Classic Docs

Explore Chimeric Cinema and the Complete Neither/Nor Series

In 2013, True/False began Neither/Nor, an open-ended project to map a history of what we call “chimeric cinema”. Chimeras are films which enthusiastically embrace the paradox at the heart of all cinema, the medium’s capacity to document authentic slivers of the reality it necessarily manipulates, distorts and enhances. Film culture generally appears uncomfortable with this tension, preferring instead to assign films easy labels like “documentary” and “fiction”. Chimeras are works which emphatically defy all such attempts at categorization.

Every year, Neither/Nor explores a different region and period in cinema history in collaboration with a visiting film critic, who selects important works from this milieu to screen at the Fest. The critic also writes a special monograph with essays and interviews on the films. All three of these monographs are now available in digital versions online.

This whole undertaking is made possible by the generous support of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Below you’ll find a complete outline of Neither/Now to date, organized by year, with images from the films and links to each of the individual essays and interviews from the monographs. Take a look around and discover what cinema is capable of.

 

Neither/Nor 2013: New York City, 1967-1968Essays and Interviews by Eric Hynes

Introduction

 

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm (dir. William Greaves, 1968)

Maddening Method: Essay and interview with sound recordist Jonathan Gordon

Symbiopsychotaxiplasm_Take_One_5

 

1 P.M. (dirs. D.A. Pennebaker, Richard Leacock, Jean-Luc Godard, 1972)

The Liminal States of America: Essay and interview with D.A. Pennebaker

1PM_1

 

The Fall (dir. Peter Whitehead, 1969)

The Apocalyptic Tourist: Essay and interview with Peter Whitehead

thefall

 

David Holzman’s Diary (dir. Jim McBride, 1967)

Reflections in a Cinematographic Mirror: Essay and interview with Jim McBride

DavidHolzman

 

 

Neither/Nor 2014: Iran, 1990-1998, Essay by Godfrey Cheshire

Introduction

Persian Mirrors

Iran and Cinema

 

Close-Up (dir. Abbas Kiarostami, 1991)

Essay

closeup

 

A Moment of Innocence (dir. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, 1996)

Essay

amomentofinnocence

 

The Mirror (dir. Jafar Panahi, 1997)

Essay

the mirror

 

 

The Apple (dir. Samira Makhmalbaf, 1999)

Essay

the apple

 

 

Neither/Nor 2015: Poland, 1970s-1990s, Essays and Interviews by Ela Bittencourt

Introduction

 

Front Collision (dir. Marcel Lozinski, 1975), How to Live (1976), 89mm from Europe (1993), Anything Can Happen (1995), So It Doesn’t Hurt (1998)

So It Doesn’t Hurt: Truth, Ego, and Ethos: Essay and interview with Marcel Lozinski

howtolive

image from How to Live

89mmfromeurope

image from 89mm From Europe

 

Through and Through (dir. Grzegorz Królikiewicz, 1973), The Case of Pekosinski (1994)

The Cinema of the Rejected: Essay and interview with Grzegorz Królikiewicz

throughandthrough

image from Through and Through

thecaseof

image from The Case of Pekosinski

 

Arena of Life (dir. Bogdan Dziworski, 1979), Biathlon (1978),  A Few Stories about a Man (1983), Szapito (1984)

Polish Warholia: Essay and interview with Bogdan Dziworski

arenaoflife

image from Arena of Life

afewstories about

image from A Few Stories About A Man

 

Wanda Goscimska, a Weaver (dir. Wojciech Wiszniewski, 1975), Carpenter (1976)

History Returns as a Farce: Essay and interview with editor Dorota Wardeszkiewicz

wanda

image from Wanda Goscimska, a Weaver

thecarpenter

image from Carpenter

 

Rat Catcher (dir. Andrzej Czarnecki, 1986), Hear My Cry (dir. Maciej Drygas, 1989)

History as Trauma: Essay and interview with Maciej Drygas

theratcatcher

image from Rat Catcher

 

Posted April 28, 2015

Neither/Nor 2015 Examines Innovative Nonfiction From Poland with Critic Ela Bittencourt

This year we’re celebrating Poland’s groundbreaking contributions to nonfiction cinema in the 2015 edition of Neither/Nor, our annual repertory sidebar focusing on “chimeric” work that straddles the line between fiction and nonfiction. This year’s program is a collaboration with film critic Ela Bittencourt, with the support of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. We will be spotlighting a generation of Polish filmmakers born during World War II. Living in the communist Polish People’s Republic, these filmmakers created formally and politically daring work that continues to influence cinema today. All Neither/Nor screenings are free to the public (access during the Fest is through the Q).

 

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image from A Few Stories About a Man (Neither/Nor 2015)

 

Throughout True/False 2015 (March 5-8), we will be screening and discussing films from radical luminaries Marcel Lozinski, Grzegorz Królikiewicz, Bogdan Dziworski and Wojciech Wiszniewski, as well as works from younger directors Maciej Drygas and Andrzej Czarnecki. Confirmed guests include Królikiewicz, Dziworski, cinematographer Jacek Petrycki and editor Dorota Wardeszkiewicz.

 

We’re going to turn things over to T/F programmer Chris Boeckmann to explain how this year’s N/N program emerged from a passionate discussion surrounding an earlier T/F film:

 

On October 21, 2010, True/False’s screening committee huddled around a small television and watched At the Edge of Russia, a film directed by a then-unknown twenty-something Pole named Michal Marczak. Michal’s film observes a group of Russian soldiers stationed in a remote part of Siberia. Their mission is to protect the border from Arctic Ocean threats. Outside of the context of a documentary festival, many viewers would assume Michal’s Waiting for Godot-esque comedy to be a work of fiction. Every composition is perfect, every laugh feels carefully timed, and the film is built on a neatly constructed narrative. In reality, however, Michal considers his film a work of nonfiction cinema, and it screened almost exclusively at documentary events, including True/False.

After our committee first watched the film, we fiercely debated its documentary claims. That debate continues to this day. In November 2012, the formidable Sean Farnel — a Canadian programmer who included the film in the 2011 edition of his own festival — wrote an article for Indiewire in which he retroactively accused Michal of being “dishonest” for labeling his film a documentary.

