Why is it so complicated or difficult for me to write I can't explain it. First I write a draft of the narration. Then I make a scratch recording of the narration on a little handheld analog tape deck. Next I play the tape back while watching the film, to get an approximate notion of...

How do you characterize your style as you have evolved from verit

Well, I guess it's much more investigative. I hope they still have the adrenaline of verit films you see things in a sort of rawness you see the rough edges. I think it's important to see where people live. So many documentaries you see on the television, they're just like a studio interview. It's all to do with the person giving information. It's not to do with who that person is and their lives, and I always think that's such a waste. Why not just write an article You don't need those people...

How do you characterize yourself as a filmmaker Because you constantly experiment is that your style

There is a style there now in the last ten films that Allie and I made. People tell us they can tell our films. I guess it's interview-based. We got to be very good interviewers and people open themselves up to us in a way that sometimes scares us. I remember a number of interviews it was after the interview that the person says, I didn't know I was going to say all that very intimate stuff. There was stuff that we decided not to put into the film because we found it was too personal and it...

How do you characterize yourself in terms of style

I hate labels and I hate categorizing because I feel documentary filmmaking is so ghettoized in terms of people's perception of what film is. To me, there is one giant spectrum of what film is. On one end is the talking head, scripted or heavily narrated documentary, and on the other end is the biggest budget Hollywood feature you can imagine. It's all one big spectrum of filmmaking. And I think all filmmaking is extremely subjective. So to me it's all one continuum, as opposed to documentary...

How do you choose your subjects

I am so filled with many ideas, but, you know, there's no failure of good ideas or good projects. What it takes, I think, is a strange kind of emotional alchemy in which, suddenly becoming aware of a project, some bells and whistles going off, I just say, I have to do this. And I never pick a project that I know something about. I pick a project that I want to share the process of discovery as I delve into that subject. Nothing could be worse than a documentary that is...

How do you find your end

Well, I think that a documentary, a nonfiction film, has to have a beginning, middle, and end. And the seeds of the end have to be in the beginning or the middle. It can't come out of the blue. In life, it does come out of the blue, but in a documentary film, which is about life, you can't do that. The other thing is, a film has to have a beginning to start at the beginning, and so, in Rachel's Daughters, it starts with Jenny's funeral and then, right away, it moves backwards and maybe people...

How do you gain the trust of the people you shoot

You definitely spend a lot of time with them before the camera is on. I do, anyway. I guess the general rule is that I spend many days hanging around with people before a camera is introduced, getting them comfort- Shanae (left) and Liz during the filming of Waxter Girls. Photo courtesy Moxie Firecracker. Shanae (left) and Liz during the filming of Waxter Girls. Photo courtesy Moxie Firecracker. able with it. Oftentimes, they'll watch a film that I've made so they understand. Because I often...

How do you know when you have the end of your story

In Harlan County, when a miner was killed by a company foreman and they came in and signed the contract. And there was one more huge strike when the entire labor force of the United Mine Workers went out, and we knew that that probably wouldn't last more than three weeks, but we had to do that to see how one impinged on the other. Wild Man Blues, at the end of the tour. Mike Tyson, that was pretty easy to figure out. American Dream, at the end of the strike. It's all different. Things happen....

How do you know when youve got the end of your picture Do you know when youre shooting Do you have an epiphany when you

With Sherman's March, I wasn't very sure because I was new at this game of first-person autobiography-documentary-essay filmmaking. It took me a long time to figure out whether I had a movie or not, so that's a metamorphosis process. Time Indefinite, I knew what I needed. And Six O'Clock News was a little more wide open, but at a certain point in my shooting I knew I had what I needed there. Charleen, my first film, I definitely knew when I had the conclusion to the...

How do you see the line becoming more blurred

I think people will start out with their single little camera and their sound and start talking into it and start making up things into it, and pretty soon it'll be unclear whether it's a biography or a film. It's gonna Also, I think that people start distributing movies in totally different ways because of the Internet and because of the accessibility. I think you can use them almost like letters, and they'll be traded online and sent to each other in whole different ways than we ever...

