Directors

2018 TRUE VISION AWARD HONOREE: DIEUDO HAMADI

 

We’re delighted to announce filmmaker Dieudo Hamadi as the recipient of our 2018 True Vision Award in honor of his advancement of nonfiction filmmaking.

True Vision is the only award given out at the fest. Hamadi is the 15th recipient of this honor. Last year, the award was given to French director Claire Simon. Other winners of the True Vision Award include Laura Poitras (2010), Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Verena Paravel (2013), and Adam Curtis (2015).

 

 

In his young yet brilliantly fruitful career, Hamadi has intimately documented the social realities of his home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo. In his work, he vividly explores the ways humans respond to systems that are rigged against them, particularly when they decide to face them together. His camera is perpetually attentive to group dynamics and to the extraordinary energy of communal spaces.

True/False will spotlight Hamadi’s newest film, Kinshasa Makambo, premiering this month at the Berlinale, as well as National Diploma (2014) in which determined students band together to pass a high-stakes graduate exam. Kinshasa Makambo is a tense, perceptive documentary that unfolds in the DRC, where courageous young revolutionaries rally to rescue their country from the autocratic grip of President Kabila.

 

Kinshasa Makambo

 

Originally a student of medicine, Hamadi made his film debut in 2010 with “Ladies in Waiting,” (co-directed with Divita Wa Lusala). An unsettling portrait of a maternity ward, “Ladies in Waiting” opened the celebrated anthology film Congo In Four Acts. Hamadi then directed several features, including 2013’s Atalaku and 2016’s Mama Colonel, which screened at the Berlinale Forum, where it won the Independent Jury Prize, and Cinéma du Réel, where it won the Grand Prix.

Because of political turmoil in the DRC, the festival will conduct skype Q&As with Hamadi, while Kinshasa Makambo’s producer Quentin Laurent will attend.

 

The award is presented with support from Restoration Eyecare. The award is designed and cast in bronze by local Mid-Missouri artist Larry Young.
  

Posted February 6, 2018

Post Rough Cut Conversation, AMAL

Here’s a quick conversation with Mohammed Siam, director of Amal. The film follows a teenage girl during and directly after the 2011 Egyptian Revolution. In this coming of age narrative, Amal struggles with loss, identity, and relationships amongst the political upheaval in Cairo.

 

 

TF: How did you get involved in this project?

MS: I was looking for a hooligan member – male teenager to cast for a film about anger until I met Amal by coincidence and the film turned to be about her solely. I wanted to investigate the future face of Egypt represented in this young generation who witnessed [the revolution] at the age of 15-20 where this experience might shape who you are

 

TF: How long did you spend shooting?

MS: Six years. It took me two years to understand that it’ll be a coming of age story therefore the best way to do it is to witness this slow change over time and in fractions not by continuos shooting. The post-production took one exact year from rough editing to sound and color.

 

TF: Amal presents herself as a very strong character, so boisterous and full of anger. In a way, she acts as an embodiment of the revolution itself. How quickly did that mirroring present itself and how do you use that in the film?

MS: I see Amal as an embodiment of Egypt not for the revolution but could be also for her generation. That comparison started to be clear after certain changes and couple of years of upheaval to see the assimilation.

 

TF: Gender plays a huge part in the film. Amal insists that she be treated as a boy, but there is also this tension that she is very much a girl who craves a heternormative relationship. Her narration talks about a past relationship with a boy who is killed during a riot, which kind of acts as a catalyst for her action in the revolution. How careful were you about what to include when thinking about her gender expression and portrayal?

MS: This part I was not very cautious how to put it, and I wasn’t at all trying to be politically correct or even narratively accurate. I just let things play out as she grew up and changed. To see Amal as an infant, and at end the film with her having an infant, is a full circle that teaches you a lot about life and makes you question the reason and meaning of many incidents that happen and you never care for and make you take much graver things easily because you saw things over time and you had the mature reaction to these minuscule and major events of one’s life up close like that.

 

Siam talks with Chris Hegedus during one-on-one feedback sessions.

Siam talks with mentor Chris Hegedus during one-on-one feedback sessions.

 

TF: You use found footage of Amal’s home movies from when she was young. Can you talk a little about why you chose to include those in the film?

MS: Having the advantage of following a teenager who’s been born in the digital era – as we’re all now having a digital record of each of us – enriched the six years journey to give a three-dimensional portrayal of the same person for full twenty years which is the sum of her life.

 

TF: Your sense of place is really important as well. As much as this film is about Amal, it also follows the Egyptian revolution closely, showing the five-year aftermath of a political upheaval. How did you weave the place into the narrative?

MS: This layer is very subtle in the film as I see it. It’s developing and announcing itself every now and then but it’s not shouting to take the front or have the focus at any point. It was clear that the film is only about her and if she has moved within certain atmosphere it’d have been the container that envelops her story.

 

TF: The other tension in the film is between Amal and her mother (and her father, to a smaller degree). There are quite a few scenes where they have big disagreements, mainly about politics. Beyond insight into her family dynamic, why did you include these scenes?

Part of it to show how different she is from her family and also from that generation which is a chronic problem in each house whose family is divided on the Arab spring between the youngsters who fought in the square and the their parents who would rather safety over any risk for liberty, rights or change they might get in return.

 

TF: Can you talk a little bit about your music selection? You feature some contemporary songs with lyrics that talk about the revolution, and the diegetic music also plays a large role in the film.

MS: There are some music references in the film as Avro Part whom we’d never afford so we’d change these pieces obviously. The choices of music and pop songs in the film are related to the adolescent sense of taste and atmosphere. Part of the music choices are actually Amal’s choices as these are literally the songs she hums by herself while walking in the street.

 

TF: Was Amal a large part of the creative decisions in the film?
MS: Part of it, no. But she was a major influence on how I shifted my thinking 17 different times to figure out who she is, then who she is becoming and where she’s going to. She never seizes to surprise me still. In that sense, she was part of it.

 

TF: What stage of post-production were you in when you came to Rough Cut? Had other people seen the film and were you pretty far along in the feedback process?

MS: I’m in the late middle of it. Few others have seen the cut and gave feedback, very different though from the feedback I’ve received in your great retreat. The feedback at Rough Cut was much more detailed and focused on certain problems. Also, the main meeting – when everyone was involved – was as constructive as it gets when Paul and David took the helm to dissect the structure and what scene didn’t work for them with Megan and Lisa’s moderation.

 

TF: During the retreat, you received feedback from a bunch of different filmmakers, what was some of the best feedback you got and how has it impacted your film so far?