 

at_the_edge_of_russia_2

image from At the Edge of Russia (T/F 2011)

 

The 2015 edition of Neither/Nor, which focuses on Polish documentary visionaries of the 1970s-1990s, can be traced back to this 2010 argument. As you will soon see, Michal’s film can be viewed as part of a rich Polish tradition. Before releasing At the Edge of Russia, Michal studied under documentary legend Marcel Lozinski at the Andrzej Wajda Master School of Film Directing. Marcel describes the world as a fish tank and suggests that it’s his job as director to shake that fish tank – i.e. provoke truth, often through staging – and document what happens. Marcel’s profound and mischievous work is explored in this series, as are the films of Dorota Wardeszkiewicz, the editor of At the Edge of Russia. At the beginning of her career, Dorota worked alongside the late Wojciech Wiszniewski, considered one of the fathers of Polish creative documentary. In the years since, she has collaborated with some of Poland’s most innovative documentary directors.

These artists — along with other crucial figures, such as Grzegorz Królikiewicz and Bogdan Dziworski — were born at the start of World War II and created many of their most groundbreaking works as citizens of the communist Polish People’s Republic (1944-1989). How and why did this staggeringly creative cinema emerge out of such a seemingly stifling system? Was it created in spite of that system or because of it? We’ve asked the astute and gifted film writer Ela Bittencourt to guide us through this astonishing, daunting and frequently overlooked period of film history. Her tremendous work speaks for itself.

-Chris Boeckmann

 

The Fest will present six Neither/Nor programs throughout T/F 2015. The films include Through and Through (1973) Grzegorz Królikiewicz’s bold and startling debut, which examines a famous 1933 trial using psychodramatic techniques.

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 4.51.01 AM

image from Through and Through (1973)

 

We’ll also be showing How to Live (1977) where Marcel Lozinski documents life at government-sponsored summer camp where couples learn to become the ideal communist family.

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 6.11.00 AM

image from How to Live (1977)

 

In addition, we’ll show the short A Few Stories About a Man (1983) by Through and Through cinematographer Bogdan Dziworski, who directs a mysterious and mesmerizing portrait of a talented, armless man named Jerzy Orlowski.

 

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 5.21.15 AM

image from A Few Stories About a Man (1983)

 

The full lineup will be announced on Wednesday, February 11.

In addition to film screenings, the festival will be publishing a monograph written by this year’s Neither/Nor curator Ela Bittencourt. Along with essays reflecting on the series’ films, the monograph features interviews with Królikiewicz, Lozinski, Dziworski, editor Agnieszka Bojanowska, Wardeszkiewicz and Drygas. Bittencourt is a freelance film and art critic whose writing has appeared in Artforum, Frieze Magazine, Cineaste, Film Quarterly and Reverse Shot, among other publications.

Neither/Nor is presented by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. Now in its third edition, the series seeks to start a conversation about historical examples of chimeric cinema. The 2013 edition, curated by film writer Eric Hynes, looked at New York City chimeras from the 1960s, while the 2014 edition, curated by film critic and filmmaker Godfrey Cheshire, investigated Iranian cinema of the 1990s. You can read the 2013 monograph here and the 2014 monograph here.

Posted February 9, 2015

Adam Curtis is the 2015 True Vision Award Recipient

We’re delighted to announce filmmaker Adam Curtis as the recipient of our 2015 True Vision Award in honor of his dedication to and advancement in the field of nonfiction filmmaking. Curtis has a long-standing relationship with the Fest, starting with his appearance in 2005 with The Power of Nightmares and again in 2010 with It Felt Like a Kiss. He’ll be in-person again this year presenting his new film Bitter Lake as well as some other selections.

Over the course of a 20-plus year career at the BBC, Curtis has refined and perfected a unique cinematic approach to history’s savage ironies. His perennial concern is power, specifically the ability to warp systems of thought intended for understanding the world into tools utilized for controlling it, with unpredictable results. His incisive, frequently audacious films, commonly narrated by Curtis himself, combine original interviews with an unmatched command of archival material. Curtis repurposes existing bits of audio and video from the massive BBC archives into pointed direct citations, whimsical metaphors and abstract cinematic onslaughts. The result is a dreamlike atmosphere where everything we think we know feels suddenly uncertain.

Curtis first gained widespread acclaim for 1992’s Pandora’s Box: A Fable from the Age of Science, a six-part series examining the consequences of the failed technocratic management of society, comparing Soviet communism, cold war systems analysis and industrial agriculture’s introduction of the insecticide DDT.

His second major film was 1995’s The Living Dead: Three Films About the Power of the Past, which studies the exploitation of the history of the Second World War by multiple generations of British politicians.

In 2002 Curtis created the unforgettable Century of the Self, a four-part examination of psychoanalysis and its under-recognized role in the emergence of a public relations industry, which in turn came to dominate 20th century life.

 

image from Century of the Self

image from Century of the Self

 

In The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear (T/F 2005), Curtis traces parallel histories of neo-conservatism and radical Islamism, beginning from the fascinating biographies of the movements’ founders, Leo Strauss and Sayyid Qutb.

 

ThePowerOfNightmares

image from The Power of Nightmares

 

Curtis’ most radical experiment, It Felt Like A Kiss (T/F 2010), was originally conceived as an installation piece in collaboration with theatre company Punchdrunk. This work drops Curtis’ trademark narration for simple, declarative onscreen text and confronts the viewer with images of America’s cultural and political dominion, presented as the fragments of a fading dream set to infectious pop music.

 

image from It Felt Like a Kiss

image from It Felt Like a Kiss

 

2011 saw the release of Curtis’ All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace, a three-part film exploring the political implications of misguided techno-utopianism, Ayn Rand’s dedicated circle of followers and a cynical, biological understanding of human motivation.

 

allwatched

image from All Watched Over By Machines of Loving Grace

 

In 2013 he collaborated with the band Massive Attack on a mixed media project Everything is Going According to Plan. Also well worth visiting is Curtis’ blog “The Medium and the Message” which like his films draws clips from the BBC archives to reexamine the way we view the world.

Curtis’ new film, Bitter Lake, takes its title from a fateful meeting in February 1945 between president Franklin D Roosevelt and King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia on the “bitter lake” of the Suez Canal. Curtis argues a deal struck during their meeting set the course for much of the rest of the 20th century, particularly in the nation of Afghanistan.

 

bitter-lake

Image from Bitter Lake

 

The True Vision Award is the only award given out at the Fest, this year with the support of Restoration Eye Care. Curtis is the twelfth recipient of the True Vision Award.  Each year, the award has been designed and cast in bronze by mid-Missouri sculptor Larry Young. Past winners include Laura Poitras, James Marsh, Victor Kossakovsky and Amir Bar-Lev.

