Congratulations to T/F co-conspirator David Wilson and his co-director AJ Schnack who just received Special Jury Recognition for Directing for their film We Always Lie to Strangers at South by Southwest. Pete Bland reports.
One film from last weekend’s fest is already available to watch online. Joe Callander’s Tina Delivers a Goat is a less than two minute masterpiece on the insufficiency of good intentions. Don’t miss it.
True/False has come and gone, but if you still want to hear a bit more from some of the T/F 2013 filmmakers you should explore KBIA’s True/False Conversations. This eleven part series offers audio and text of brief chats with Dirty Wars director Rick Rowley and journalist Jeremy Scahill, These Birds Walk filmmakers Omar Mullick and Bassam Tariq, Crash Reel director Lucy Walker, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer co-director Maxim Pozdorovkin, Cutie and the Boxer director Zachary Heinzerling, Computer Chess director Andrew Bujalski, Expedition to the End of the World director Daniel Dencik, After Tiller directors Martha Shane and Lana Wilson, I Am Breathing co-director Emma Davie, Twenty Feet From Stardom director Morgan Neville and The Moo Man co-directors Heike Bachelier and Andy Heathcote. Tune in here.
Alas, another True/False is behind us, and we must all part ways. The gratitude we are feeling towards our town, our volunteers, our guests and everyone else who came out to support the fest can not be put into words. Thank you, together we built something special.
If you’re looking to bask in the afterglow of T/F 2013, we can point you in a few directions. Our friends at the Columbia Daily Tribune really outdid themselves with their coverage this year. The crowd-sourced POYi photo project offers a random tour of the weekend that was. And KBIA created an audio postcard from the fest. We’ll have much more coverage on our blog as it begins to roll in over the next few days.
We’d like to thank the good people at Encyclopedia Pictura for creating the video series that played before our screenings this year. This was the first time our bumpers were themselves documentaries, recording the creation of strange and wonderful structures. You can revisit the Adventure Fort, Camping Rafts, Driftwood Cabin and Subterranean Breakfast Nook on Vimeo.
Sunday was another day crammed full of films and events. To name just a few, at The Blue Note the La Operación Jarocha of Veracruz played a fiery set before a showing of Who is Dayani Cristal?, the film they created the soundtrack for. Later, co-director David Wilson presented Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel with our True Vision Award before a screening of their powerfully immersive Leviathan. David noted their work is “changing the way other filmmakers think about film”.
Following a packed screening of Cutie and the Boxer at the historic Missouri Theater, 81-year old action-painter Ushio Shinohara jabbed at a canvas in the parking lot of Tiger Cleaners.
Our big closing night films at Jesse and the Missouri Theater were Twenty Feet From Stardom and No. Afterwards everyone huddled together in the Missouri Theater’s lobby for the bittersweet Busker’s Last Stand. They assembled musicians brought True/False 2013 to a fitting conclusion.
One last look at some of the reactions on our #truefalse hashtag.
Driving home, trying to pick a favorite film of the fest. Have to say The Gatekeepers. Loved the transparency of the sujects. #truefalse
Can’t stop thinking about “The Crash Reel”– an incredible, inspiring documentary @lucyjwalker @KevinPearce #truefalse
-Candice Aviles @CandiceAviles
I am so proud of the so many people from The Crossing I see volunteering this weekend at true/false. #truefalse
-Dave Cover @davecover
#TheInstitute was the perfect cap for #truefalse this year. Best Q&A of the festival.
-Mike Sickels @SocioMike
COMPUTER CHESS is a weird ass TERMINATOR prequel #truefalse
-Robert Greene @prewarcinema
Favorite #truefalse discoveries: CUTIE AND THE BOXER and THESE BIRDS WALK. LEVIATHAN was a delightfully dark trance.
-Brent Thorsen @brentthorsen
Went to #truefalse thinking I’d just see some films. Ended up with an emotional, life-changing weekend that added perspective to my life.
Again, our deepest thanks to everyone who made this festival happen. Here’s to the next ten years!
Saturday is the biggest and craziest day of True/False. Today featured 42 screenings on 8 screens in addition to concerts, panels, a fete, a stroll, a race and a game show!
Things started off at 9:00 AM with an extra chilly edition of our True Life Run. Seventy or so brave souls faced down the cold and competed, with Mike Burden finishing victorious.
The True Life Run is a benefit for our True Life Fund. Which Way is the Front Line from Here? The Life and Time of Tim Hetherington, this year’s True Life Fund film, played to a near capacity crowd at the 1,700 seat Jesse Hall in an especially moving screening. Before the film pastor Dave Cover of sponsor The Crossing explained his church’s interest in “film as a window into the human condition”. Afterwards Sebastian Junger received a standing ovation for his film about his fallen comrade.
As David mentioned at the show, this is the first time the subject of the True Life Film is no longer with us. The Fund will be benefiting two causes, The Milton Margais School for the Blind, an institution that played an important role in Tim’s life and work, and Reporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues, a charity created by Junger to offer freelance war reporters free medical training. Junger explained why started RISC, “I realized that if I had been with him, I couldn’t have saved his life, cause I didn’t know what to do either”. You can donate to the True Life Fund online.
Saturday’s events included our annual soiree at PS Gallery, the Filmmaker Fete.
And Speed Levitch’s whimsical tour of the town, The Speculative Stroll.
The 2013 edition of Gimme Truth!, the world’s only (known) documentary game show, was the first to feature a panel of all returning judges, reigning champion Heidi Ewing (Detropia, Jesus Camp), Bill Ross (Tchoupitoulas, 45365) and Sergio Oksman (Notes on the Other, A Story for the Modlins). Between tequila shots, the trio watched ten 2-minute shorts and tried determine if they were 100% True or 100% False. Hosted by Johnny St. John, Gimme Truth! is big part of what makes True/False True/False.
T/F’s Chelsea Myers interviewed Lucy Walker, the director of one of Saturday’s big hits, The Crash Reel, for this short video. In it Walker discusses the multi-source documentary.