MS: The ones about restructuring the second half of the film and about the need for an elevating ending which I was working on but they’ve confirmed my ideas and intentions.

 


Rough Cut Retreat is a collaborative project from True/False Film Fest and Catapult Film Fund that strives to give filmmakers with new projects dedicated time, mentorship, and feedback to help their work move from a rough cut to a final cut. 

 

Posted September 26, 2017

Post Rough Cut Conversation, PIGEON KINGS

Pigeon Kings, a new documentary by filmmaker Milena Pastreich, tracks a peculiar subculture of pigeon competitions in South Central Los Angeles presided over by the godfather Keith London. Milena brought the rollers to Rough Cut Retreat back in July, and afterwards we sat down to talk about how she met the pigeon community and how the story evolved from her initial fascination.

 

 

TF: How did you get involved in this project?

MP: I made a scripted short film in 2011 and the lead in the film had pigeons, many scenes took place in her pigeon coop. So, during pre-pro, I was location scouting coops all over LA and upon visiting one, I looked up into the sky and saw pigeons doing somersaults. I got pretty annoying asking one question after the next, so the man who owned the coop invited me to a Roller Pigeon auction on that very day. I headed to the event, where I saw hundreds of men wearing pigeon T-shirts, talking about birds, and looking up into the sky. This world felt surreal and that is why when someone asked me what I was doing there, I responded “I’m making a documentary.”

 

TF: How long did you spend shooting?

MP: I spent two summers (2011 and 2012) meeting people with a camera, that was my form of research. In 2013 I got a grant from Canon via Film Independent, which meant I had C300 for 6 months. During those 6 months I was fully immersed in shooting the subjects of the doc in their day-to-day lives. In 2015 Canon loaned me the camera again and I spent 2 months shooting all things competition. In 2016 and 2017 I shot very sparingly to follow certain story lines.

 

TF: Can you tell me a little about the pigeon rolling sport?

MP: Roller competitions exist around the world and the fliers always compete from their own backyards so it’s the judge who travels to them. If it’s a national fly, the judge travels around the US, if it’s a local fly, he travels around the LA area. A South Central Roller competition starts around 6:30am on a Saturday or Sunday. Over the course of the fly, the group of participants caravan from house to house. Whoever is flying releases their birds and they have 20 minutes to fly a 20 bird team. There is a judge counting how many birds do somersaults in unison, if 5 or more pigeons roll at the same time, the competitor gets points. There’s a lot more to the scoring system, but that’s the basic concept.

 

Milena Pastreich and editor Alex O’Flinn discuss after individualized feedback sessions.

 

TF: During the post-screening conversation, we talked a little about how this film really served as a portrait of these people in this time, as opposed to a “sport” film. What about this group of people really stood out to you and made you want to continue filming?

MP: I’m glad it’s more of a character film than a sports film because that’s most definitely where my interests lie. What drew me to the men is their passion slash obsession with their birds. They have a real connection with their pigeons, they call them “children” and consider them part of their family. Over time, it became clear that the relationship is so extreme because they depend on their pigeons, just as their pigeons depend on them.

 

TF: When constructing the portrait of these people, what were you careful about including and excluding?

MP: Knowing what to include and exclude is such a long process. I don’t think I was calculating what needed to be in our story and what didn’t, instead it revealed itself and is still revealing itself as we edit. Everything started on a scene level though. Since most of our footage is verité, we began by assembling all the scenes that stood out and then whatever was compelling became a building block for our story. With Keith, the heart of his story is his relationship with his children. For Choo, it is his barbershop, which is where we get a sense of the South Central apart from the pigeons.

 

TF: Tell me a little about how you wove together the personal narrative, and the narrative of the sport. You do it really well in the film so we get this really lovely dual story line of the competitions and the interpersonal relationships.

MP: Glad to hear it felt woven together. We began by mapping out the personal narrative which included a competition, so there was a natural sports narrative built into the personal narrative. We then worked backwards and figured out what we needed to explain for that competition to make sense. In terms of the sport, our approach is to explain the minimum amount necessary so people are not confused or annoyed, wanting to know more.

 

TF: I think you’ve also done a really amazing job of grounding the film in a certain place and time – can you talk a little about where it’s set and the community surrounding these characters/sport.

MP: Pigeon Kings takes place in South Central LA and although we are immersed in a specific pigeon world, the film is very much about the neighborhood. Most of the pigeon enthusiasts in South Central are Black and Latino men in their 40s and 50s who have had rollers since they were children. There are a handful of pigeon clubs in the LA area and the members spend weekends competing against each other and attending pigeon auctions. If they’re not involved in club activities, they are stopping by each other’s backyards for a hang; there is a very strong sense of community.  

 

TF: You chose very distinct music for the film. Why that sound and what inspired the decision?

MP: Birdman stole our title so we stole their soundtrack. Only kinda kidding. Our film was originally titled Birdmen and I was very inspired by the Birdman score. With a documentary like this, that takes so long to make, it’s fascinating to watch prior work samples and see the evolution of the music. We first started with classical and although it worked for short teasers and work samples, it never seemed like it could carry the entire film. I knew I wanted to embrace one genre of music or have a similar sound throughout since we are entering such a specific world. Last year when we made a teaser for a Kickstarter campaign, we were playing around with different options and when we tried jazz drum solos and drumlines we got VERY excited.

 

TF: What stage of post-production were you in when you came to Rough Cut? Had other people seen the film, were you pretty far along in the feedback process?

MP: We had been editing for over a year and had had 4 screenings.

 

Feedback session with mentor Mark Becker

 

TF: During the retreat, you got some feedback from a bunch of different filmmakers, what was some of the best feedback you got and how has it impacted your film so far?

MP: We got tons of great feedback at the retreat. One take-away was that one of our characters was outshining the other so we’ve been working on making the less popular character more present. Furthermore, some of the rules of the sport were confusing so we have been clarifying them. We got so many great notes but one of the best ones was so simple, reminding us of the scale of the changes that needed to be done. Very small changes will make a huge difference. Hearing that was very important.

 

Rough Cut Retreat is a collaborative project from True/False Film Fest and Catapult Film Fund that strives to give filmmakers with new projects dedicated time, mentorship, and feedback to help their work move from a rough cut to a final cut. 

Posted September 14, 2017

Post Rough Cut Conversation, VOICES OF THE SEA: A CUBAN ODYSSEY

 

We sat down with the five filmmaking teams who brought their projects to Rough Cut Retreat to hear a little bit more about their films, their creative process, and how the retreat impacted their work. Here’s the first of five, featuring filmmaker Kim Hopkins.