How do you think you push the medium of documentary film

Sometimes I wish I did cinema verite because it's the only process that happens in the present. As Irving says, Documentary film is about the past, because they're usually about something that's already happened. The other thing about cinema verite is that people think it's the total truth, and it's not. There's much more to truth than what you see happening in front of you at the moment. This is an example In Dialogues with Madwomen, there's a three-minute sequence in my story where I use...

How do you think youve changed as a filmmaker in terms of your feelings

Well, I have more anxiety about approaching new projects. I felt that the old nemesis of shyness and one-on-one encounters that I always had they always lurked in the back of my mind, but that, I could overcome. Somehow, the armor has worn more thin, so there's that problem. I think that I'm a better interviewer than I was, by far. I think I care much less about what the rest of the crew thinks about me. At the same time that I have more anxiety I am able to be more risky I plunge in. I will...

How have you changed since your first filmdo you have more or less anxiety or have you changed in terms of how you

I think, actually, there's more not more anxiety . . . we did Brother's Keeper and there was nobody watching. And then, when the film came out and it was a big hit, every film you make after that, you have your name. It used to be just Bruce Sinofsky now, it's Bruce Sinofsky and, in parentheses, it says, Brother's Keeper, Paradise Lost. So there's always a little bit of extra weight, that every film I make has to be as good, if not better. So I think, sometimes, that's a good drive to help...

How is it working on multiple films at once Is it difficult to maintain focus

When you're doing a series, in this case, it's easier. It's easier and it's cheaper, so if we have a pediatrician who knows about asthma and cancer, we can get stuff for both films. Shadow and Dialogues were very different. We needed much less money for Dialogues. We could do a lot of that without any money, so when we didn't have money to go to the opera and film, we could go and do this, the other. For the Paradise films, we shot all those, then edited them over time. We shot them all first,...

How long do you spend in the editing process

It takes me a long time to finish a movie, simply because I also do other things. I think it's measured more in years than in months, for sure. Sometimes I teach. All the time now, I'm giving a lot of time to the family. I'd say I'm home 30 percent of the time. I share time so my wife has time to do her writing and the things that she needs to do, and that's cut quite a bit into my editing time. That's a pleasurable thing to do, to spend time with my children, so...

How long do your edits take

I think we edited Wild Man Blues for eight months. Some take a lot longer. One reason is, maybe you don't have money. Two, it's a much bigger story. My Generation, which was a film that looked at the three Woody Allen on tour in Wild Man Blues. Photo credit Fine Line Features. Woody Allen on tour in Wild Man Blues. Photo credit Fine Line Features. Woodstocks, the money we were supposed to get from the people who were funding it they decided they weren't interested in it anymore and said, We 're...

How many hours do you think you shot for Time Indefinite

Time Indefinite had a very low shooting ratio and I think the reason for that was the wedding was a specific event that didn't offer up tangential stories or themes, really. I mean, we were in power drive toward the wedding day. When I was shooting the wedding preparations, I didn't have time to run off and film tangential stories that might or might not relate to this particular film. And then after my father died, I think I knew even more specifically what I needed, what I wanted to film in...

How was that directing yourself

I couldn't fall back on Irving and say, You know, it's gotten so complicated. Irving was there the day on the beach and we had worked it out I had really scripted that very carefully because we were going to use two cameras, so each camera could reveal what the other one was doing, and we had to stay out of the shots. It was hard for me to do that because, basically, I'm a shy person. But the camerawomen who I've worked with so many times they were so supportive, and I felt that I could really...

How would you characterize yourself as filmmakers

That verit was not our phrase the French made that up but it's always been applied to American films, which amuses them greatly. Jean Rouche was practically the originator of it. It doesn't seem to me that it's my responsibility to figure out names for these things, because they don't help me much in my work. I want to be able to do a scripted film or a fiction film if somebody brings me something that intrigues me. I don't want to feel that's not my business somehow. So I never think...