Posted February 3, 2015

Over 120 T/F Films Available to Watch for Free

Get into the T/F state of mind with over 120 films from True/False past available to stream for free on our newly revised and expanded video page. Films now feature descriptions along with links to essays and filmmaker interviews to further inform your viewing. You can use the categories function on the left of the screen to sort by the year the film played the Fest or by shorts or features. These films are gathered from a variety of sites which legally stream docs, including Vimeo, YouTube, Hulu, SnagFilms, Crackle, P.O.V. and The National Film Board of Canada’s online archive. If you are outside the US, access will vary based on the hosting site, but you should still be able to find plenty of interesting docs to explore.

 

videopageraw

 

We’ve also collected videos of classic documentaries, other work from T/F alumnimusical performances captured at the Fest, T/F Panel discussions, Campfire Stories and more. Come take a look around and find something to watch!

Posted January 27, 2015

Digital Versions of the Neither/Nor Monographs Now Available

Neither/Nor is an open-ended project exploring and discovering the history of “chimeric” cinema, our term for films which defy categorization as either nonfiction or fiction. For the past two years we’ve collaborated with a visiting film critic who selects and introduces a series of screenings covering a particular important time and place in cinematic history. This undertaking is made possible by generous support from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

In addition to presenting the films, visiting critics create an original monograph featuring essays or interviews exploring the works they selected. Now, we’ve made both the 2013 and 2014 monographs available to read online in a digital pdf version you can find linked below.

 

neither nor cover 2013-page-001

In the 2013 Monograph, New York City, 1967-1968, critic Eric Hynes approaches the creative and political ferment surrounding William Greaves’ meta-film Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, the Jean-Luc Godard, Richard Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker collaboration 1 P.M., Peter Whitehead’s The Fall and Jim McBride’s prescient David Holzman’s Diary. The monograph features a short essay and interview for each film.

 

neither-nor-cover2014-page-001

In the 2014 Monograph, Iran, 1990-1998, Godfrey Cheshire weaves a consideration of major works into a larger essay exploring Iran’s unique and complex relationship with the cinema. The films studied are Abbas Kiarostami’s Close-Up, Mohsen Makhmalbah’s A Moment of Innocence, Jafar Panahi’s The Mirror and Samira Makhmalbah’s The Apple.

 

Neither/Nor returns as part of the 2015 festival where we’ll explore revolutionary, formally groundbreaking work from a former communist state.

Posted December 22, 2014

Two Captivating Video Essays from Sight & Sound

The British Film Institute’s magazine Sight & Sound recently released it’s list of the Greatest Documentaries of All Time, the result of a new poll of critics, programmers and filmmakers. In connection with the list, they also released two captivating and provocative video essays. You’ll need to click the links below to watch them on their site, something we recommend highly.

The first is “The Art of Nonfiction” by T/F filmmaker Robert Greene. In it, Greene takes us on a whirlwind tour of 100-plus years of nonfiction cinema, presenting clips from masterworks and elucidating the inherent tensions which define the form.

Disorder, Huang Weikai, 2009, T/F 2010

 

gates of heaven

Gates of Heaven, Errol Morris, 1978

 

lessons

Lessons of Darkness, Werner Herzog 1992

 

leviathan

Leviathan, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, 2012, T/F 2013

 

In the second video, “What was documentary? An elegy for Robert Gardner”, critic Kevin B. Lee looks at three anthropological films from career of director Robert Gardner. While tracing his evolving approach, Lee presses tough questions about “documentary” and the access to reality it promises us.

dead birds

Dead Birds, Robert Gardner, 1964

 

Rivers of Sand

Rivers of Sand, Robert Gardner, 1973

 

forest of bliss

Forest of Bliss, Robert Gardner, 1986

Posted September 1, 2014

Thank You Boone Dawdlers!

The 2014 Boone Dawdle has come and gone, and we are happy to report another unforgettable day. Hundreds were undeterred by the threat of storms and joined us for a fun-filled bike ride, a scrumptious meal, a delightful concert and a fascinating film. As always, we’d be utterly lost with out the good will and hard work of an entire community of people. We want to take a moment to look back at the day and thank some of the people that made it happen. Along the way we’ll share some of our favorite images captured by photographers Stephen Bybee and Vivian Abagui.

Things got underway that Saturday morning with a tune up from Sarah Ashman and the rest of the crew at Walt’s Bike Shop, who generously provided support for our 15-mile westward journey down the MKT and Katy trails linking Columbia and Rocheport.

photo by Stephen Bybee

photo by Stephen Bybee

 

It certainly wouldn’t be True/False without music vibrating through the air. As we set off westward, tunes were here and there from Max Rubio, Dubb Nubb, SaP, Meeyoo, Step Daughter, Rae Fitzgerald, Ben Bushman, Nevada Greene, Sunshine Mamas and Ruth Acuff, who accompanied her beautiful, soaring melodies with a harp.

vivian 4

photo by Vivian Abagui

 

Folks looking for a burst of energy or perhaps just a simple treat were in luck, thanks to the delicious trailside snacks provided by Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream, Kaldi’s Coffee and Harold’s Doughnuts. For those that imbibe, there was a local beer pour featuring samples from Schlafly, Flat Branch, Broadway, Logboat and Bur Oak breweries.

10513507_887175227978558_2547354934980894530_n

photo by Vivian Abagui

 

The Dawdle is defined by delightful and instructive digressions. This year we entertained by the folks from by Mid-Missouri Traditional Dancers, Moon Valley Massage, Missouri Contemporary Ballet and the folks from the Greenhouse Theater Project, who gave short improvised performances.

vivian5

photo by Vivian Abagui

 

Dawdlers also found themselves seeking advice from the Interpretation Station manned by John Reid and in the midst of a mini carnival at Hindman Junction featuring jugglers Phil and Melanie Knocke.