As always, our secret weapon, the T/F busking army, was out in full force. The day concluded the So Many Dynamos headlining our Mojo’s A-Go-Go showcase. Earlier, Snya So Pro warmed up a crowd at The Blue Note.
Our #truefalse hashtag continues to collect outbursts of enthusiasm. Here are a few examples:
Crash Reel had me tearing up so many times. Such a great film. Congrats to Lucy Walker and team! #truefalse
-Dan Lindsay @dan_lindsay
Wow! The Last Station. Intimate look at the last days of life with fantastic cinematography. And the sounds too, so wonderful. #truefalse
-Brandon Hoops @courtsidehoops
I’ve got that cold clammy hand feeling of just having seen one of the best docs in years; THE ACT OF KILLING. #truefalse
-Tom Roston @DocSoupMan
“Cutie and the Boxer” is a revelation. A near-perfect film. #truefalse
-Aarik Danielsen @aarikdanielsen
“Which Way Is the Front Line from Here?”: The life of a journalist who successfully humanized war and people involved. #truefalse
-Katie Yaeger @KatieYaeger
When Jeremy Scahill spoke after Dirty Wars, I just wanted to get up and shout “AMEN” to everything he said. #truefalse
-Beatriz Costa-Lima ?@Bcostalima
Cutie and the Boxer was a unique love story, romantic but also painfully messy. And to meet the protagonists! What a day. #truefalse
-Luke Damiani @lukeandrewd
Can you believe it? Only one day left. We’ll see you tomorrow!
True/False spread out even wider in day two of the fest. Films played on all eight of our screens and were joined by concerts, parties, panels and a parade. Friday’s March March is always among the highlights, a raucous reminder that Spring is around the corner and True/False has launched into high gear. In this year’s edition the punk/circus marching band Mucca Pazza led the procession of costumed revelers to the Missouri Theater.
Later at the Missouri Theater, Manhunt, Greg Barker’s gripping detective story about the search for Osama Bin Laden, played to a packed house.
Paul Rucker wowed the crowd with his experimental cello playing before a screening of Sleepless Nights at Little Ragtag.
At Campfire Stories filmmakers basked in an intimate glow and shared tales of what could have been. One standout entry was from Emma Davie of I am Breathing, who explained her unusual collaboration with the film’s subject. Across the street from Shakespeare’s The Great Wall outdoor film installation featured a far-ranging shorts program. And T/F Friday always comes to a close with @CTION, the year’s hottest party at Tonic nightclub, with MNDR spinning for the crowd.
We have a few interesting clips to share from our post film Q and As. Andy Wolff of The Captain and His Pirate explains the how and the why of his conversations with a Somali pirate.
And Emma Davie of I Am Breathing explains the difficulty of documenting intense human suffering.
If you’re looking to hear more from our filmmakers or scout films to Q for during the rest of the weekend, KBIA has an excellent eight part series called True/False Conversations. In it they chat with the filmmakers and subjects of The Moo Man, Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, Cutie and the Boxer, Computer Chess, Expedition to the End of the World, I Am Breathing, After Tiller and Twenty Feet From Stardom. You can listen to the audio or read the text of a transcript.
Finally, our #truefalse hashtag continues to collect reactions from around the fest. Here are a few.
The Crash Reel was absolutely exhilarating and heart-breaking all at once. #truefalse
-Taylor Glascock @tayloremrey
THE MOO MAN: sweet, and laugh out loud funny. Shared a mimosa with the farmer at #sundance – he’s just as charming in real life. #truefalse
-Andrew Droz Palermo @DrozPalermo
Lindsay Martin’s MY FAVORITE PICTURE OF YOU – slayed me – perfectly paired with STORIES WE TELL #truefalse
@StoriesDoc played to 1700 at Jesse tonight. Amazing. Lovely film. All the best to you and your family right now @SarahEPolley. #truefalse
-Beth Kopine Canipe @BKCanipe
the power of #truefalse, i get soft-hearted and teary-eyed as @davidkinofist earnestly thanks sponsors for their support before shows
It’s not #truefalse without Toughcats!
-Aarik Danielsen @aarikdanielsen
Just finished Dirty Wars. Prophetic line from early in the film: “If children are terrorists, we are terrorists.” #truefalse
Good night and see you tomorrow!
The tenth True/False began in style at our opening night gala, The Jubilee, at the historic Missouri Theater. A crowd gathered in masquerade for libations and revelry before a screening of Sarah Polley’s new film Stories We Tell.
Before the film newly christened Oscar winner Malik Bendjelloul, director of Searching for Sugar Man (T/F 2012), took to the stage and introduced My Favorite Picture of You, a new short by 2012′s Oscar winner, Dan Lindsay.
True/False 2013 also launched on four other screens and at two concerts. The Blue Note opened with the shocking expose Dirty Wars, while at little Ragtag the Neither/Nor series with critic Eric Hynes continued with the underappreciated classic The Fall. The Blue Fugue’s “True/Folk” showcase was followed by an all experimental lineup at Cafe Berlin. Meantime in Alley A visiting artist Yulia Pinkusevich finished assembling her “Stilted” installation.
The conversation on our #truefalse hashtag still hasn’t slowed down. A few examples:
Finally saw THE FALL. A radical hymn to the potential of nonfiction. A film from the past that was the future. #truefalse cc: @eshynes
-Robert Greene @prewarcinema
I predict @dirtywars will be one of my fave docs of ’13. An amazing piece of investigative journalism that hits you in the gut. #truefalse
-Don Simpson @thatdonsimpson
One Oscar-winning @truefalse alum introduces film of another, as Bendjelloul sings #truefalse’s praises ahead of @dan_lindsay’s short.