Voices of the Sea takes us into the heart of a high-stakes family drama playing out in a remote Cuban fishing village. Director Kim Hopkins brought her project to the 2017 Rough Cut Retreat after completing the first major edit of the film. Here we talk with her about the project and her experience at Rough Cut.

 

TF: How did you get involved in this project and how did you meet your subjects?

KH: In the late 1990’s I helped form the documentary department at EICTV (Escuela Internacional de Cine y Television) in Cuba. Whilst working with documentary students we often visited Playa Cajio, a fishing village, situated on the South coast. It was during these visits that I met with the fishermen and their families of Playa Cajio. It was then that the seed of an idea began to germinate. I knew all things Ernest Hemingway was an acceptable subject for the Cuban authorities to green light. I pondered, what if Hemingway had written ‘The Old Man and the Sea’ today? Fisherman Pita seemed to me to embody Hemingway’s old man. Oh, and I love fishing.

 

TF: How long did you spend shooting?

KH: A 3 person crew lived and filmed in Playa Cajio for 10 weeks, until we were turfed out by the Cuban military. Some time later, we then returned for 2 weeks to update the storylines.

 

 

TF: During the post-screening discussion we talked a lot about how you built a sense of community and place through the everyday scenes. I remember specifically we referenced how they resourcefully fixed their possessions (like sewing together a plastic chair with rope, or rebuilding a motor). Tell me a little about your process for constructing this sense of place through those scenes.

KH: Cubans are perhaps the most resourceful people on earth. They’ve had to be, with one of the most punitive and cruel embargos imposed on them for more than half a century. I’ve always been interested in how people live day to day, how the small stuff informs us as to how we survive hour by hour. In Cuba, one person sells the bread, another fishing bait, another hooks, or line, and yet another a belt to hold your pants up. This is how community is formed, by an army of Mr fix-its, and black market sellers. In one single day Pita (central character) counted 56 people that had passed through his kitchen. This at once introduced us to the community, and the locations.

 

TF: You gave the group attempting to leave Cuba a small camera to record their journey. What made you decide to do that, and was the group hesitant to film at all?

KH: Gaining the trust of those planning an illegal escape from Cuba was the most difficult thing. Usually, only immediate family or the closest of friends know about such plans, as nobody, not even in a small village know who the informers are. Because we were foreigners, and because we were perhaps the first people to give the villagers a voice, we gained trust. It seemed if Pita trusted us, that was good enough for the village. We knew that the illegal handcrafted boats contained about 20 people, and that those rafters came from all over the island. They didn’t even know each other. Therefore, we knew it would be impossible to get a consensus from the whole group to agree to one of us filming. We also knew, should we get caught trying to film an illegal escape, we might get accused of aiding and abetting people trafficking. None of us wanted to eat rice and beans for ten years in a Cuban prison. Therefore, Michel whom we’d gained some trust, offered to take with him a small domestic camera, one from the island that would not be immediately traced back to us should they get caught. We asked him to keep his fingers off the zoom, to hold shots, and to make sure both he and his wife were in some of the material. He was instructed, should they get caught, to jettison the camera overboard, but keep the micro-SD media card somewhere safe. Estrella his wife did just that.

 

TF: The footage from their journey is so intense. What was the process of watching it and deciding what to use like? Was it difficult to watch or decide what fit into the narrative?

KH: When we received the SD card back from the rafters, we fully expected about 5 minutes of material. You can imagine our joy at seeing nearly 4 hours were filmed. Michel and the other rafters felt a sense of duty to their countryfolk to record one of these dreadfully dangerous journeys. Michel and some of the other rafters did a great job of covering the central drama of their journey. Each day had coverage. When the engine failed, it was covered. When the engine was thrown overboard, it was covered. When the priest prayed for their salvation, it was covered. When I saw the material I had a real sense that it was people’s journalism, the camera was used as a political tool, and through the dialogue it was evident that the rafters were fully aware of its power. The material shot really chose itself.

 

TF: The international relations and politics of Cuba are very prominent in the story line. Can you talk a little about the situation and the group attempting to leave Cuba?

KH: From the onset, we wanted to make a film about ‘ordinary’ Cubans. What we call the Peso Cuban, those with no real access to the convertible Peso (CUC), which is effectively the dollar. It is mainly Peso Cubans who are driven into the sea, risking their lives for what they feel is a chance of a better life. The group that were on the filmed raft, were from all parts of the Island, there was a priest, a surgeon, a journalist, a fisherman, a sanitary worker, a farmer, a pregnant woman and a diabetic housewife. I guess they all had their own reasons for attempting this perilous journey, whether is be; economic, political, the American dream, or simply family reunification. We know several of them had attempted the journey many times before.

 

TF: So we have this odyssey plot, people journeying far away with harrowing struggles along the way, but we also have this captivating “land” plot, in which we get connected to this central character Pita. In it he really embodies the community, especially the fishing community. Tell me more about his role in the film and how he, and his wife, became your central character(s)?

KH: I know it’s not really the thing to admit to in the documentary community, but I always ‘cast’ my films. I had an idea that was loosely based on Hemingway’s ‘The old Man and the Sea’. I was looking for Hemingway’s old man, the embodiment of Santiago. A subsistence fisherman, somebody who rows out to sea each day, somebody who has those deep creases in the back of his neck, and scars on his hands. When I met Pita, I immediately knew I wanted to film him. I have a simple philosophy, if I over-film somebody, because I just can’t turn the camera off, that’s always for me the clincher. Then, when he spoke, I knew it. His voice came from the depths of the ocean, or from smoking since he was 7 years old. Pita, is a big man in Playa Cajio, the king of coffee. He shares everything he has, much to his wife Mariela’s frustration. Pita for me seemed to personify everything I love about Cuba, its grit, its patina, the romance, the pride, the generosity, and the sheer bloody minded determination in the face of overwhelming odds. Mariela personifies perhaps the new Cuba, those looking to the future. She is beautiful, but melancholy. She is frustrated, but has hope. She is torn between surviving in the now, and building for the next generation. Between them there was this elephant in the room, in the shape of the American dream.

 

TF: When editing, how did you weave together these two stories to make a cohesive film?