Never am aware of you as filmmakers in your films

It was a little difficult in Brother's Keeper because sometimes, we felt by including our voices you could understand what they were talking about we didn't want to subtitle them. Even the little thing where they named the turkeys after us there was a larger scene where you actually physically saw us and both Joe and I said, Let's lose that. It's too much about us. Films shouldn't be about the filmmaker. I'm not Nick Broomfield. It's obvious that he wants to be on film and...

If you didnt make films what would you do

I'd be in the South of France drinking wine. Since the age of twelve I've wanted to be a film editor and a filmmaker. That's thirty-three years. I probably would have been a pretty good politician, or a very good social worker. But there's not much else that really interests me, because I think, when you find what you really like, it's like breathing. I don't have a Monday through Friday. Life is just . . . there are 365 days of the year whether I'm working or not working, on a project or not....

If you werent making films what would you be doing

There's part of me that is very lazy, and I want to do nothing but be a country squire. I don't know if it's guilt or something that drives me to put in twelve- to fourteen-hour days in films. But in between, I try to postpone work as much as possible. Is there any one thing that you can capture or articulate that keeps you coming back and making films You obviously have a passion for it. Yes. Because it's fun. It's really fun. It's like still playing it's like a three-ring...

If you werent making films what would you do

I'm not actually trained as an architect, but I think I could do that. I'm actually quite good with design, although I couldn't draw to save my life. I'm kind of fascinated with people and houses what kind of spaces people like living in and the way in which design influences behavior. Then again, it gives you a great opportunity to go out and rummage around, look at things, cause a lot of chaos. That's probably what I would do. I think if you just do what you enjoy, it's always a good...

Im also exploring the kind of character it takes to make documentaries Its not an easy road Funding is difficult to

Life is not for sissies, as I always say. It's an amazing adventure to make films, and it's a privilege to live somebody's life with them, especially during a time that's exciting, like watching people elect a president and watching these two kids live through this dream and it ends up being this historic Internet bubble. It's hard work, but it's very rewarding and when you spend a lot of time with people and get to know them, to me it's very rewarding and I always learn something from the...

In Charleen were you a character

I wasn't, but you hear my voice from behind the camera, and I state in a title card at the very beginning that Charleen had been my high-school teacher and has since become a friend. So I think the viewer clearly senses that there's a connection between the two of us. In fact, that connection becomes very important as the film goes along. It starts off being a portrait of a very dynamic and interesting and somewhat controversial high-school teacher in Charlotte and really shifts into a much...

In terms of the research for each of these projects do you do the majority of your research yourself or do you have

That's a frequent question, and the assumption is that we have a legion of researchers and, in fact, we don't. It's a very small operation that expands and contracts in size to fit the particular grant-funded budget that we're working on. But there is a small nucleus of people. Traditionally, a researcher is the lowest on a production team ladder, and I find it the height of absurdity and terror to send that person out to an archive to look at images and say Yes and No. Now, if they say Yes to...

In terms of the shooting how do you know when youve finished when you have the end of your film

When you shot the film, or you shot until you ran out of money or got bored. It was one or the other and, usually, it was, run out of money. D.A. When you're bored by even thinking about it, for me. Boredom is the one thing I have to respect. When I get bored I stop shooting or I stop eating. My mind is telling me, Don't pursue this anymore. It's not interesting. You always get caught in the coda.

In terms of your editing and shooting when do you know that youve got the end to your story Can you preplan it or is

In fact, we even set it up. I remember in Fidel we set it up, but the ending became the beginning and the beginning became the ending. And I know that epiphany usually happens not for the ending, but for the moment of truth of the film, that exciting moment, which usually happens about two-thirds, three-fourths into the film. At that point, we grab each other's hand, if I'm not shooting, or look at each other because we know we have a movie now. We do plan for beginnings...

