His daughters had been suffering seizures, and the doctors were trying to determine what was causing them. Because Dole was a video professional – his New Hampshire-based Hatchling Studios specializes in animation and postproduction – he had access to video equipment.
“We knew our kids were having medical issues. Seizures, and one of the kids had diabetes, then we found out the twins had diabetes… there was a lot happening, and the doctors had no idea what was going on.
“One of the neurologists said to me, ‘Why don’t you have any videotape of the kids having seizures? I need to see it – every time they come into my office they’re happy, and fine.’ She was very adamant I get these things on tape,” says Dole, whose documentary “Mito-Kids” has grown directly out of that.
The film, which is still an evolving work as the Dole family confronts the medical issues as a family, has also been a work intended to bring awareness of mitochondrial disease, “a chronic, genetic disorder that occurs when the mitochondria of the cell fail to function properly. This is an intimate and personal story that aims to increase the understanding of mitochondrial disease and its connection to epilepsy, diabetes, ALS, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Heart Disease and many other neurological disorders.” Dole’s four daughters (Britney, Nikiya, Ashley and Alyssa) are now teenagers. Wanda Dole, their mother, served as producer. A short version of the film took a documentary award at the New Hampshire Film Festival.
“I always had decent cameras and was able to shoot home video on decent stuff,” he says, “So it was just home video for the first five years.”
Dole says when his daughters were mainstreamed in the local schools, “It was a great way for the other kids to understand about kids with special needs. And I decided I’d make a film about the mainstreaming of my second-oldest daughter, Nikiya.”
When he heard of another New Hampshire filmmaker doing a project that was very similar, he decided to drop that approach, “but in 2008, when my oldest daughter began to have dementia issues, I began looking back into mitochondrial disease and was shocked to find out how many different strands of it there were, and how many connections there were to every neurological disease. I decided I needed to start letting everybody know this.
He created a three-minute teaser that’s on YouTube. “I’m a video editor and I had the gear, so it was like editing home movies for a while. I began to find a narrative that was much more like a documentary film. Friends who were beginning to udertsnad said I should really be making a feature-length film so I decided to start working on that.”
“Production” began with a family road trip that went from New Hampshire to St. Louis to Orlando and back home. Dole says the family had to drive for a variety of reasons related to his daughters’ conditions.
“When we got back, I began editing, knowing that I had to make it clear why we had to get in the car, why we couldn’t get on an airplane, and why we had to do things that were totally different than the way anyone else would.” He began editing in footage that created backstory and “realized I was make our feature right here.”
He said there were five possible story lines he could have chosen. He began showing footage to colleagues and friends and getting input “so it wasn’t just 90 minutes of home video stuff.”
The 15-minute short led to fund-raising to shoot in Boston, Pittsburgh and elsewhere. Friends worked for very little pay or none at all. He began to contact foundations that dealt with mitochondrial disease, and sought out production partners, potential distributors and networks. “That’s ongoing right to this day.”
Currently, he says, four volunteers are giving at least 10 hours week, helping to do medical research, or production research, or logging new footage. The project has a website that is as much informational about the condition as the film.
One debate, he says, was whether to make the project a nonprofit organization or consider finding for-profit investors.
“I had someone give me $1,000 and say, ‘Give me a business plan and I’ll give you at least $10,000 more. I was intrigued, and considered the for-profit route. Someone else was at $50,000. We began to get things together, then it turned out these two people no longer had the money. So now we were back looking at the 501(c)(3), and have been able to connect with organizations that can give money to nonprofits. We’ve gotten two $1,500 donations just in the last week.”
The shooting of the project goes all the way back to Dole’s Canon L1 (a Hi-8 format camcorder); currently, home video footage is being done on Flip HD video cameras. The project includes interview footage of various experts, shot on Panasonic HVX200 and Sony Ex1 and Ex3, depending on crews he works with for shooting.
“We have 80 hours of home video, and nine hours of interview footage,” he says.
As for his budget, “I’d tell you what it was, if I knew. When we go on a family vacation, but it’s set up with the film in mind, what do I count that as? And then there are people volunteering or working for very little. If I estimated the budget for the short with deferred payments to everyone, I’d estimate it at $25,000.”
Mitochondrial disease is not a subject the Dole family ever wraps on; likewise, the work goes on. The twins have written a script that a Dole friend and colleague is helping them produce. That, surely, will find its way into the documentary. The Doles and their story go on, but they’re working to push up awareness with the film.
The short is viewable on Facebook, “but we’re trying to get someone to take it in the broadcast side,” he says.