KH: I always seem to make films that have two narratives running in parallel. I set out to make a simple film about a subsistence fisherman. When the rafters’ story presented itself to me, I knew it was going to be both a blessing and a curse. The emotional drive of the film resides with the relationship between Pita & Mariela, but the dramatic drive of the film resides with the rafters’ quest. Somehow Leah (editor) and myself knew each section of the story had to propel us further along, a kind of emotional and dramatic checkerboarding in which each would inform the other. The rest was a suck it and see.

 

TF: The relationship between Pita and Mariela is really tense in the film. When building the portrait of their relationship how did you decide what moments to include in the film and what to exclude?

KH: This is a difficult question as both Leah (editor) and myself are still wrestling with this. I think the eureka moment was when Leah suggested that Mariela’s quest should not be solely set around her conflict about leaving or staying, rather that she was trying to reconcile her feelings of being trapped. This is a subtle difference, but one that informed the emotional journey of the film.

 

TF: They both have this sense of marital perseverance for the sake of their children set against Mariela’s waning attraction to her husband and her desire for a better future for her kids. There’s a scene where they’re having a very frank conversation about the differences between each other and she says “the name, the gender, and the age gap.” Can you expand on this moment for me? It feels pivotal in the film.

KH: Gender politics play a part, most especially when western sensibilities cast judgement on different cultural norms. It was important to us that Pita doesn’t come over as some male sage, with a wisdom that his wife lacks, simply because he’s a man. Rather, for us, it is simply Pita is a lot older than his wife, and his life experience had informed him of their reality. Pita has two generations of family in America, and he knows their reality. For Pita, it is simple, he’s pragmatic, ‘you can have your dreams and I will support you as much as I can.’ In the meantime, ‘I’m going to deal in the here and now, in our reality, and if the dream fails, the elder boys will know how to feed themselves’. If the dream succeeds, then great. The interesting thing about this scene is, it reflects on my own life. My partner is a lot younger than myself, and we have this very same conflict. It’s a generation thing.

 

TF: Can you talk about the score you used in the film? It’s a very distinct sound that runs throughout the entire film.

KH: We felt that a Latin American sound track was important, but we wanted to steer clear of anything Buena Vista’ish. We searched out music that was sparse and reflective, so the lapping of the waves or the rattling of an old yank tank would always push through.

 


TF: What stage of post-production were you in when you came to Rough Cut? Had other people seen the film or were you pretty far along in the feedback process?

KH: We were at late rough cut stage, we felt structurally we were nearly there, but had some very specific questions we wanted feedback on. The only people outside the team that had seen the film were a few very close filmmaker friends, including a screenwriter.

 

TF: During the retreat, you got some feedback from a bunch of different filmmakers, what was some of the best feedback you got and how has it impacted your film so far?

KH: As mentioned, we had some specific niggles and wanted to test them with a very eminent bunch of filmmakers. Interestingly, our main niggle was never raised, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying to address it. The main overarching takeaway from the retreat was giving both Leah (editor) and myself a new sense of courage of our convictions. We were very happy, that the consensus was to be braver, be more lyrical.

 

 


Rough Cut Retreat is a collaborative project from True/False Film Fest and Catapult Film Fund that strives to give filmmakers with new projects dedicated time, mentorship, and feedback to help their work move from a rough cut to a final cut. 

Posted September 5, 2017

Spirituality of the Mountain: An Interview with Sherpa director, Jennifer Peedom

If you missed seeing SHERPA at the 2016 festival, it is fittingly now widely available. Naturally, we strongly recommend watching it on the biggest screen you can find. I mean, we recommend that for most films, but this *IS* Everest after all – it deserves some breathing room. Missing our post-film director Q&As is another matter, but if you couldn’t connect with Jennifer Peedom at the fest, we can offer the next best thing – we had the fortunate opportunity to chat more in-depth with Jennifer about her stunning film. Watch, read, enjoy.

True/False: With the wild turns this story takes it is hard to imagine your vision of it at the beginning was anything like it was at the end. How did this project first began?

Jennifer Peedom: I had worked as camera operator on Everest on and off for over a decade. I had worked on three of the expeditions with the Sherpas at the heart of this film. And I became interested in how little of their story ended up in the mainstream Everest documentaries, much less the big Hollywood blockbusters version. Initially, Sherpas are incredibly reserved people. Since my first expedition where I did my own little film for a program here called Dateline. I guess I’ve always had this film bubbling around in my mind. In 2006 I went most of the way to the summit and seeing what really goes on, particularly on summit day, and what an extraordinary job the Sherpas have to do to get the climbers to the summit and back alive and the extent to which that narrative gets cut out of the story because it lessens the other narrative, the foreigners’ hero story narrative, it seemed like a real opportunity to make something.

So back to your question, the vision of the film I made was not that different from the vision we started with. I wanted to make a film about what really goes on on Everest. I wanted to make a film that spoke to the spirituality of the mountain and what the mountain means to the people and how their families feel about it and all those things that ended up in the film. The only difference is we no longer had a narrative of an ascent, instead we had a much more political film. We didn’t know that the worst disaster in the history of the mountain was going to happen while we were filming. It highlighted the risks I was trying to highlight in a way nothing else could.

I will say at the time we didn’t really know we had a film until I got home and spent a few weeks watching the rushes and also understanding the rushes. A lot of stuff, when you don’t have a translator on the ground you don’t understand everything that’s being said. So it took awhile to figure out the story we had.

T/F: Part of what is fascinating to me about this story is that the spiritual and the commercial aspects of Everest are so intertwined, on both sides, for both the Sherpas and the tourists, and you can’t really pick them apart.

JP: Yeah, I think one thing that really struck a cord about the film, a comment I’ve heard that I’ve liked is that it is so morally complex. It doesn’t take the high ground. At the end of the film we’re not saying necessarily don’t climb Everest. In fact the Sherpas need the foreigners and the foreigners need the sherpas. So it’s this mutually complicated, very tricky relationship. It’s two cancelled seasons in a row and it’s not clear how that situation is going to play out. The sherpas have had very little income for that time on top of the fact that most of their houses have been destroyed or badly damaged by the earthquake. Phurba Tashi himself has been really struggling. They need Everest to continue, but what they learned when they cancelled the season is that they have more power than they realized. And so whether or not people should climb Everest I’d just hope that they’d watch the film. One thing I found strange about the whole Everest thing is the extent to which you can bury your head in the sand. So one thing I’d ask if you were going to climb Everest is to be aware of what you’re asking other people to do, the risks you’re asking them to take on your behalf.

T/F: Can you tell me some about the logistics of filming a movie on Everest?