-Pete Bland @xblandx
the last station, such a doozy to start out the fest, so effectively evoked how time is experienced by its chilean octogenarians. #truefalse
-lara k @conservadora
THE LAST STATION is a beautiful, perfectly tuned and powerfully moving Chilean film about the end of life. Amazing. #truefalse
-Robert Greene @prewarcinema
If I could start a school, it would be a school of mistakes. – Paul Rucker at Cafe Berlin #truefalse pic.twitter.com/DU7v41Qw1u
-Jonas Weir @JonasWEIRD
A @ByDavidFrance sighting and hug in the first 15 minutes in town. CoMo maintains its magical status. #truefalse
-Alison Byrne Fields @abfdc
“The Stories We Tell” was incredible. Will be one of the best films this weekend, hands down. #truefalse
-Lizzie Johnson ?@lizziejohnsonnn
Very provocative”@JessHeartsMU: “Stories we tell” made me feel so many feelings. Which Is good I think. Glad to be fully “in” at #truefalse”
-Drew Elmore ?@DrewElmore1
Get some sleep and we’ll see you tomorrow!
Every year True/False attracts an amazing collection of the sharpest minds in nonfiction film. Q and As are great, but to get the most out of this assembly of intellects you’ll need to check out our panels. This series of eight conversations runs Friday through Sunday at The Odd Fellows Lodge at the southwest corner of Tenth and Walnut. All of these discussions are free and open to the public. Don’t miss your chance to hear in depth from filmmakers and other guests as they bounce ideas off of one another and probe deeper into the science and art of documentary filmmaking.
Things get underway on Friday at 10:30 AM with “The Revolution Will Be Criticized: Do Critics Miss the Boat on Nonfiction Filmmaking?” Robert Greene, director of Kati with an I and Fake It So Real, moderates this discussion on the state of documentary criticism with critics Eric Hynes, Ignatiy Vishnevetsky, Miriam Bale and Vadim Rizov. This panel is inspired in part by Greene’s recent Hammer to Nail piece on cinematic nonfiction, in which he wrote of film critics:
What are they missing? Well, almost no one is talking seriously about the collapsing walls between fiction, nonfiction and art cinema. Nonfiction cinema would best be described as a way of seeing and less a rigid and prescriptive “genre.” The most interesting documentaries push narrative bounds, re-shoot situations (as opposed to the somewhat tired practice of reenactment), play with the idea of performance, etc. They break the rules. Most interesting fiction, to me, is rooted in the observational camera, staging the action with the soul of cinema verité. How do so-called fiction and nonfiction films speak to each other? How do the stories being told or the situations being captured change according to approach? No one is asking these questions.
This idea of fiction and nonfiction films speaking to one another will be taken up again at 12:30 with the “Revolving Doors” panel. Sarah Gavron, director of the documentary Village at the End of the World and Josh Marston, director of the fictional films The Forgiveness of Blood and Maria Full of Grace will attempt to elucidate what their disciplines can teach each other.
Friday’s panels conclude at 2:30 with “Military Secrets: Filming in the Armed Forces” moderated by Steve James of Hoop Dreams, The Interrupters and most relevantly The War Tapes. Participates Rick Rowley and Sebastian Junger both have war related films in this year’s festival (Dirty Wars and Which Way is the Front Line From Here respectively) while the third panelist Kirby Dick recently captured an Independent Spirit Award for best documentary for his film Invisible War. Despite their shared interest in military matters, these are all very different films and the contrasts should make for an interesting exchange.
Saturday things get started again at 10:30 with “Docs in the Land of the Short Attention Span”. Panelists Julia Reichert and Steven Bognar are documentary veterans with impressive filmographies. Their latest collaboration is Reinvention Stories, a just launched web-based interactive film about Dayton, Ohio. In this panel they’ll share what they learned from this project and ponder the promise and peril the internet represents for documentary film.
Next, at 1:00 it’s “Strongmen and Dissidents: Filming in the Former Soviet Union” moderated by Dana O’Keefe of Vladimir Putin in Deep Concentration. This discussion will explore the difficulties of documentary filmmaking in the face of creeping authoritarianism. The panelists are Tinatin Gurchiani of The Machine Which Makes Everything Disappear, Maxim Pozdorovkin of Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer, Askold Kurov of Winter, Go Away! and the director of Secret Screening Red.
Saturday wraps up at 3:00 with “DIY or DIE! Do-It-Yourself as a Way of Life”, a panel especially relevant to this year’s theme, “The Collective Architecture of the Impossible”. Panelists will discuss the importance of the DIY ethos both inside and outside of the film world. They are Emma Dessau of the Folk to Folk music project, Emily Hemeyer of the St.Louis based art collective Spore, Thomas Sallings of Columbia’s newest music venue, the Hair Hole and the director of Secret Screening Green. Moderated by Julie Shapiro of the Third Coast Film Festival.
Our final two panels take place on Sunday. First at 1 it’s “The Future of What? Staring at the Horizon of Nonfiction Filmmaking.” Ben Fowlie of the Camden International Film Festival will interrogate three filmmakers, each with a singular approach to the creative treatment of actuality. They are Signe Byrge Sørensen of The Act of Killing, Josh Fox of Gasland and Zachary Heinzlinger of Cutie and the Boxer.
Finally, things come to an end at 3:30 with “Every Cut is a Lie: Editing the Truth”. Moderated by David France, director of last year’s Oscar-nominated T/F hit How to Survive a Plague and recent New York Times interviewee, this panel explores the editor’s manipulative art of reassembling reality. Panelists are Robin Schwartz of America’s Parking Lot, Bill Ross of Tchoupitoulas and the editor of Secret Screening Orange.
Kirby Dick was the recipient of True/False’s True Vision Award in 2006, and for good reason: His
interests in subjectivity and institutional corruption have rendered him one of the most prominent auteurs of the contemporary American doc scene. Dick began his career by chronicling “the pained, the freakish and the inexplicable that exists on the margins of everyday life” (to borrow from Ryan Stewart’s assessment of Dick in 2006 in Cinematical). These early works include Private Practices, about woman working as a sex surrogate, Sick: the Life and Death of Bob Flanagan, Supermasochist, about a provocative performance artist suffering from cystic fibrosis, Chain Camera, exploring the hidden lives of high school students and Derrida, a study of the controversial French philosopher Jacques Derrida. In more recent years Dick has tackled the powers-that-be responsible for that very process of marginalization within several prominent institutions: the Catholic Church in Twist of Faith, Hollywood in This Film is Not Yet Rated, Congress in Outrage and, most recently, the armed forces in The Invisible War. This last film, an expose of the epidemic of sexual assault in the U.S. military, won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary last night and will be competing for the Oscar this evening.