Introduction

Lives of passion are monumental in this world. They shine among us, reaching always for paths without compromise. As with everything in life, there are no guarantees. There is no promise that being true to your passion will bring success, financial or creative. And in that sense it can be a scary road to travel. Those around you may be on more traditional paths in their careers and in their personal lives. And when you look around at your contemporaries to take a reading on how you measure up,...

Is fiction something youd like to do

A friend of mine wrote a screenplay, but it's one of those things that's pretty far on the back burner, unfortunately, because my documentary filmmaking is so challenging, so time-consuming. I think I'd like to try it. I don't think I'd ever want to cross over, because my life is so rich doing this, and I would miss my experiences in the field. But I have tried to think about ways to integrate or to combine fiction and nonfiction filmmaking. With a couple of these girls in...

Is funding for documentaries easier as you go along in your career

It's easier as you go, and I think that, right now, in television, there is such a need for programming what we find works for these kinds of films is to find somebody within the system who wants to have a project which they see as unusual. They have to get x-number of hours on whatever their strand is, but say they want to have one special project that they're hoping will go to a film festival or will get some Emmy or Academy nominations . . . whatever it is. You need to find that person who...

Is funding relatively easy for you to procure at this point in your career How do you go about getting funding

Well, I've had a wonderful working relationship with Channel 4 and WGBH, and it has often been fairly simple, just a matter of presenting an idea and getting enough money to get it started. And then being willing to show them a cut somewhere, midway through the process of editing or assembling the film, their approving it, then giving me a second installment of the funding. And then after the fine cut, I get a third installment to finish the film. So that process has been in place, but then the...

Is that a topic you chose yourself

I was approached by Steppenwolf and we met for dinner with a couple of the people and I said, Yeah, this would be something that I'd be interested in. And for every one film I do there has to be two or three that I don't do because the dedication of a year or two is, like, Shit, I'd better do something I really like. If I'm not interested in the subject of the film, then my audience will never be interested, either. So I know if I'm interested in it then I can make an interesting film.

Is there a feminine facility in terms of connecting with people

When you first meet people and your subjects are men, is there going to be a level of flirtation When we first started making The Farm, because Jonathan Stack and I made that film together, you could tell . . . the interviews he got at the beginning were different they had a different feeling to them than the interviews that I got because sometimes, the inmates were flirting with me. In that way, it was terrific to have both of us there. As time went on and we really got into it,...

Is there a film that youve done that is a favorite of yours

I'm the father of two teenage daughters who are up and out of the house, and I think I'd be remiss if I said I loved one child more than the other, and I don't. Each film has meant something to me, so one film like the Civil War might get more attention and more awards and more whatever, but that doesn't mean that the energy and love I gave to the Shaker film is any less, and so I love it just as much. Just as a child who went on to become somebody famous and celebrated a doctor or a...

Is there a way that you could describe yourself as a documentary filmmaker For you is it a search for self or is there

I'm scared every time. I never feel like I have the capacity or the ability to do it. So each time, it's going into a really scary foreign country for me. I have a wall of . . . just like of power, not my own power, particularly, but a balance of power, I guess. I have to always remember that I'm helping somebody tell her story or his story, that this is not my story. There are elements and seeds of my story in everything I do because there's always a hook, a personal...

Is this your first fiction piece

It'll be the first major fiction piece. It's something I'm under contract with Warner Brothers on. We actually will start the writing process over the next couple weeks the script. But it's been a four-year process to get a lot of parties because it deals with John Lennon and his death, so you're dealing with Yoko, you're dealing with music, and it's taken me a long time to get everything going. But Warner Brothers is fully behind the project, and I'm hoping to be shooting spring or fall of...