JP: In some ways it is so well set up over there. There’s so many crews on Everest, and over the years systems have been developed. It kind of makes it easier than you might think, than going into some foreign wilderness where no one has ever filmed before. The obvious logistics is getting a whole bunch of equipment to an isolated place. Part of the difficulty is getting crews that can handle the altitude. And that’s hard. It’s probably the reason I got all of those gigs a number of years ago. Not a lot of bodies can function well enough at altitude.

And then you’ve got the logistics, there’s no fixed structure at base camp, it’s just a tent city that springs up. There’s no power, so the really big challenge is keeping computers warm and batteries charged. most of that we do on solar power where we could and then use generators when we run out. Things like computers have to be put with hot water bottles into little sleeping bags every night. It just kind of goes with the territory. You get used to it and I had really hand picked a great team, including the great cinematographer Renan Ozturk, who’s also one of the subjects of Meru. He’s an amazing cinematographer. I also choose another cinematographer Hugh Miller. who I worked with on Everest Beyond the Limit who’s a real veteran, and has climbed Everest three times.        

The other thing that we did was that we went ahead a couple months early with cameras, and Phurba helped us pick two young Sherpas who he thought were good potential camera operator. We trained these two young guys to film things we wouldn’t have access to. You see a lot of their material in the film. They were there to film base camp being set up. To be honest I didn’t really have high expectations, but when I got there and saw what they filmed it was very impressive. It meant we got greater access to their world. They filmed going through the icefall as you see in the film. We put GoPros on them. It ended up adding layers that we never really would have gotten and when things got really messy we wound up having more Sherpas on our team. They went down and filmed that first protest that was really Sherpas only. And all of these other guys were saying “What’s this? Who are you working for?” and the word kind of spread about our film. And that wound up having real benefits.

T/F: Did you have an overall philosophy to the cinematography? It seems like there might be a danger of making things too pretty, like everything you point at up there is so gorgeous . . .

JP: You say that, but it can look really ordinary, believe it or not. Certainly if I was the one shooting it would look really ordinary. So yes I did, I wanted it to imbue every shot with almost spirituality. There was a very good reason I chose Renan, and it wasn’t because he was such a good climber. He has a way of observing natural environments in a very poetic way. He speaks some Pali, so he understands something about Sherpas and Sherpa culture.

I wanted people to see Everest in a way that they hadn’t before. I wanted to linger longer mountain ridges, I wanted to observe the smoke and all of those symbols that help us understand Sherpa culture. I wanted the mountain to be observed from a different point of view, less as something to be conquered and more as something to be revered.
There’s a lot of upspeed that slows stuff down, because you know we bring all of our Western busyness to Everest and I wanted to slow that down for the Sherpa villagers, because time really is slower, it runs at a different pace. They are Buddhist people and they really take time to observe the world around them. I hope that comes through.

SHERPA (T/F 2016) is available to rent or buy via iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, and YouTube.

Posted June 16, 2016

ANNOUNCING THE TRUE VISION AWARD RECIPIENT

We are proud to announce that Mehrdad Oskouei will receive this year’s True Vision Award in honor of his achievement in, and contribution to, the field of nonfiction filmmaking.

The True Vision award is the only award given out at the fest. Oskouei is the thirteenth recipient of this honor. Last year the award was given to Adam Curtis. Other recent winners of the True Vision Award include Laura Poitras (2010), James Marsh (2011), Victor Kossakovsky (2012), and Amir Bar-Lev (2013).

Oskouei will be appearing at the fest with his newest film, Starless Dreams, as well as a selection of his previous work. Starless Dreams is an intimate portrayal of the lives of seven girls at a rehabilitation center in Tehran, Iran. Starless Dreams acts as the final piece in a documentary trilogy that includes It’s Always Late for Freedom (2008) and The Last Days of Winter (2011), all of which explore questions of crime and delinquency in Iranian youth.

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“We are incredibly excited to bring Mehrdad to the festival,” said True/False programmer Pamela Cohn. “His talent is in listening closely to the stories of the ignored and marginalized and then transforming them into something beautiful.”

About his own filmmaking Oskouei stated, “My responsibility as a filmmaker, along with aiding in positive and effective social changes, is to increase public awareness. I am convinced that a documentary filmmaker should at times show images of humanity’s suffering with the hopes of putting an end to such suffering. All my films have been made with this firm belief.”

One of Oskouei’s Tehran-based producers, Siavash Jamali, conveyed the following via email: “Mehrdad and the whole team of Starless Dreams are so delighted that he will receive this unique award.”

“It’s no small feat getting a filmmaker from Tehran to Columbia, MO,” adds Fest director David Wilson. “This kind of cross-cultural exchange and the conversations it will spark are at the core of our mission.”
The award is given with support from Restoration Eye Care. The award is designed and cast in bronze by local mid-Missouri artist Larry Young.

Posted February 8, 2016

FILM, MUSIC, & ART: A TEASER

Film, music, and art installations are the three creative tributaries feeding, growing, and evolving the festival. December in the True/False office is full of passionate brainstorming and discussions as we work to curate this living thing. Talented makers are beginning to emerge, and we’re too excited to keep a lid on it. Here’s a brief teaser of what’s to come at the 2016 fest.

Filmmaker Jesse Epstein Makes Work for The Great Wall

After reading that T/F’s theme this year, Off the Trail, was all about exploring secret missions and hidden spaces, Boston-based filmmaker Jesse Epstein was compelled to write to us. For the last several years, she and a team of cinematographers, photographers and musicians have been sneaking into the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Pennsylvania to document its transformation into a casino…and just to poke around. Bethlehem Steel, and its shipbuilding corporation were two of the most powerful symbols of American industrial manufacturing muscle. Their demise, and final closure in 2001 after filing bankruptcy, was the beginning of the era in this country when the economy shifted away from this kind of large-scale factory manufacturing and also failed to compete with cheap foreign labor, causing tens of thousands of steel workers to lose their jobs and their livelihoods.

Epstein says, “It’s been a wild adventure: walking more than a mile down train tracks and climbing over fences with a Bolex, hiding from security inside old lockers until the sun went down.” She and her cohorts have collected lots of original material, consisting of super 8, digital video, stills, music composed with recorded ambient sounds, and more. “The plant was built as a sort of cathedral to industry and it’s hard to even describe the feeling of being in there.”

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After watching Epstein’s short, 2,200 °F,  we were intrigued with the beauty of her footage and the scope of the project and commissioned Jesse to edit a special piece for our 2016 Great Wall film installation. The piece will “aim to capture the sense of excitement and intensity we felt when sneaking in, exploring this industrial ruin, and finding the various clues of the people who had been there.”