Dick will be presenting The Invisible War in Columbia this Wednesday at 7 as part of the Based on a True Story Conference. He’ll also be participating in our panel “Military Secrets: Filming the Armed Forces” on Friday at 2:30 pm at the Odd Fellows Lounge.
A Tucson native who maintains strong connections with the film community there, Dick was in Arizona introducing a personal favorite, 1987′s classic muckraking/vérité hybrid The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On, to the audience of the Loft Film Fest. (Considering his own films, it’s a choice that makes a lot of sense). We talked about the films spanning his 25-year career in feature documentary and the themes that drive his work. Dick’s films are renowned for their frankness, so it should come as little surprise that Dick himself is just as straightforward: Our conversation ended up reflecting the practical realities of commercially-oriented independent filmmaking as much as his own unique directorial vision.
(I would like to thank @TheLoftCinema and @LoftFilmFest for providing access to their offices to
conduct this interview.)
T/F: Starting out with Private Practices: the clinical and discreet depiction of sex with that film and the experimental and in-your-face depiction of sex within Sick . . . could you talk about your aims in regard to the different depictions within each movie?
KD: That’s interesting. With Sick, I was really guided by Bob. With the exception of “Autopsy” (the Nine
Inch Nails music video), I think most of the sexual imagery was shot by him or was shot by Sheree or
him. “Autopsy” I shot. One of the reasons I took on this film was I was really interested in seeing this
kind of imagery in a film. And particularly with the penis nailing, which had been shot before for his
installation . . . I’d already decided to put that in the film, and part of the challenge was, how do you
make a film that, by that time you get to that, the audience understands why it’s there . . . that it should be
there. That was a kind of challenge that I kind of had to rise to.
I guess the equivalent of the penis-nailing in Private Practices is the sexological, when the young client
takes a speculum and looks into the sex surrogate’s vagina and she kind of guides him through and talks
about it. I didn’t shoot it as directly. I guess I was concerned it was my first feature documentary and I
had no idea what the market was. I was actually a little discreet, I would say. There was no frontal male
nudity. In retrospect, that might have been a good decision in that it did OK. Playboy picked it up, and,
I don’t know, they may not have wanted male nudity. And overseas, it had a pretty decent television
release. I know there was a bit of a double standard there, but I wasn’t really sophisticated, wasn’t sure
what the market was, so I kind of played it a little safe.
T/F: So back to Sick. Did you get an impression of Bob as a provocateur or was he just so comfortable
with what he did sexually that he had a very open self-presentation?
KD: Well, I think both. Bob was definitely very open. I mean, Bob was one of the most self-focused people
I’ve ever met. You could not get him to focus on anything else. At one point, I wanted to . . . What’s the
KD: No, not Saló. It’s a documentary where he goes and interviews different parts of Italian society about
sex… Soccer players and prostitutes… It’s pretty good. It’s really pretty good. It’s got Pasolini on
camera, and he’s interacting people from different parts of Italian society (The film is Pasolini’s Love
Meetings). I thought, God, I could do this in the United States and Bob would be perfect in that role.
And he would have been. But he wasn’t interested because the film wasn’t about him. I proposed that
film to him two years before I proposed making Sick. As an artist he was like, ‘I’m going to do my
work, you can cover me if you want. It’s fine’. So there was a quality of, there was just sort of openness.
And that related to Sheree’s attitude toward him, which was “I’m going to do with you whatever I want,
and part of that is exhibiting you’. Both of them knew there was a provocative element to that, and
liked that. For audiences that weren’t provoked, they were totally fine in coming to them in a direct
way. But for audiences that were provoked, that was also of interest to them.
T/F: I thought it was interesting that Sick and Private Practices both had scenes in which the parents
were confronted with the non-traditional sexual activities of their children. Did something about
that particularly resonate with you?
KD: You know, I always put parents in my films whenever I can. I did with Twist of Faith. I’m doing it
with this new film I’m doing, Invisible War, about rape in the military, about female soldiers who
are raped by male soldiers. And whenever I can get the parents in . . . Why? I don’t know. My dad died
about fifteen years ago, but I had a very close relationship with my dad and even closer with my mom.
I’m always interested in that kind of dynamic. Film is sort of made for — and so is the novel — for
examining family relationships. The more interesting and outrageous, provocative or ambitious a child
is, the more interesting it is to get the parent’s perspective.
T/F: When during the filming of Sick were you aware that you would go until Bob’s death?
KD: Oh, that was right from the beginning. When I sat down with Bob and Sheree and proposed making
a film, they said fine. They really liked Private Practices. But Bob said, ‘Look there’s only one
requirement. You have to film until my death, through my death.’ That response was a real gift for
a documentary filmmaker. His work was so much about his illness and his impending death that it
just seemed to make sense. I think in his own way he would liked to have done work all the way to
the point of death — definitely, a lot of his work was about his death — he would liked to have done
work all the way through his death, doing work around it, writing diaries around it if he could. I mean,
he almost did anyway. I think he saw this film as kind of an extension of that desire. But he never
saw Sick as his work in any way. Like Derrida, Bob was very clear that ‘This is not my work, this is
somebody else’s work documenting me.’
T/F: Speaking of that, Sheree Rose’s role as producer in the film. Did she have no influence in how the
film was edited?
KD: She didn’t have a say, but she had a very strong influence. They both did. We were very close, and we
were continually talking about things. I was continually asking her about footage, discussing it with
her. Asking her if she had more material. In that sense, it was very collaborative. But, you know, she’s not a very detail-oriented person, really. . . [laughs] Her focus was always on excess.