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photo by Vivian Abagui

 

In addition, Jeff Barrow and the Missouri River Relief volunteers offered Dawdlers a new treat, a short voyage on a scenic stretch of the Missouri River.

dawdlevivian

photo by Vivian Abagui

 

The final bit of trail before Les Bourgeois is especially taxing, coming at the end of our trek. Thankfully, cheerleaders from Hickman and Battle High Schools were kind enough to provide some inspiration. Meanwhile, the legendary T/F Sherpa team kicked it into gear, hauling more than 143 bikes up the hill and the bike loading volunteers began loading the hundreds of bikes into trucks for their return journey to Columbia.

vivian2

photo by Vivian Abagui

 

We’d arrived at our destination, Les Bourgeois Winery. Here our gracious hosts Curtis, Chelsea and Matt had a delicious meal waiting for us, featuring food from numerous local culinary contributors, more Schlafly beer and Les Bourgeois’ own wine. Then we stretched out and relaxed on the beautiful limestone bluffs overlooking the Missouri River.

stephen2

photo by Stephen Bybee

 

This summer’s delightful sunset concert was performed by the duo Drakkar Sauna, who combine classic country themes with inventive word play to create a unique style all their own.

vivian 3

photo by Vivian Abagui

 

Throughout the day, Doug, Steve, Justin and the rest of T/F tech crew once more rose to the challenge and worked around inopportune weather. They waited until just before showtime to setup the screen for this year’s film, An Honest Liar, explores the career and life of James “the Amazing” Randi, a world-class magician who became an important debunker of purported psychics and healers. Afterwards, co-director Justin Weinstein was kind enough to join us for a discussion of this provocative film.

photo by Vivian Abigui

photo by Vivian Abigui

 

Then, alas, the 2014 Boone Dawdle was at an end. Thanks again to everyone who made the journey with us, and a special thanks to the T/F Volunteers and Core Staff who worked a 15-hour day to make it possible. Let’s all hang our again in just six short months, March 5-8, at T/F 2015! And in less than a year it will be time to Dawdle again, on August 15, 2015.

 

 

Posted August 27, 2014

Sight & Sound’s Greatest Documentaries Survey: the Individual Ballots

Since 1952, the British film magazine Sight & Sound has published a much-discussed once-a-decade survey of the greatest films of all time.  This summer they limited the scope of their inquiry for the first time, asking critics, programmers and filmmakers to choose masterworks solely from the world of nonfiction. The results were announced a couple weeks ago in two Top 50 lists of The Greatest Documentaries of All Time, one for critics and one for filmmakers. Both lists crowned Dziga Vertov’s dazzling impression of city life in the early Soviet Union, Man with a Movie Camera, as the greatest documentary ever made.

This new canon, whatever its shortcomings, provides an excellent starting point for an education in nonfiction cinema. But focusing exclusively on the “Greatest Docs” lists misses most of the fun of this sort of exercise. The individual ballots, unranked lists of ten films submitted by each participate, allow you to consider which works resonate most profoundly with each individual, trace important influence and reference points for filmmakers and perhaps discover an overlooked masterpiece from another part of the globe.

Just a few days ago Sight & Sound shared all of the individual ballots on a nifty new interactive page, which offers multiple pathways to explore the poll and its films.

True/False programmers David Wilson and Chris Boeckmann were among those honored with invitations to participate. We reproduced Chris and David’s picks below, along with images from the works of nonfiction they consider the “greatest”. They only selected one film in common, the tragically under seen Disorder. Huang Weikai’s nightmarish epic of urban life in modern China screened at True/False in 2010.

Beneath Chris and David’s lists, we shared selections from many of the filmmakers surveyed whose work has screened at our festival. The ballots include comments offered by the participant, either about their lists as a whole or each individual film or both.

 

Chris Boeckmann, T/F Programmer

Film culture marginalises nonfiction cinema. I suspect one reason is that we feel more comfortable analysing and evaluating screenplays, sets and performances (work we attribute to conscientious artists) than unscripted developments, natural settings and fellow human beings. In the past year, I’ve noticed some signs, including this poll, that nonfiction cinema’s cachet is on the rise. I’m not sure why, but I hope I’m correct.

I spend most of my viewing time watching ‘documentary’ (I suppose I should note that several of the directors on my list don’t use this term, e.g. Allan King’s ‘actuality dramas’, Sergei Dvortsevoy’s ‘life cinema’). That’s not because of its educational value (I also read newspapers), but because I find it thrilling to watch gifted cinematographers and editors embrace spontaneity and wrestle with nature. I mean ‘nature’ in a very broad sense: plants, animals, buildings, weather, disease, time, other humans, ourselves.

Apologies to the many major filmmakers I’ve knowingly and unknowingly left off this rough list. If I revisited this prompt in the morning, the only film I’m certain would remain is Seventeen.

 

Seventeen (1984) Joel DeMott, Jeff Kreines

Seventeen

 

Belovy (1994, T/F 2012) Viktor Kossakovsky

Belovy

 

Gimme Shelter (1970) David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin

gimme-shelter

 

Farrebique (1946) Georges Rouquier

farrebique-ou-les-quatre-saisons_279736_37664

 

A Moment of Innocence (1995, T/F 2014) Mohsen Makhmalbaf

a moment

 

The Quince Tree Sun (1992) Víctor Erice

quince

 

A Married Couple (1969) Allan King

a married couple

 

 

Disorder (2009, T/F 2010) Huang Weikai

Disorder_1

 

Diary 1973-83 (1988) David Perlov

diary

 

Khlebny Dyen (1998) Sergey Dvortsevoy

fe08a08acbdd9d9fe07ad8b713db0dfe

 

David Wilson, T/F Programmer and Co-Conspirator

My list is in no particular order. Nor does it include many wonderful films. But I think it connects the dots of my personal film history, dwelling more on films that were made during my lifetime but acknowledging the great works that inspired those who inspired me. And if there are holes, well, it would be a shame to think that my education in nonfiction filmmaking was in any way complete.

I will almost always favour a film that moves me over one that doesn’t, but I strive to still appreciate and embrace the intellectual rigour of some of these films. Likewise, I remain a complete sucker for a beautiful image and a well-told story. I want a film that will scoop me up in its arms and carry me out along its path. The great ones never drop you.

 

Man with a Movie Camera (1929) Dziga Vertov

manwith2

My appreciation may be more intellectual than visceral, but here is the taproot of everything that was to come.

 

Disorder (2009, T/F 2010) Huang Weikai

Disorder_21

 

An explosive mindfuck of a film. Modern China reflected in a puddle of oil and viscera.

 

Man on Wire (2007, T/F 2008) James Marsh

man-on-wire

Of all these titles, this is one I will watch over and over again – smiling and crying each time.

 

Leviathan (2012, T/F 2013) Lucien Taylor, Véréna Paravel

leviathan

Nothing less than a revolution in nonfiction cinema. Also the most ‘metal’ film on this list.