2,200 °F from jesse epstein on Vimeo.

Jesse will be at the festival in person to not only present and exhibit The Bethlehem Steel Film, but will also be one of the Ringleaders conducting film introductions and question and answer sessions, as well as one of our workshop leaders for DIY day since she is also passionate about working as a youth media educator. A Sundance Award-Winning filmmaker, Jesse received an MA in Documentary Film from NYU, and was named one of “25 Filmmakers to Watch” by FILMMAKER Magazine. Her films have screened in many film festivals worldwide, at The Museum of Modern Art, The Peabody Museum, and Beurs van Berlage in Amsterdam. Jesse’s shorts, Wet Dreams and False Images and 34x25x36 played at True/False in 2006 and 2008, respectively. Her three-part project on media and physical perfection called Body Typed is distributed with New Day Films.

Read more about Bethlehem Steel’s history, here.

 

Brooklyn Trio, Hearing Things, Join the Busking Line-up

Hearing Things hail from Brooklyn, NY where they have lead the neo-surf rock wave over the past few years. Combining organ, drums and sax, they are part loungey jazz throwback and part Middle Eastern rockabilly, a sound that is both foreign and familiar all at once, an auditory time machine that seamlessly travels between the past, present and even future. The musicality of the band is strong and undeniable, each member rising from a solid lineage that they groove around with precision.

Front man Matt Bauder began his musical career studying saxophone under classic bebop artists, making roots in the world of standard jazz. Since then he has expanded far beyond the genre to explore the challenging realms of sound installation, experimental composition and soundscape creation. Bauder has also lent his talents to the likes of Iron and Wine, Arcade Fire and is a frequent collaborator with NYC visual artist Aki Sasamoto. Rounded and ambitious, his breadth of knowledge can be heard gyrating behind each note he releases on stage.

Keyboardist J.P. Schlegelmilch has been playing music since the age of six, rounding out his education at the Berklee College of Music and SUNY Purchase on piano, accordion, and electric keyboards. Like Bauder, his work transcends classification touching on hybrids like indie-jazz-folk with his outfit Old Time Musketry, to playing with indie-classical chamber group Fireworks Ensemble, to even appearing on film soundtracks, most notably the critically acclaimed Beasts of the Southern Wild. After years in various backing positions Hearing Things’ drummer Vinnie Sperrazza founded his first band just last year, releasing his debut album Apocryphal on Loyal Label. His compositions hint at jazz progressions but there is a signature, textural approach with a trace of rock ‘n’ roll that adds an extra layer of depth and listenability.

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Like all of the programming at T/F, Hearing Things exhibit a high level of artistry and craft but it is their desire to explore that space just outside the boundaries that aligns best with the fest. Their sound is a reimagining of genre that moves beyond its history, landing in completely new and uncharted territory: a blending of tradition with a visionary twist. Hearing Things’ possess a technical clarity but it is how they challenge their own abilities that make them an embodiment of the T/F experience.

Even though Hearing Things is brimming with musical technique, listening to them is far from belabored. There is a spirit that haunts their songs, seeps out from the stage and makes you want to rumble onto the nearest dance floor. As their bandcamp provokes, “Prudes, ghosts and tittyshakers; the hustlers and sweet talkers alike, will sway to this brand new beat.”

 

Artist in Residence, Taylor Ross, Returns

True/False is excited to welcome back Taylor Ross, an artist who embraces the power and mystery of what it means to wander. Ross’ T/F 2016 piece is built around the joy of exploration; she trails off the trail and into the fields and forests of Missouri and Iowa.  There, she gathers plants like Milkweed, Dogbane, Yucca, and Velvetleaf. These dead plants ripen anew as she works them into fibers, and eventually garments. The beauty of these hand-harvested, handmade garments reminds us that clothing is, in fact, the first architecture of the body.

Ross says, “The purpose of collecting, spinning, and weaving coverings for people to try on is to offer a direct, physical, emotional, tactile, olfactory experience of that land and materials surrounding these people as they shuffle in from all over. We are so cut off from the bounty that lays beyond the well-trod path and this is very exciting for me, because it means that there is something to be illuminated, offered, shared that might give an experience of place in a direct way.”

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Taylor’s original piece will be on interactive display –go ahead, try it on!– during the festival.

About a month ago, Taylor drove down to Columbia from her home in Iowa, and gave a community artist talk followed by a fiber-finding session. Together, we scoured the area alongside one of our own Katy trailheads, and other local fields and forests, for the plants Taylor will work into her final T/F product. Taylor will be visiting Columbia several times between now and the festival to wander and find her materials. If you’re interested in participating in her next trip, email art@truefalse.org.

Stay tuned for more news about artists, musicians, and films in the new year! See you at the fest…

Posted December 14, 2015

Falling for Rhetoric: an Interview with KILLING THEM SAFELY Director Nick Berardini

On November 18 at the Missouri Theatre, True/False and the Jonathan B. Murray Center for Documentary Journalism (a new addition to the University of Missouri’s Journalism School) are co-presenting a special screening of the documentary Killing Them Safely. Directed by Mizzou Journalism School graduate and Columbia resident Nick Berardini, Killing Them Safely is a gripping, nuanced look at a company, TASER International, as it confronts charges that its eponymous product, an electroshock weapon, has killed people.

For Berardini, the film is the result of an all-consuming six-year journey. In August 2008, a police officer fired a taser at Stanley Harlan, a 23-year-old Moberly resident, who lost consciousness and was pronounced dead two hours later. Then an MU broadcast journalism student working at KOMU (underneath current Murray Center director Stacey Woelfel), Berardini reported on the incident. Shortly thereafter, he started production on the documentary, which took him all across the continent. Berardini learned extensive details about similar cases, acquired many hours of archival material (including deposition footage of TASER co-founders Rick and Tom Smith) and, crucially, secured an interview with TASER International Vice President Steve Tuttle, a peculiar and fascinating spokesman whose performance serves as the film’s backbone. Berardini then edited his engrossing, disturbing, sometimes darkly amusing film alongside True/False alumni Robert Greene (Actress, Fake It So Real), who is now also a Columbia resident, serving as “Filmmaker In Chief” at the Murray Center.

Killing Them Safely premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2015 under a different title, Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle. It received glowing reviews and was then picked up by distributor Sundance Selects, who will release the movie later this year. In early November, T/F programmer Chris Boeckmann met Berardini at Uprise Bakery to discuss his filmmaking journey.