T/F: Because she’s portrayed very ambivalently in the film. Both positive and negative…
KD: I know it comes off that way but I don’t see it that way. I see how audiences can. The main character
of any film is always going to be the protagonist, and anybody who has any conflict with him is going
to be seen in light of that and therefore seen negatively. Then, of course, submissives tend to get all the
attention as well, and the top is . . . really, the top is a much harder job. [laughs] The scene where she’s
shooting, she’s stoned, she wakes him up, she wants to talk about how she still wants to top him and
have S+M sex with him even though is very ill — to me, I saw that kind of desire as the reason Bob fell in
love with her. Particularly if you’re a submissive, you want your top to top you all the time. So I found
that very lovable. I mean, it may seem crazy, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less lovable.
Also, I think this is what happens to any sexual relationship when one party gets ill. The other party
still wants to have sex. The fact that there’s still some desire is a good thing. A lot of audiences, as
you said, saw it as kind of ambivalent, or that Sheree was just being selfish, but I never did. I saw it as
— well, I guess you wouldn’t say charming — but as passionate. I still desire you even if you’re very
sick. I think that’s very positive. I still want to fuck you, still want to have sex with you, even if you can
barely move. And even after you’re dead. I saw that as very sweet and very positive. I understand that
people can react and see that in a negative light. I never did.
T/F: Moving onto the next few films . . . In retrospect, Chain Camera seems kind of prescient. Do you
feel like you anticipated YouTube a little bit?
KD: Yeah, yeah. Not that other people didn’t as well, but I was thinking a lot during that time and before
about giving cameras out to people, about all the footage that was being shot. In the nineties I had
this idea of setting up an archive of all the home video footage that had ever been shot over the past
several decades. It wasn’t as efficient or elegant as YouTube by any means. But what was interesting
is that after I made the film, in 2001, I came to see this confessional speaking to the camera footage
somewhat as my style, my signature – I used it in my next three films. Then in 2005, I was looking
Chain Camera again for the first time in several years, and I was like, ‘Oh shit, it looks like YouTube.
My whole style has just been stomped on, in a way.’
T/F: Was Chain Camera happening at the same time as Derrida?
KD: Yeah, I started Derrida, and then I gathered the footage for Chain Camera and edited it, then went
back and finished Derrida.
T/F: I was wondering whether Derrida’s thoughts on narrative had any influence in how Chain
Camera was put together.
KD: Not really, no. I would say no. I was pretty much aware of what the possibilities for Chain Camera
were before I started making Derrida. Especially after Sick and working with the footage Sheree
shot. One of the wonderful things about Sheree is that she was compelled to videotape, even in very
inappropriate situations, like when people didn’t want her to shoot, or when she was high, just like
she was compelled to try to push Bob. As a result, she shot footage that no one else would dare to
shoot. And most of this footage was very dynamic, roughly hand held, made all the better because how
unstable it was – it flew all over and made all these cutting opportunities. It made me want to do an
entire film of footage shot entirely by the subjects. But I wouldn’t say Chain Camera wasn’t influenced by Derrida.
T/F: How did you decide which of the students to include within the film?
KD: Well, we tried to include a range. It was a challenge. The tricky thing with that film is that it’s
a sequence of short films, in a sense. I continually rearranged the order of these segments, and
substituted them in and out, in order to see how it altered the subtle direction or arc of the film. But we
wanted a range of students. We had about half a dozen other really good ones that never made it into
the film. We had one which was really great, where this girl was coming home from a party where’d
she’d dropped acid. It was early morning, and she was walking home, still shooting and we here her
POV and hear her say: ‘Man, I’m so fucking high, I’m so fucking high, I just want to get to bed.’ Then
we see her approach her apartment and we see her hand reach into the frame to open the door. But it’s
locked and she realizes she doesn’t have the key and she starts flipping out and saying: ‘Shit, my mom’s
going to come home in a couple hours, I’ve got to get inside and get in bed.’ Then you see her, still
shooting, trying to figure out how to get into her apartment. There were just moments like that were
kind of incredible.
T/F: I think it’s kind of funny that she tries to avoid trouble, and at the same time, there’s a possibility
that she’ll be in this feature film.
KD: No, it’s true. [laughs] It’s true. They were great. One of the interesting things, though, that I found
especially with people talking to the camera: They didn’t really have an idea of who their audience was.
I mean, they couldn’t, because they weren’t filmmakers. So they were talking to no one and everyone
at the same time. At times it felt like they were almost talking to God. In fact, in one film, The End,
where we gave cameras to people in a hospice, one did begin talking to God. It was amazing how
people opened up, how they used the cameras. I found it really fascinating.
T/F: Then, of course, you did the same in Twist of Faith. But do you mind we come back to that one?
KD: No, no.
T/F: All right, I’m going to repeat a quote in Derrida I found really interesting: “Echo, cursed by the jealous gods, was never allowed to speak for herself, and was only allowed to repeat the ends of others’ phrases. But Echo, in her loving and infinite cleverness, arranges it so that in repeating the last syllables of the words of Narcissus, she speaks in such a way that the words become her own. In a certain way, she appropriates his language. In repeating the language of another, she signs her own love. In repeating, she responds to him. In repeating, she communicates with him. She speaks in her own name by just repeating his words.” As a documentary filmmaker, do you identify with Echo?
KD: Interesting that you brought that up, because my co-director Amy Ziering and I actually talked
about that when we were working with that scene. As documentary filmmakers we are Echo, bound
by whatever our subjects do or say, and our film can only speak by repeating what they do or
say. Because that’s all we have to work with. [laughs] I haven’t thought about that in a long time.
That’s interesting, though, because there is also a similarity between Echo’s love of Narcissus and
a documentary filmmaker’s “love” of their subject. There’s a real love — I don’t think “love” is
completely inappropriate in terms of the relationship, not necessarily to the person (though that can
be true, too) but to the character you as a filmmaker are fashioning. On the one hand, you’re trying to
bring out something as rich and as full as you can, but on the other hand, there’s this sort of gift that you’re giving, this sort of obligation or gift that you’re giving — and it’s not to the character, because this character doesn’t exist, but it’s not really to the person either, because you’re only working with the footage that you’ve shot and you’re only constructing an aspect of the person. In other words, the character. So there’s this kind of gift going back sort of the same way as Echo, but I’m not sure to whom . . . [laughs] I’ll have to think about it.