 

The Gleaners and I (2000) Agnès Varda

gleaners4

 

Vernon, Florida (1981) Errol Morris

vernon

Others will no doubt pick The Thin Blue Line. But there’s a good argument to be made that, formally, this film has influenced more young directors in the last 30 years than any of his other films.

 

Gaea Girls (2002, T/F 2009) Kim Longinotto, Jano Williams

gaeagirls

Somewhere between Barthes and Von Trier lies this doc about women’s professional wrestling, made by the most empathetic doc director alive.

 

Harlan County U.S.A. (1976) Barbara Kopple

Harlan_County_USA1976c01

Not as funny as Roger & Me, but far more immediate in its class-based anger. And with better songs.

 

Grey Gardens (1975) David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer

grey-gardens-7

Staked the claim for ‘non-political’ docs and their importance in the world.

 

Night Mail (1936, T/F 2007) Harry Watt, Basil Charles Wright

nightmail

The creative treatment of actuality.

 

Ballots from some of the T/F Filmmakers Surveyed:

 

Clio Barnard, director of The Arbor (T/F 2012)

These are all films that have a significant meaning for me – films that were pivotal personally in wrestling with what documentary film is and what it can do. They are listed in no particular order…

Chronicle of a Summer (1961) Jean Rouch, Edgar Morin

Paris Is Burning (1990) Jennie Livingston

Dreams of a Life (2011) Carol Morley

Grey Gardens (1975) David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Ellen Hovde, Muffie Meyer

Housing Problems (1935) Arthur Elton, Edgar Anstey

Louyre This Our Still Life (2011) Andrew Kötting

The Thin Blue Line (1989) Errol Morris

Tina Goes Shopping (1999) Penny Woolcock

The Battle of Orgreave (2002) Mike Figgis

The Last Bolshevik (1993) Chris Marker

 

Daniel Dencik, director of Expedition to the End of the World (T/F 2013)

What strikes me when putting together a list like this is not so much how dependent a film is upon a great director, but how crucial the main character is. For me the secret of a well-crafted documentary lies very much in the use and perspective of the first-person singular. When a documentary film really succeeds it is when the spectator is led into the captivating mind of a truly intriguing persona: as a spectator you get an idea of what it means to be that person, unfiltered and with a chilling honesty. Documentary are so great because they make you understand how another person’s mind works, what are that person’s dreams, struggles, demons, fears, idiosyncrasies. No other art form can step into the mind of another person in quite that way. So instead of comparing documentary filmmaking to fiction, one should perhaps rather compare the discipline to that of brain surgery or heart transplantation.

Grizzly Man (2005) Werner Herzog

The strange and unforgettable presence of Timothy Treadwell makes this film a terrifying fable about the longing of man to find his place in nature, and the impossibility that lies in the nature of this ambition.

Into the Abyss A Tale of Death, a Tale of Life (2011) Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog transforms the cruel reality of two death-row inmates into a staggering lesson in compassion and empathy.

Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) Werner Herzog

Dieter Dengler is one of those characters that has gone from total obscurity into the mythology of modern filmmaking, all because of Werner Herzog’s film.

Armadillo (2010, T/F 2011) Janus Metz

Armadillo is a gripping tale of the boyish will to live life to the fullest – in this case the inexplicable drive to sacrifice your life in a far-away war – cleverly told in a powerful and rough cinematic language by Janus Metz.

A Springday in Hell (1977) Jørgen Leth

This gritty film about the Paris-Roubaix race captured the inner feeling of the greatest of all sports, bicycle racing. Blood, mud, tears, sweat and glory all come together in this masterpiece of heartbreaking beauty.

When We Were Kings (1996) Leon J. Gast

With tremendously sexy footage from the 1974 heavyweight fight between Ali and Foreman, this sports doc is the one film to show the aliens when they arrive and ask what we humans are all about.

Metallica Some Kind of Monster (2004, T/F 2004) Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky

An honest and at times painfully embarrassing look into the everyday life and struggles of arguably one of the greatest bands on Earth.

Senna (2010) Asif Kapadia

Whether you’re a petrolhead or not you become totally captivated by the Jesus-like presence of Ayrton Senna, and the film draws a precise portrait of the mind of a true legend.

Harry Dean Stanton: Partly Fiction (2012) Sophie Huber

Dark and pessimistic, Harry Dean Stanton enters into your consciousness through this tender film and makes you fall helplessly in love with him.

Searching for Sugar Man (2012, T/F 2012) Malik Bendjelloul

A remarkable film about how one of the greatest talents of folk songwriting, Sixto Rodriguez, could disappear into obscurity before he even broke through – and then be rediscovered through the very making of this charming film.

 

Robert Greene, director of Kati with an I (T/F 2010), Fake it So Real (T/F 2011) and Actress (T/F 2014)

Edvard Munch (1976) Peter Watkins

Peter Watkins’ expressive biopic about the great Norwegian artist features real interviews, an elusive, mesmerizing structure and has the soul of great nonfiction.

The Store (1983) Frederick Wiseman

Frederick Wiseman is one of our greatest artists and his entire filmography is a singular, essential dissection of the very structure and concept of the American institution. The Store just happens to be his funniest, most revelatory film, and my favourite for the moment.

Tokyo Olympiad (1965) Kon Ichikawa

A completely perfect film, which observes the truths and illusions of the sporting human frame.

The Century of Self (2003) Adam Curtis

An essay film about identity and the creation of commodified individualism that’s as expressive and mysterious as it is illuminating.

News from Home (1976) Chantal Akerman

Less a documentary than a structuralist performance piece, masterful as an earthy, austere symphony of New York City, quietly devastating as a mediation on loneliness and alienation.

Belovy (1994, T/F 2012) Viktor Kossakovsky

Kossakovsky’s observational camera finds truth, mystery, sadness, desperation and uproarious life in rural Russia.

As I Was Moving Ahead, Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000) Jonas Mekas

Impossibly personal while profoundly universal, the great Jonas Mekas gives a glorious, emotional, living cinema romp through his own life and our collective consciousness.

The Battle of Chile (1975) Patricio Guzmán

A devastating, present-tense political portrait of a society on the brink, still relevant as an invaluable historical document as it is an immersive, eternal cinematic experience.

A Married Couple (1969) Allan King

Essential direct cinema genius Allan King creates an intimate, hilarious, troubling portrait of a failing marriage that simultaneously heralded the new documentary intimacy, foregrounded the role of performance in nonfiction and laid down the template for reality TV.