To order tickets to the November 18 screening, visit this page

T/F: I studied in the strategic communications sequence of the journalism school, and you studied in the broadcast journalism sequence. In strat comm, they teach you how to handle interviews with journalists. You need to have three points, and you’re supposed to find sly ways to make them over and over. You know, “That’s an interesting question, Bob, but what I think we really need to be focused on is….” Meanwhile, I assume the broadcast sequence is teaching you how to break the public relations representatives, to get past those three points. I’m curious how you approached this big interview with Steve Tuttle, TASER’s spokesperson. Was he using the same technique I just described?

NB: Yes, he’s definitely in that mold of ‘here are the things we can say that are most effective.’ This is a life-saving tool that prevents the use of deadly force. That’s their very simple mission statement: “Protect truth, protect lives.” He says four or five of the same exact things over and over again. What works about rhetoric in his case is that most of the times when he has to say those four or five things, he says them in a very simple context. It’s a 12-second soundbite for the news. It’s a statement that’s issued to a newspaper. He doesn’t have to sit one-on-one with a person like me.
I didn’t go in with the goal of attack. I didn’t go in looking for “gotcha” moments. Going in, I think my biggest strength was genuine curiosity. If I tell you I want to understand your point of view, I’m going to sit there and try to understand your point of view. So I take everything at face value, and it works for twenty minutes. Over the course of a day, it becomes exhausting. Over the course of four hours, if you can only say the same things over and over and can’t really elaborate, then what are you left with?

T/F: Aside from length, how does your interviewing approach differ from broadcast journalism?

NB: If I were to do a TV news story about TASER International, I would want to go in with all the research done so that if Steve Tuttle says “A,” then I could counter with, “But that’s not true based on this thing.” But I’m making a film that is less about what and more about why. I’m more interested in motivation and process than I am in information.

T/F: I think the trailer is very clever, but I was surprised to see how it sort of throws Steve under the bus in its final seconds.

NB: These guys are true believers.They believe in this way of policing. And when you have a true believer, you have to treat them with the respect of a person going through their own thought process. Steve is a guy who lies for a living, but what is the reason behind the lie? Why does he feel compelled to lie? Because they clearly know at this point that their weapon kills people. It’s a question of what’s the biggest threat. Do we deserve to exist? Is the world a better place because we exist? Steve is not an evil person. He’s a complicated person dealing with complicated subject matter that he simplifies in his mind to protect the simplest goal, which is that we must survive because the world is better with us than without us.

T/F: You use a lot of deposition footage where John Burton, a lawyer featured prominently throughout the film, questions TASER co-founders Rick and Tom Smith. How does his approach to interviewing differ from your own?

NB: The movie is about this company—its history, its rise, its controversy and where it is today—and for the movie to work, they need a good adversary. The lawyers are great adversaries. They’re the only thing that truly threatens the company. When you listen to their interviewing style, you realize they’re there because they want to win. They do amazing work, but they wouldn’t sit there if it was a bad case. They’re taking cases they’re pretty confident they’re going to win. When they’re questioning, they’re trying to prove a very technical or specific point in legalese in order to win a case six months down the road in trial. To prove negligence. I’m not trying to prove anything. I’m trying to enlighten myself and the audience to a way of thinking, to a point of view that they’re not familiar with, that’s different from their own. The styles are different because the intentions are different.

T/F: When you were studying the lives of Rick and Tom Smith, did you find a way to relate to them on a personal level?

NB: Yes, there’s definitely a tunnel vision aspect to both of us. In many ways, this movie is a commentary about all of us. It’s about the way we see ourselves—the best version of ourselves—versus what we really are. And I constantly experienced that disconnect with my film. For years, I told myself this movie is going to be amazing for all these reasons. And you think that way because the sheer panic that sets in when you realize it’s not going as planned could put you on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Especially when you’ve put, like I have and like they did, your life into something. In order to deal with the collateral damage they created, TASER International started telling little lies that became much bigger over time. Once the consequences were no longer hypothetical, there were two ways out: own up to it, face it and admit that you made a mistake, or cling to the best version of yourself, that idea that you had when you started.

T/F: You started this film as a reaction to a very upsetting local news story. There’s been a lot of reporting on TASER International in the years since.

NB: The film is still timely and relevant. It’s not because policing issues are at the forefront of the news. This is a story that’s as old as human beings. It’s about the promise of technology, the promise of innovation, the desire to want things to succeed before we’ve fully through the consequences of those things because they’re new and the consequences are hypothetical. This is the ultimate absurd example because it’s an electric weapon. It has the most clear hypothetical ‘what can go wrong’ questions attached to it.
The film is also about what you do when you’re at this crossroads and your livelihood and your way of thinking is on the line. And why do we constantly take things at face value from the people who have the most to lose? That’s what most blows my mind. I don’t want to say everyone believed them, but the law enforcement community jumped on board with the company right away. And the company was the only one providing information about their product. Obviously they had the most to the lose yet were somehow the most trustworthy. I just don’t get it.

T/F: Killing Them Safely explores different problems, but it doesn’t offer any solutions.

NB: The traditional way of making an issue film, and what distributors typically want, is to offer the simplest presentation of that issue so people can then get active, sign a petition and feel good about themselves. There are films that should use this approach. But the problem with making a movie like that is that movies should be three-dimensional. They should be more than just bullet points. And what makes that impossible with Killing Them Safely is that it’s partly past tense. It’s retrospective. It’s about something that has already happened and the consequences of what’s already happened. There’s no way to rally the troops and take 500,000 tasers off the streets in the United States. That’s not possible. The movie is not going to make the same mistake by offering a simple solution when there isn’t one.

T/F: But do you want the film to have any sort of social impact?

NB: I certainly do broadly. I’m no anti-capitalist, but we’ve taken capitalism to this extreme now where we’re surprised when the actor with the most to lose acts in self-interest. And it’s not just the general public being surprised, it’s the fact that our regulatory system for something like tasers is basically the product liability system. Which inherently means someone is going to die before anyone does anything about this thing. This is an electrical weapon, it’s not a Lego. This is a weapon used in violent situations and yet it’s regulated the same way a toaster is. That goes back to an attitude of victim-blaming that we have and a distrust of the tort system that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. While there’s excessive litigation between individuals, corporations have insane protection from lawsuits. People have no idea how difficult it is to bring a product liability case and be successful. And it has to be that way because the system has to inspire ingenuity. Because most people aren’t making weapons, most people are making other products.
I don’t think there’s some sort of broad overhaul that needs to happen; taser is a very niche product. But I also think the film is a condemnation of the way we place trust in those acting in self-interest when they’re operating under the guise of business, job-provider, life-saver. We just fall for rhetoric way too easily. So it’s more about a general skepticism about people whose job it is to be skeptical— police administrators, politicians, city council members when they buy these weapons — than it is about writing a law that could prevent this sort of thing.