T/F: That brings me to the second part of the question I had. Because Derrida questions who is better
represented by the film, the subject or the actual biographer, I was wondering whether you
intended naming the documentary Derrida to be kind of ironic.
KD: [laughs] That you mean it really wasn’t about Derrida?
T/F: To some extent, yeah. Or maybe the title addresses the character versus the subject?
KD: No . . . That’s a good read, but no. I mean, we chose that title because the name Derrida is gold. So
many people have been influenced by him, really struggled to understand him – there’s such a draw
to the name itself. What was interesting to me is that the style of the film ended up being this kind
of crossover between an art film and a vérité film — because what I did was pull out all the vérité
moments that that were shot, everything that had happened before and after the official interview and
all the momentary asides, and included almost all of those in the film. That’s much of the vérité in the
film. But the film also includes scenes like the opening scene that is a tracking shot of driving through
Paris and its suburbs with Derrida’s voiceover. It ended up being a kind of balance between an art film
and vérité. That isn’t to say other people haven’t done that. But that was the real challenge and struggle
editorially, because people wanted both. An art film about Derrida: everybody of course wanted that,
they were dying for that. And, at the same time, they wanted to see behind the scenes because this is
almost a sainted figure in some ways. But those two genres don’t necessarily go together. Oftentimes,
people don’t even look at documentary as art films. I’ve sort of accepted that. It’s because most people
don’t really understand how documentaries are made, especially vérité documentary. People write
poetry, people are in bands, people see movies from the time they’re toddlers, so they have a sense of
those mediums, but I don’t think people understand how vérité documentaries are made really . . . and the
strange intensity of that experience.
T/F: Towards the end — obviously, it’s not very “objective” throughout — but toward the end, there’s
filming of the filming. For example, you see a shot at the beginning of Derrida going throughout
the streets. But later we see shots of the same situation, but the filmmakers are being filmed.
Could you talk about your intentions there?
KD: In its own small way, there was something historically significant about our coverage of Derrida
because he had never allowed that anywhere else. For many years, he wouldn’t even put his own photo
on the back of a book. He was very open to working with people, but he was very controlling about
his image. I mean, in the film he says he’s a narcissist, and as a narcissist, his image is never good
enough for him. I had a friend take this beautiful photo of him, and he said, ‘Oh, no, I look too much
like a philosopher.’ Well, OK, you are. I think the reason those scenes have impact, though, is that
not necessarily that it was me covering him — it would have worked with any crew covering him
— is that he was so frequently commenting on the filmmaking itself and his position as a subject of
a documentary. But also I think one of the reasons there is something attractive about the film was
there’s very little footage of him in day to day moments that exists anywhere else. If you want to see
Derrida now, you have to see the film.
T/F: So moving on to Twist of Faith now. How did you first start the project: Did you find the subject
or did you want to address the topic?
KD: No, what happened was that HBO came to Eddie Schmidt and I — he was the film’s producer — and
said, ‘Do you want to make a film about clergy sexual abuse?’ Holy shit, yes. Apparently, another
filmmaker had tried to work on it and had bowed out – I was never sure why. Maybe they were too
Catholic . . . but it astounded me that anyone would not jump at the chance to make this film, because it’s
such incredible subject matter.
Sheila Nevins, the head of docs at HBO, really wanted a film made on the subject, She’s a fascinating
person, and extremely influential. In some ways I think that three of the most important influences on
US documentary film throughout the ’90s and into the 2000s were Sheila Nevins, Michael Moore and
Sundance. And she loves vérité – loves it. I think in many ways she kept verite alive after its heyday
through the ’70s and early ’80s. Her original idea for Twist of Faith (she really liked Chain Camera)
was to go into a parish where some of the priests were accused or rumored of abusing children, and
give home video cameras to everybody in the parish and get their perspective and then cut a film with
that footage. That sounded great to us – but we found it was impossible to get inside a parish like that -
- the priests and bishops would never allow it. But in the process of looking for that parish, we started
working with SNAP, the Survivors’ Network for those Abused by Priests – it’s an advocacy group and
that has local offices around the country as well as national conventions of survivors.
T/F: The St. Louis meeting takes place in the film.
KD: Exactly, exactly. And we got in contact with the Toledo branch and at just the right time. The local
SNAP person told us ‘There’s this fireman, Tony Comes, who was abused by a priest who is going to
speak publicly and do his first interview tomorrow evening’. We flew up the next day and shot his
interview with the paper that night.
T/F: And just as in Sick, he already had a wealth of footage available for you?
KD: Not a wealth. But he had one amazing piece of footage, which he had shot months before we even met
him, and days after he moved into the house he lived in. For him, this house was his dream house –
it was a middle-class in Toledo, nothing special — it was nice — but he had never thought he could
live in a place like that. He was really happy for a few days. Then he finds out the priest who’d abused
him lives five doors down. And so he took his daughter and put her on his lap and filmed him telling
her not go down the street or ever talk to that man, because that man had done something very bad to
him when he was little. And the reason Tony filmed that was that he was just beginning to think that ‘I
might be in a lawsuit, and I want this as documentation of the kind of pain I have to go through.’ He
also shot some really wonderful footage of he and his wife skydiving, and we used that. It was just
extremely poetic, because at the point you see this footage in the film they were right on the verge of
breaking up, and you see this ecstasy when things used to be good. But he was great with the camera.
One in three subjects is great with a camera, and he was just great.
T/F: So did you encourage him, once you met, to just continue doing that?
KD: Oh, yeah. I think maybe he had the same kind of camera we did, actually, so he used that. But even
now, with the film Invisible War, we have four or five camera out with subjects now.
T/F: Tony Comes is a really interesting in that, at least initially, he’s the antithesis of what we expect
victims to look like. Could you talk about what drew you to him as an individual?