Salesman (1968) Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin

The film that started it all for nonfiction storytelling and started it all for my personal understanding of the power of reality cinema. The camera is always in the right place.

 

Viktor Kossakovsky, recipient of the True Vision Award at T/F 2012, director of Belovy, Vivan Las Antipodas! (T/F 2012) and Demonstration (T/F 2014)

The film that started it all for nonfiction storytelling and started it all for my personal understanding of the power of reality cinema. The camera is always in the right place.

This is a list I made for screening at IDFA (International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam) in 2012, here in order of importance to me.

They’re films that challenged me both when I first saw them and again when I revisited them. Instead of trying to tell you something, they try to show you something.

If you were to add up all the new elements these films have added to the language of cinema, you would have the perfect documentary alphabet.

Ten Minutes Older (1978) Herz Frank

Man of Aran (1934) Robert Flaherty

Man with a Movie Camera (1929) Dziga Vertov

Spiritual Voices (1996) Aleksandr Sokurov

Workingman’s Death (2005) Michael Glawogger

Seasons (1975) Artavasd Peleschjan

Position among the Stars (2010) Leonard Retel Helmrich

Look at his Face (1966) Pavel Kogan

Our Mother is a Hero (1979) Nikolai Obukhovich

A Tram Runs through the City (1973) Ludmila Stanukinas

 

Kevin MacDonald, director of Touching the Void (T/F 2004) and Life in a Day (T/F 2011)

Gimme Shelter (1970) David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin

I love the fact that the editor, Charlotte Zwerin, gets a directing credit on this. So often in documentaries the editor is at least as important to the finished film as the director. I think this is the best film ever made about performance – but it also manages to say so much about the hippy dream turning sour and the power of the image.

Nespatrene (1997) Miroslav Janek

The Unseen is generally unseen but is a film that had an enormous impact on me when I saw it at the inaugural It’s All True doc festival in Brazil. It tells the story of blind children who become obsessed with taking photographs.

Now (1965) Santiago Álvarez

The most potent campaigning film ever made. Only five minutes long it is raw, technically innovative and angry. The Lena Horne song that it is based around is forever stuck in my head.

Listen to Britain (1942) Humphrey Jennings, Stewart McAllister

Humphrey Jennings was a genius at yanking together unexpected images – the John Donne of cinema. This film is pure poetry and makes patriotism seem not just acceptable but admirable.

The Thin Blue Line (1989) Errol Morris

I love its intelligence, its coolness and its humour. It influenced every film I have ever made.

When We Were Kings (1996) Leon J. Gast

The most exciting and uplifting non-fiction experience I have had in a cinema

Darwin’s Nightmare (2004) Hubert Sauper

An imaginative, fiendishly gothic tale about the the survival of the fittest and the Nile Perch.

Roger & Me (1989) Michael Moore

Michael Moore brought entertainment back into documentary films – and made it the strange bedfellow of anger.

Hotel Terminus (Klaus Barbie, His Life and Times) (1988) Marcel Ophüls

Ophüls is a genius and I could just have easily chosen Sorrow and The Pity for this list.

Waltz with Bashir (2008, T/F 2009) Ari Fulman

Because it did something new.

 

James Marsh, recipient of the True Vision Award at T/F 2011, director of Man on Wire (T/F 2008), Wisconsin Death Trip, The Burger and the King and Project Nim (T/F 2011).

Each of these films seems to me to enlarge on the possibilities of the medium and each of the filmmakers (with the exception of Ari Folman) has a whole body of work that I revere and admire. The other characteristic they all share is a commitment to the poetry and power of the visual image, both discovered and created. They are all truly cinematic films in every respect.

If there is one filmmaker on this list who stands above the others as a documentarian, for me, it would be Frederick Wiseman. As soon as a Wiseman film starts you know you are with the perfect guide – his editing rhythms are poised and hypnotic, and his attention to detail and to the primacy of the potent, revelatory image is constant and surprising. Above all, it his generosity and respect towards his characters that distinguishes his work. Interestingly, for a filmmaker who has no use for the adornments of score or created imagery, he describes his works as ‘reality fictions’. I can’t think of a better description of the documentary medium or indeed a better alibi for us all.

Man with a Movie Camera (1929) Dziga Vertov

Le Sang des bêtes (1948) Georges Franju

The War Game (1985) Peter Watkins, Peter Watkins

Salesman (1968) Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin

Hospital (1970) Frederick Wiseman

Fata Morgana (1971) Werner Herzog

The Battle of Chile (1975) Patricio Guzmán

The Thin Blue Line (1989) Errol Morris

My Winnipeg (2007) Guy Maddin

Waltz with Bashir (2008, T/F 2009) Ari Fulman

 

Michal Marczak, director of At the Edge of Russia (T/F 2011)

The Five Obstructions (2003) Jørgen Leth, Lars von Trier, Jørgen Leth

Close-up (1989, T/F 2014) Abbas Kiarostami

Moi, un Noir (1959) Jean Rouch

Sympathy for the Devil (1968) Jean-Luc Godard

Jak Zyc (1977) Marcel Lozinski

Little Dieter Needs to Fly (1997) Werner Herzog

Khlebny Dyen (1998) Sergey Dvortsevoy

Gimme Shelter (1970) David Maysles, Albert Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin

Ya tebya lyublyu (2011) Pavel Kostomarov, Alexander Rastorguev

Faits Divers (1983) Raymond Depardon

 

Jesse Moss, director of Speedo (T/F 2004) and The Overnighters (T/F 2014)

Salesman (1968) Albert Maysles, David Maysles, Charlotte Zwerin

Harlan County U.S.A. (1976) Barbara Kopple

The Thin Blue Line (1989) Errol Morris

Bowling for Columbine (2002) Michael Moore

Woodstock 3 Days of Peace & Music (1970) Michael Wadleigh

Dont Look Back (1967) D.A. Pennebaker

Crumb (1994) Terry Zwigoff

Man with a Movie Camera (1929) Dziga Vertov

The Cause (1990) Ken Burns

Burden of Dreams (1982) Les Blank

 

Joshua Oppenheimer, director of The Act of Killing (T/F 2013)

My list of 10 arbitrarily excludes these films:

Jean Rouch’s Jaguar (1967)

Patricio Guzmán’s The Battle of Chile (1975)

Jon Bang Carlsen’s Hotel of the Stars (1981)

Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County, USA (1976)

Imamura Shohei’s History of Postwar Japan Told by a Bar Hostess (1970) and A Man Vanishes (1967)