Posted November 4, 2015

She Does True/False

If one of your favorite parts of True/False is chatting with our visiting guests, you’re not alone. The festival environment is an auspicious one for fest-goers and filmmakers to connect – both groups energized by the weekend and excited to share ideas about their experiences.

Elaine Sheldon and Sarah Ginsburg have been working on a new podcast in the same spirit. She Does: Conversations with Creative Minds launched in January of this year, and has since been consistently connecting listeners with women artists of all stripes. These conversations are personal and professional – maybe the kind you’d have over coffee at Uprise right after watching a new film?

From their site:

“Whether up and coming or well-established, She Does features notable women of all generations, working at the intersection of media, film, journalism, art and technology. We bring you stories of what makes these women tick, their beginnings, their roadblocks, and the delightful bits in between”

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It’s clear that the ladies of She Does have great taste, because they’ve featured tons of True/False makers, musicians, and guests:

Back in January, before she came to True/False with (T)ERROR, Lyric Cabral was featured. Polish filmmaker Hanna Polak talks about her 14-years in the making doc, Something Better to Come (T/F 2015). Linda Pan, of the SundanceNow Doc Club, and Emily Best of Seed and Spark both spoke on our Dollars & Donuts panel about distribution. Fans of T/F buskers will especially enjoy the She Does Music ep, and these featuring music by Dubb Nubb and Pearl and the Beard.

Once you’ve enjoyed those episodes, check out this week’s new ep, Finding Your Own Fun: Pamela Ribon.

by Arin Liberman

Posted August 27, 2015

A Nod to Measuring Impact: Private Violence’s Emmy Nom

When Associate Producer Un Kyong Ho got the text from Director Cynthia Hill that their film, Private Violence, had been nominated for an Emmy, she tried to play it cool.

Un Kyong was on a video conference call with other Fledgling Fund grantees. “I probably looked like an insane person to the other folks on the call,” Un Kyong said. “I was all over the place! I’m still all over the place!”

Cynthia was on a shoot that day for another project and said the Emmy was the furthest thing from her mind.

The last time we saw these two filmmakers, along with Private Violence’s main subjects, Kit Gruelle and Deanna Walters, they were at True/False 2014 as True Life Fund recipients. During their time here, they visited school-wide assemblies for all four Columbia Public High Schools and held community meetings on domestic violence.

Since T/F, the film has made its international premier at Hot Docs in Toronto and won the Human Rights Award at Full Frame Festival in Durham, NC. (Durham, “The Bull City:” Cynthia’s hometown and not far from where Private Violence was filmed.)

“It feels good to get the accolades,” Un Kyong said, “But at the end of the day, we want to make change around this issue.”

Figuring out how to measure change when it comes to an issue like domestic violence is, not surprisingly, far from simple. Sure, there are national statistics, but with a subject that is so deeply hidden, and, well, private, it can feel impossible to know if and how the needle moves.

“I remember being in Kentucky in a small college town to screen the film,” Kit said. She met a young man who had come to the screening by mistake, perhaps because he misunderstood the event.

“But then he realized he needed to stay and talk about his experience with his abusive father, who was a local business man, the kind of man no one would think was an abuser.” Kit said. “It was one of the most powerful experiences I had. We all sat and listened to him talk, and then cry, about the abuse he and his mother suffered. After he was done, he walked out. Most of his friends left with him. The rest of us sat there for a few minutes, thinking about what we had just seen. This is domestic violence in America: still rampant, still too hidden.”

This is a big part of the work of Private Violence: making the violence less private. Creating safe spaces for people to share stories. Opening up dialogues and conversations that have yet to be breached.

When the film was in Cincinnati, Ohio, for instance, the filmmakers had their first successful summit, largely because of the involvement of Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice at the University of Cincinnati College of Law.

“They brought together 80 stakeholders from across their community,” Cynthia said. “Everyone from the professors, social workers, advocates, medical health professionals, folks from across the legal landscape including lawyers and judges, law enforcement officers, and even the mayor.”

The Private Violence team sees Cincinnati as a model for the power documentaries can yield, and they’re working on a how-to guide based on the summit for other communities. In October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, they’ll be in Sioux City, Iowa and back in Durham, North Carolina for similar events.

Along with these events, the Private Violence team has been working on an immediate metric post-screening. If you were at a showing at T/F 2014, you may have remembered those little tear-off surveys you were asked to fill out right after the film.

Here is where I admit that as someone who was passing collection buckets for the True Life Fund immediately after the screening, and overseeing large quantities of cash that were mixed in with slips of papers, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the surveys. Part of me wondered how valuable they could be. And now I must eat my hat. Because while I don’t get excited about numbers too often, the stats form this survey blew me away.

From the four-question survey, they were were able to determine that of the respondents:

  • 94% felt the film had increased their understanding of domestic violence;
  • 75% had asked the question “Why doesn’t she just leave?” of a person in a domestic violence situation;
  • 86% felt they would respond differently to domestic violence victims after watching the film;
  • 83% said they would consider getting involved in advocacy efforts in their community.

“From that quick survey, we learned that the ‘Why doesn’t she just leave?’ reaction to domestic violence is a pervasive part of our victim-blaming culture,” Un Kyong said. “We also learned that the film shifted people’s thinking around DV and potentially helped to activate an audience to move towards change. That is huge.”

The survey generated a bit of buzz; it was the first time a doc had used a tear survey to measure audience response and impact. Un Kyong said they were proud to have created a tool that other filmmakers can use to capture the kind of data that might help with partnerships or funding.  (For a great interview on measuring a film’s impact, we’d direct you to an episode with Lina Srivastava from our friends over at She Does podcast.)

So while I’ve heard these women –Cynthia, Un Kyong, Kit, and Deanna— call their time on the road with Private Violence a “listening tour,” another way of thinking about it is as an attention tour. Attention is being paid to survivors, attention is being drawn to an open secret, and they’re exploring the question of just how much action can come from the attention of one film. As for the Emmy, there’s a reason we call the nomination a nod: it’s one more attentive glance.

by Allison Coffelt

Posted August 7, 2015
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