KD: That’s part of it. He has, on camera, this sort of Marlboro Man kind of persona. He’s a little different
in person, but his style just works really great on camera. Very open, very emotional, which was
good because you can see how the trauma affects him in his day-to-day life. Oftentimes, people are
just trying to cover it up and he was really open with it. It was a challenge editing, though, because I
remember the first time we met him, even before he’d agreed to be in the film, he started talking about
his abuse, and then started crying, and I thought, ‘Jesus, I just wish we were rolling.’ Of course, you
can’t be rolling before somebody’s said yes — this is always the dilemma. But it turned out he’d cry all
the time, so one of our jobs was cutting around the crying, which is unusual. Usually, you cut for it. It
was actually good that he’s an emotional person.
But as far as the victim thing, you say he’s not a “typical victim”: This is really interesting because this
is the dilemma that survivors — particularly I would say, of sexual assault or abuse — face. Because
of their trauma “typical victims” often have this sort of “crazy” element that comes not only from the
abuse or assault, but also from the fact that this abuse is never publicly acknowledged – the survivor
isn’t believed and the perpetrator is never punished in any way. This craziness can sometimes make
them somewhat unapproachable as a person and as a film subject. And if they’re unapproachable,
audiences don’t identify with them. And if audiences don’t identify with them, their experiences don’t
enter into the public realm. And then that isolates them even more. And makes them even “crazier”.
Which is why it’s so important that these stories continue to be told.
It’s also a dilemma for the filmmaker, because you can’t take the “typical person” who’s traumatized
because he won’t or she will be hard to identify with. That’s why with Tony, it worked. And we’re
running into the same challenge, and I think we’re succeeding, in Invisible War. Because these women
are equally traumatized; it’s equally devastating to be raped in the military as it is to be raped by a
T/F: In relation to the film you’re showing today (The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On) . . . Twist of
Faith kind of has the same theme: an individual whose personal experience causes him to speak
truth to power. Was that an influence at all?
KD: It’s always been kind of a subtle influence. I saw it when it first came out, in ’88. It is by far the most
memorable documentary I’ve ever seen. I continually think about it. I think about it more and more now
as my films have taken a more political and confrontative turn. Twist of Faith was kind of the start of
these more political, confrontational films, if you will, although Sick, obviously, has a lot of political
elements to it. Yeah, I do think about it. There’s a propriety, even when you’re making a political film
that is difficult to go beyond. So, you know, there’s moments when you’re watching The Emporer’s
Naked Army Marches On that you’re almost thinking, ‘Well, the filmmaker should have intervened,’
or ‘They shouldn’t be even covering this subject. They’re just way too confrontational and crazy and
irresponsible.’ The main subject ended up trying to kill somebody — you know, not on camera, but he
proposed it to the filmmaker to have it covered on camera. But at the same time, it does make for very
riveting cinema, which brings in audiences and helps the cause. We’re continuing to deal with that in
every film. How far can we push things and not lose whatever sympathy comes with propriety?
T/F: You mention that your films have become more explicitly political. Do you feel that your
responsibility toward your audience has changed?
KD: Well, the way I feel is that I’ve just added another element to my films. I’ve done vérité films, I know
how to do them. I love them. I also really love films that take on a political issue, particularly one that
hasn’t been taken on. So it’s even more of a challenge to do the two: to break into new political territory
but at the same time have a vérité element, which is always harder than a non-vérité element. It’s more
work dealing with a subject almost all the time, digging up vérite. Sometimes, on the non-vérité side, it
can be very difficult to get the interview you need to get. That’s oftentimes the real trick: How do you
pull in somebody who normally wouldn’t speak? But for the most part in terms of production and post,
it’s harder to make a vérité film, and many ways, in terms of filmmaking, much more thrilling. So I see
these films as trying to put these elements together. The Emperor’s Naked Army is a classic example of
it succeeding brilliantly.
As far as the political films that are out now, I’m glad they’re being made: both George W Bush
(because he angered so many documentary filmmakers) and Michael Moore can claim some credit for
this proliferation of political films – although I think it’s on the wane – which is too bad because I don’t
think the form of confrontative, verite, political films has been explored fully.
T/F: Do you think your personal experiences, with Private Practices or Sick for instance, influenced or
informed This Film Is Not Yet Rated?
KD: Ah, in terms of censorship? You know, Sick was censored in Australia, and it was censored . . . what’s the contemporary art museum in D.C – the Hirshhorn. It was scheduled and advertised to play there two nights but it only played one – I’m fairly certain the Republicans squashed the second screening. But those films didn’t influence the making of This Film Is Not Yet Rated.
What did motivate me more was the issue of the studios’ domination of the industry. This was much
more about the issue of independence in film. In my mind, the film ultimately has less to do with
censorship than with the way Hollywood dominates the film industry — and not just the ratings
system. Which, by the way, is something you see and feel most when you live in Los Angeles, where
you see and live with it everyday. People in Los Angeles understand the film business better than
anybody else in the country, so sometimes when you read people from outside writing about it, you
just kind of laugh. It’s like if you don’t live in New York and are not close to the banking industry, your
understanding of it is all second, third-hand.
It about this incredible cartel that’s dominating all aspects of the business: not only the ratings, not
only the business side but even aesthetically. And everybody immediately adjusts to their demands,
even “independent” filmmakers — as soon as independent filmmakers become successful, 90% of
them just adjust their thinking toward the studios and as a result, the U.S. film industry is so pathetic in
many ways, and independent film is pretty much dead, unless it’s in an isolated pocket away from Los
Angeles. But the film was more a hate letter to the studios, that’s really what it was.
T/F: Your last two films have really shone a light on those in a position of power and influence,
and issues of transparency. I was just wondering, as a filmmaker, you felt you had the same
obligation towards transparency.
KD: In what I do?
KD: That’s interesting. That’s a good question. I don’t really feel that I do, and the reason is that if my
decisions were affecting other people then, yes. If I were doing something in my film that somehow
impacted other people and other people came and said, ‘I need to know what’s going on,’ then yes. But
I’m demanding transparency about these issues because these issues are affecting lives of millions
of Americans. It’s not because I want to pry into somebody’s private life and open it up. I mean, who
doesn’t, but… [laughs] But take Outrage, for example. I wasn’t interested in just outing politicians
who were closeted. That didn’t matter. What mattered was that these politicians were claiming to
be straight and voting anti-gay in large part to protect the fact that they were in the closet. And that
hypocrisy, and their votes, impacts millions of people.