Marcel Ophüls’s The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)

Rithy Panh’s S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2003)

The Maysles brothers’ Grey Gardens (1975)

Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Mysterious Object at Noon (2000)

Hara Kazuo’s The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On (1987)

Ira Wohl’s Best Boy (1979)

Ulrich Seidl’s Losses to Be Expected (1992)

Harmony Korine’s Gummo (1997)

Sergei Dvortsevoy’s Bread Day (1998)

Dusan Makavejev’s Innocence Unprotected (1968)

Whenever we film anybody, they stage themselves, acting out fantasies – half-remembered, second-hand, third-rate – that they wished they fulfilled. The films I’ve chosen teach us that the ‘state of nature’ for nonfiction film is to reveal, prism-like, how fiction always constitutes our ‘facts’. These filmmakers deploy their camera not to record, but to provoke, and in the process have the courage to immerse themselves in the manic, delirious and tragic play of fantasies that make us what we are – inevitably and assuredly staggering out of the darkness into blinding truths.

Titicut Follies (1967) Frederick Wiseman

Close-up (1989) Abbas Kiarostami

Shoah (1985) Claude Lanzmann

Even Dwarfs Started Small (1970) Werner Herzog

W.R. – Mysteries of the Organism (1971) Dusan Makavejev

Animal Love (1996) Ulrich Seidl

Gates of Heaven (1978) Errol Morris

The Apple (1997) Samira Makhmalbaf

The Hour of the Furnaces (1968) Fernando Solanas

The Perfumed Nightmare (1976) Kidlat Tahimik

 

Jessica Oreck, director of The Vanquishing of the Witch Baba Yaga (T/F 2014)

Tokyo Olympiad (1965) Kon Ichikawa

Tokyo-Ga (1985) Wim Wenders

Vive le Tour (1962) Jacques Ertaud, Louis Malle

The House Is Black (1962) Forough Farokhzad

Images of the World and the Inscription of War (1988) Harun Farocki

Love Life of the Octopus (1965) Jean Painlevé, Geneviève Hamon

The Voice of the Water (1966) Bert Haanstra

Herman Slobbe – Blind Kind II (1966) Johan van der Keuken

Microcosmos (1996) Claude Nuridsany, Marie Pérennou

Burden of Dreams (1982) Les Blank

 

Anders Ostergaard, director of Burma VJ (T/F 2008)

The Fog of War Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003, T/F 2004) Errol Morris

Night Mail (1936) Harry Watt, Basil Charles Wright

Être et Avoir (2002) Nicolas Philibert

Startup.Com (2001) Jehane Noujaim, Chris Hegedus

Last Train Home (2009, T/F 2010) Lixin Fan

Waltz with Bashir (2008, T/F 2009) Ari Fulman

Man on Wire (2007, T/F 2008) James Marsh

Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance (1983) Godfrey Reggio

Bowling for Columbine (2002) Michael Moore

Olympia (1938) Leni Riefenstahl

Posted August 18, 2014

Sight & Sound Announces Its Greatest Documentaries of All Time

The British film magazine Sight & Sound has announced its first-ever list of the greatest documentaries of all time. The top 50 films includes T/F selections The Fog of War (T/F 2004), Man on Wire (T/F 2008), Waltz with Bashir (T/F 2009), The Act of Killing and Leviathan (T/F 2013).  Also included are the Iranian films The House is Black and Close-Up which played T/F as part of our 2014 Neither/Nor series.

This list is generated by a survey of film critics, programmers and academics. A separate list ranks the choices of documentary filmmakers. We’ll have much more to say about this survey when we can dig through all of the individual ballots, to be published on August 14.

the-fog-of-war-20031

The Fog of War, Errol Morris, T/F 2004

Man On Wire, James Marsh, T/F 2008

Man On Wire, James Marsh, T/F 2008

Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman, T/F 2009

Waltz with Bashir, Ari Folman, T/F 2009

Leviathan, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, T/F 2013

Leviathan, Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel, T/F 2013

The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer, T/F 2013

The Act of Killing, Joshua Oppenheimer, T/F 2013

The House is Black, Forough Farrokhzad, 1963, Neither/Nor 2014

The House is Black, Forough Farrokhzad, 1963, Neither/Nor 2014

Close-Up, Abbas Kiarostami, 1990, Neither/Nor 2014

 

Posted August 1, 2014

Up to Speed: A Chat with Director/ Cinematographer Nick Bentgen of ‘Northern Light’

This week, Northern Light (T/F 2013) receives its theatrical premiere at the Maysles Cinema in New York City. It screens at 7:30PM nightly through June 22. Filmmakers Nick Bentgen and Lisa Kjerulff will be in person at Thursday and Friday’s screenings. For tickets, visit this page ( http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/669737).
-Chris Boeckmann

From a snowmobile driver’s perspective, a race consists of careful maneuvers and breakneck turns. For the detached viewer, it amounts to, literally and figuratively, going in circles. Five hundred of them, in the case of the Sault Ste. Marie I-500, the race at the center of Nick Bentgen’s Northern Light.

In his directorial debut, Bentgen observes the households of Walt and Isaac, strong-willed, hardworking racers who reside in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Walt is a dedicated father and seasoned rider whose racing career seems to be at a standstill. Isaac is a young and ambitious rising star, married without children. As resolute in its vision as its characters are to their sport, Northern Light is an immaculately photographed and intricately structured study of their world.

One of its fundamental interests is competition, which looms heavy over the community. Sport, which the film observes not only in snowmobiles but also in bodybuilding and auto racing, is an alluring, inescapable presence that’s frequently at odds with an even bigger competition, capitalism. Bentgen’s camera registers the physical and emotional tolls of both.

But as much as it is an essay about the American struggle to balance checkbooks and athletics, Northern Light is also an incisive character study, wedding empathy and scrutiny to bewildering effect. This is a film where characters perform tender acts of altruism one moment and engage in casually bigoted dinner table conversation the next. Bentgen trusts us to navigate — revel in, really — all this messiness.

Too often nonfiction films take characterization and plot tips from the tidy world of fiction. A meticulously constructed film of ellipses and characters who inspire wildly conflicted emotions, Northern Light seems to find its storytelling inspiration from some completely new world: the real one.

A year ago, I interviewed director/cinematographer Nick Bentgen via Skype a week before his film celebrated its New York premiere at BAMCinemafest.

T/F: I’m wondering if Northern Light is very different from the film you set out to make.