It is not for the faint of heart No one has said being a documentary filmmaker is a piece of cake Do you think theres a

In some ways you need to be a misfit to make documentaries. I hesitate to make statements about what I think you might need to have to make documentaries. First of all, what is a documentary these days We don't even know. Basic curiosity is an extremely important factor in making documentary films. And the willingness to be able to change your preconceptions about things and allow things that you encounter as you're filming to alter the direction of the film to me, that's very important. Other...

Journalist Storyteller

Berlinger began his career in advertising but made the transition to filmmaking after working with David and Albert Maysles on an ad campaign. Berlinger cut his teeth in verite filmmaking at Maysles Films, where he met his frequent co-collaborator, Bruce Sinofsky. Their films, verite portraits of people and communities, often in crisis, consistently place in critics' top ten films of the year lists. Berlinger and Sinofsky's first feature film, Brother's Keeper (1992), garnered several major...

Modern Adventurer

Recognized for his on-camera pursuit of elusive public figures, Nick Broomfield is indeed our window into worlds behind closed doors. His non-fiction films Aileen Wuornos The Selling of a Serial Killer (1992), Monster in a Box (1992), Heidi Fleiss Hollywood Madam (1996), Kurt and Courtney (1997), and Fetishes (1998) track his quest of characters who are in the public eye, yet shrouded in intrigue. Broomfield's style of filmmaking includes him as a character in his films both engaging and...

Part of the challenge in nonfiction filmmaking is you dont have the same schedule that you do in fiction films For

When you decide to make a film you make an incredible commitment to it. And, for me, I don't want to leave a stone unturned. I want to do more than is expected and think of all the different things that I could possibly look at to illuminate for an audience what the situation is, or who these characters are, or what's happening. And, you know, it's not forever. You go out there and do it. And when you're out there, you're solely and totally committed to it. Even when you're doing a fiction...

Perhaps the appeal of the abstract is that you could reach different levels of understanding with more abstract

I mean, even with Dialogues, there were people who said, You 're not supposed to use any reenactment. This is a documentary. What you film is what it is. I don't know. I don't believe in purists, purity, or anything like that. What's exciting in the documentary field is, it's changing. There are lots of offshoots from verite. Lots of people have philosophies about what can be documentary and how to push the form. But there are purists who believe you shouldn't do this or that. Even...

Personal Journeyman

McElwee combines a unique verite style with musings from behind the camera to create films that communicate and engage viewers on many levels. His films are unique among the voices here in that he not only captures slices of life, but he includes his connectivity to them and their experiences with very compassionate and personal commentary. From his first film, Charleen (1978), which was awarded Best Feature Documentary of 1980 by the Boston Society of Film Critics, to Sherman's March A...

Recreating Emotions

Saraf was raised in Israel and moved to the States to earn a degree in film from UCLA. He was the founder and former head of the KQED-TV film unit, and then became manager of the Saul Zaentz Production Company, where he served as postproduction supervisor of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. He has worked in feature and documentary film as producer, director, and editor with over 150 films to his name, many for TV. With his filmmaking partner, Allie Light, Saraf won a 1991 Academy Award for Best...

Searching for Metaphor

Light brings to filmmaking a poetic sensibility and a background in writing. When she began partnering with her co-filmmaker, Irving Saraf, she brought that sensitivity to the moving images, which, she says, are a search for metaphor. From her first film, Self Health, to their Academy Award-winning In the Shadow of the Stars (1991), to their Emmy-winning Dialogues with Madwomen (1993), and, also, Rachel's Daughters Searching for the Causes of Breast Cancer (1997), Light strives to push the form...

So ethical decisions are made on a casebycase basis

I mean, of the people you film, some people you really like and some people you don't. I mean, I just recently was subpoenaed to appear in this court with Aileen Wuornos to testify on her behalf, or what I thought was her behalf, but it became more complicated. Her best friend was there, who was really poor, and I ended up giving her money. I guess because I liked her and I felt that the film had made money and it seemed kind of weird not to. It's strange that you make films...