But that’s a good question. I mean, I have to be very careful. When you’re undertaking an investigation,
there are all kinds of grey areas you’re getting into. That’s a lot of investigation in Outrage that never
ended up in the film because we couldn’t 100% corroborate it. The film about the making of Outrage
is much more interesting than the film, and that is completely the truth. I know filmmakers often say
that, but in this case it’s certainly true. Ultimately, though, your objective, once you’re in this political
realm, is to get this story out. You can’t compromise that by showing all the grey areas, because in the
political realm, people don’t celebrate complexity, they will just attack the film and blunt its message.
And this grey area, though interesting, is ultimately not that relevant, because it’s not really what you’re
T/F: Would you like to talk a bit more about The Invisible War?
KD: There are no accurate statistics, but some figures are as high as one in three women who are in the U.S. military are either raped or sexually assaulted by a male soldier or multiple male soldiers. This has been going on since World War II, when women started being a part of the military. It’s very possible that there have been more than half a million rapes or sexual assaults. And there’s been a very, very small amount of prosecutions. I mean, prosecutions with punishments of three years or more are probably less than 1%. Often officers are protecting these perpetrators, who are frequently serial rapists who isolate who isolate and assault new recruits again and again. The military is just beginning to address this – but it’s moving much too slowly. And the trauma these women experience is profound. It’s not just the rape, which is bad enough, it’s that as soon as they’re raped, they’re viewed as damaged goods, and nobody comes to their support. If they come forward, they’re viewed as damaging unit cohesion and their sometimes even raped again if they come forward. And they have incredibly high incidence of PTSD, higher than women — they’re not supposed to be in combat, but many women are — higher than women who are in combat. And 40% of women who are homeless veterans have been raped or sexually assaulted.
Their lives are destroyed. We’ve interviewed about 20 survivors on camera, and my producer Amy
Ziering has talked to another 60 . . . and the stories are unbelievably horrific. We’ve talked to several
women who were single and who were raped by married men, and the women were charged with
adultery. In a time of war, nobody really wants to touch this subject or take on the military. But rape
happens just as frequently when we’re not at war – if there ever was such a time. I’m really committed
to the subject and actually very angry. Veterans are a forgotten population, victims of sexual assault
in the military — and it happens to men, too — are a totally forgotten population, and I want to help
If you are looking for an affordable way to see a few films and find out what True/False is all about, consider picking up our Gateway package. This offer allows you to reserve tickets to three films off of a select list of nine, which we’ll introduce below. You can then pick up your tickets at our box office beginning on Thursday, February 28th. But you’ll have to act soon. Gateway sales end tomorrow, February 22nd, at 6 p.m.
The first film, playing Thursday night at The Blue Note, is The Expedition to the End of the World. This travelogue follows a group of scientists and philosophers as they travel on a three-mast schooner through the unexplored inlets of Northeast Greenland. The crew’s meditations on matters great and small are punctuated by an excellent and unconventional score, ranging from opera to heavy metal. This film is sure to be a powerful experience on the big screen.
Next up is No, a interesting mix of historical fact and fiction, recounting the time an intrepid group of madmen took on a Chilean military dictatorship. This film blends archival material with fictional scenes shot on reconstructed 80s style cameras to create a unified retro aesthetic. Manohla Dargis of the New York Times discussed the film with its director Pablo Larraín at last summer’s Cannes film festival. No is also nominated for the Best Foreign Language Film Academy Award.
Crash Reel is the latest from Lucy Walker, director of the T/F 2010 hit Wasteland. It tells the story of Kevin Pearce, once arguably the world’s greatest snow boarder, who suffered a terrible crash. The film transforms seamlessly from a high-adrenaline sports movie into a poignant and inspiring tale of recovery and brotherly love. Walker discusses how she became interested in telling this story to fellow T/F filmmaker Ondi Timoner in the video below.
Gateway includes three films dealing with the fascinating and frequently morally hazy subject of intelligence and counter-terrorism. The first, Manhunt, talks with the CIA analysts and agents who spent over 20 years tracking down Osama bin Laden. The film turns the record of their frustrations, ethical conflicts and ultimate triumph into a compelling detective story. The Daily Beast spoke with three of these analysts about their reactions to seeing their story on the big screen.
The Gatekeepers is built around interviews with the six men who have headed the Israeli Shin Bet intelligence agency. The film revisits the history of the post-1967 Arab-Israeli conflict from this fascinating new perspective. Director Dror Moreh spoke with the Times of Israel about getting these secretive men to open up for his camera and the perplexing implications of what they said.
Dirty Wars follows journalist Jeremy Scahill on a noirish journey from dusty huts outside Abottabad to seedy D.C.-area motels to the halls of Congress as he uncovers the unpleasant facts about the activities of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the organization empowered by the Obama administration to oversee an expanded “kill list”. Scahill and director Rick Rowley talk in depth about the film in the clip below from Democracy Now.
Winter Go Away is a powerful survey of life in Russia during last winter’s presidential elections. Avoiding all talking heads, the film captures the rallies, protests and backroom meetings directly, creating an important document of the hope, frustration and confusion of the political moment.
Cutie and the Boxer, a breakout hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, observes the difficult relationship of an aging bohemian couple, the “action painter” Ushio Shinohara and wife of 40 years, Noriko. This intimate exploration of the problems of love and art is an impressive directorial debut for Zachary Heinzerling, who introduces his film in the clip below.
After Tiller follows the lives and work of the four doctors left in all of America who perform late term abortions. While clearly made with a point of view, the film avoids any lionizing or demonizing, instead providing a much needed human context for this most divisive of issues.
This diverse selection of films offers a real cross section of this year’s fest. And just a reminder, this package will only be available for another 24 hours.