NB: I was staying in this cabin that my dad and his siblings all shared — it’s actually my grandpa’s cabin, he passed away a long time ago — and I knew I wanted to tell a story set in this place I spent a lot of time in as a kid. I had only a few DVDs with me. Nashville was one and also Two-Lane Blacktop. When I first found the I-500, I remember thinking, “Oh, this is just likeNashville and Two-Lane Blacktop!” Of course it’s not. It’s nothing like that, but still, I kept coming back to those masterpieces while I was making this movie. Gradually it became its own thing.

T/F: The reason I ask is — perhaps this is something that’s entirely accomplished in the editing, but it feels like there are so many moments where you have a clear idea of the film you’re making, of its themes. For example, during the race scene when you manage to capture Emily and James, two characters who don’t really seem to know each other, in the same frame as one tells a crewmember that God’s going to bring their team to victory and the other complains to his buddy about body aches.

NB: Well, yes. By the second or third week, I realized the film was about this community, that this place was the story, regardless of who we eventually ended up focusing on. So like Nashville or any movie that’s a large community portrait, I felt it was fair game to let anyone pass in and out of the story. So sometimes people you haven’t met will just appear, you’ll get a little bit of their story and then they’re not in the movie anymore.

During the race, we were very lucky that multiple people we had been filming with were in the same place. It was irresistible to put them in the same frame. Also, we only had one camera, so microphone placement was very important. We had to decide who the story was about on that shooting day. That shot where James and Emily are in the same frame is this beautiful moment. They’re on completely different wavelengths and yet they’re in the same community.

T/F: So on that day you chose to put the mic on Emily.

NB: Right. With a verite doc, I feel like how you make it is so tied up with why you’re making it because you have such limited means. We knew it was a big day for Isaac, and with Walt’s team, they didn’t have a radio system we could use. There were logistical reasons why we chose to put the mic on Emily, but it was the best choice. She became so excited, and the story totally funneled through her in this great way.

T/F: Going into the I-500, it doesn’t feel like Walt has much chance of winning the race.

NB: Walt has a philosophy of life that I really appreciate and respect. That’s why I spent so much time filming with him. The bigger things he focuses on — spending time with his family and working hard — make him a really captivating subject. And flawed, like all of us. Early on, I asked him, “Do you think you’re going to win?” And of course he wants to win. And he’s done well in races, but I don’t think that’s why he does it. He doesn’t do it to win. Isaac has a much different philosophy. He’s out there to win. I think that contrast is why they’re interesting as subjects.

T/F: If Walt doesn’t race to win, what’s the draw?

NB: Speed. There’s this scene we cut where he says “Once racing is in your blood, it never goes away.” He grew up doing it. Lots of the guys who are into snowmobiling got into it at a very young age.

T/F: Structurally, I find it interesting that you frontload a lot of really challenging moments, particularly instances of sexism and homophobia.

NB: Our one strategy in editing — or dilemma, I guess — was being true to the environment Lisa and I were in when we filmed. Maybe it was just by happenstance, or maybe it was conscious, but the final movie is structured a lot like our experience there. At first, we didn’t know these people, and with any stranger, you take a lot on assumption. In any community, there’s xenophobia or some other issue that prevents you from identifying. As you’re watching the film, I want you to go through that process of estrangement and then become closer with these people and feel like a part of the community.

T/F: One of the reasons your film stands out from a lot of other observational documentaries is the photography. You consistently use a tripod. I’m wondering if your camerawork changed very much over the course of production.

NB: It’s funny, I really feel like the first month or two is the best photographed stuff. That’s partly because the camera was a barrier, this wall I put up. Emily, Walt, Isaac — I connected with all of them at different times during the shoot. If you watched the 300 hours of dailies, it becomes clear that I start caring less and less about what the image looks like as I become more interested in what’s going on. But we did have a rigorous rule set. The first rule was to use a tripod whenever possible, and the second was to not screw with the camera if at all possible. There are a lot of times where the camera feels like a fly on the wall, and that’s because it is: it was just left there.

northernlight_promo1

T/F: Was documentary new to you?

NB: The film’s editor Yoonha [David Park] and I have grown up together in the film industry. We went to school together, and we worked for a music website called Pitchfork where we had 15 minutes, maybe an hour, with our subjects. That was a good early experience.

Most of the jobs I could get as a filmmaker were often doc-style. I wasn’t usually given a lot of toys or money, so you tend to fall into this documentary style regardless of what you’re filming. After a while of shooting documentary, I realized it was the best way to tell stories because you can’t control everything. And then you have to make decisions very fast. It’s also the best way to learn to be a DP.

T/F: I’m wondering if you can talk about photographing the I-500. Your technique feels pretty unconventional. You don’t get a whole lot of coverage of the race itself. You don’t mount cameras on the snowmobiles or stick cameras all around the track.

NB: It’s funny, I feel like the race scenes are more conventional than I ever expected them to be. There are also more of them than I figured. There are three in the movie. Initially, I set out with this really crazy artistic tactic. I said I was going to film the race in case I needed it, but my plan was to film from the checkered flag of one year to the green flag of the next year, never showing a race. But I figured out that it was completely not true to the experience of people in this community. I really needed the viewer to care a little bit about those races because all the people I’m filming care a lot. If you don’t care at all, you don’t understand where all these people are coming from. So it became a big part of the film’s narrative.

At some point, I saw Senna and said, “Well, I’ll never be that good. I’ll never make anything that thrilling.” There are also logistical reasons why it’s shot the way it’s shot. We had one camera, so there was no way to keep track of all the racers . You’d need eight cameras on the track. It would have become a big production. Instead, I decided to embrace the tools we had. When I later saw the footage, I thought it felt like a removed version of a race, which matched the aesthetic of the rest of the movie. The camera is never telling you how to feel, and you have to find other ways in.

northernlight

T/F: I sort of want to ask you about the way you use nature throughout the film, but it seems like a silly thing for you to discuss.

NB: I haven’t done that many interviews. After you’re done with a film, it’s easy to put everything in a this-is-the-reason-why box. But my favorite filmmakers, Altman especially, say there’s not really an explanation for everything. The whole time we were making the film, we wanted to get across the experience we had. It was more a tone we were going after. And nature is just an all-encompassing thing that dictates life. I feel like explanations are easy enough to do, but it limits what the movie is or what a story can be. I don’t really have explanations for everything.

T/F: That seems like a good place to stop. (laughs)

Posted June 19, 2014
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