Well, those are really two separate and distinct questions. I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a filmmaker. From early childhood, I was so caught by movies and their power over me and other lives. My father had a fairly strict curfew but it was always relaxed and completely forgiven if there was an opportunity to stay up late and watch an old feature film on the late show, even on a school night. He took me to film festivals, and I went off to college absolutely convinced that I wanted to be the next John Ford or Alfred Hitchcock or Howard Hawks or whomever, and had already, by the time I was eighteen years old, read every book of film criticism, had seen thousands of movies, and kept reviews. But I chose to go to Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, where there was a complete lack of interest in the feature film, the fiction realm. They were mostly social documentarians, still photographers who did some documentary film work, and they exposed me to the great drama that is in what is and what was.
My own interest in history is completely untrained and untutored, but it's sort of like an artist who chooses to work in still lifes as opposed to landscapes, or chooses to work with oil paint instead of watercolors. Something happened towards the end of my college experience—I had an opportunity to practice filmmaking on a historical subject, and all the bells and whistles went off. It was love at first sight. And it became clear that I could take this very generous and specialized training by still photographers who really emphasized the power of the individual image to communicate complex information, unmanipulated and unfettered by layers of other stuff, and add it to this latent, untrained interest in history to try to tell stories that would have the same kind of dramatic impact, only they would be true. And the rest literally is history.
I've found, for the last twenty-six or more years, that the subjects in American history that I'm drawn to afford me the ability to investigate and represent an honest, complicated past that's unafraid of controversy or tragedy. But I'm equally drawn to those stories and moments that suggest an abiding faith in the human spirit and particularly the unique role our country seems to have in the positive progress of mankind. And that is what has animated all that I've done in the past quarter century.
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