“I’m not even asking for a screening fee,” he says. “We’re just looking for a big-impact airing that will get some viewers. Then we’re always pressing on with the feature.”
The San Francisco Chronicle has an Associated Press piece today on the Oscar-nominated “Rabbit a la Berlin,” which tells the story of the Berlin Wall through the wild rabbits that flourished in “The Death Zone” for 28 years before the wall came down.
AP writer Vanessa Gera notes that the film, by Polish director Bartek Konopka,
… is an allegory, with the rabbits in the role of communist-era East Germans, Poles and others who lived day in and day out in an enclosed world that stripped them of freedom but took care of them, providing each individual with equal access to nourishment and a small but safe burrow.
Some of us recall the novel “Watership Down” as a rabbit-world in which human truths were told; normally, you’d not think documentary is the place for this type of storytelling, which is exactly what makes it fresh and exciting.
In an interview piece at the IDA’s Documentary.org, Konopka notes that “Nobody had done this kind of documentary before. We had to invent this fairy tale-allegory-docu genre, and it had to find its own language–and it took us four years to complete.”
Our first idea was to make a fairy tale docu narrated by the Esterhazy Rabbit, an animated character taken from a book famous in Germany. Then we changed it into the story about the GDR [German Democratic Republic--East Germany], with people talking about their lives. Finally, we came up with the purest idea–a kind of nature film about rabbits living in very special conditions. All the rest became clear for the audience…
The notion of heavy allegory with live rabbits in an historical context is counter in many ways to the trends of heavy social issues that pervade the documentary scene these days. It’s interesting to know that bending the edges of the form still has the power to be noticed and recognized.
Little did we know that March 16 is “White Stripes Day,” but there it is. And with a new documentary on that two-person band being released, the makers of “The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights” has a marketing idea that is worth celebrating.
With the notion that “audience is community,” the filmmakers are offering a “Host a Screening Kit” for people who want to show the Emmett Malloy-directed documentary to friends or fellow fans, anywhere where a DVD can be played.
A Screening Kit comes with The White Stripes Under Great White Northern Lights DVD, Popcorn, and Peppermint Swirl Candy.
There’s also a contest for the “most creative” screening – screenings hosts are asked to take photos. While no prizes are listed, that’s sort of beside the point. The idea is to take the act from being that of the consumer – I buy the DVD – to one of social networker – I host an event with people who share my passion for the subject.
This one is fairly no-frills; it seems that for certan projects, particularly ones of advocacy or social change, there are great possibilities. Making DVDs available to “hosts” before “consumers” can be a way of building word-of-mouth: Those hosts are most likely what marketers refer to as “opinion leaders.” Beyond that, the more enticing the kit – which could include limited edition items such as T-shirts, or a DVD with extras, or some other “reward” for a screening host, the more the possibilities grow.
We wrote here about Seattle’s Couchfest Film Festival a while back; imagine this as mini-Couchfests for your film.
The True/False Film Festival began seven years ago as an antidote to the increasingly difficult task of getting good documentaries into big film festivals, and has become, itself, a fairly big film festival, with 25,000 tickets sold last year. It starts tonight and runs for four days.
The Pitch chronicles how two young owners of a Columbia, Mo. art cinema came upon the idea of having a documentary film festival, and how it’s flourished. Paul Sturtz and David Wilson have beent he force begind the festival.
Sturtz acknowledges that there are other documentary film festivals, in the U.S. and internationally, that are bigger or get more premieres. But True/False has its own cache.
Number one: Moviemakers in the flesh. “We’ve done a really hard line on not including a film if it doesn’t have representation,” Sturtz says. “And that does stand out, because it’s a lot easier to just book a film. But on any given night in Columbia you can go see, like, 24 films at the Stadium or the Forum or at Ragtag. So, what’s more special about seeing 24 films at a film festival, if you don’t have the filmmaker there?”
Number two: Minimal pretension. “We’re wanting it to be accessible to a wide range of people, so it doesn’t feel like an in club,” he says. “At other festivals, it’s sort of only the serious people apply. It’s more geared toward veteran filmmakers. There’s a little more of that pomposity that we’ve successful purged from the vibe [at True/False].”
For documentarians using the Canon EOS line, the Achilles’ Heel of limited audio is at least somewhat fixed by the impending intro of the BeachTek DXA-SLR, which should be available by mid-March and allows audio monitoring, control over peaking and better connectivity, according to BeachTek.
Phillip Bloom has a review of it on his site. He says,
Of course REALLY good sound is key and this won’t be as good quality as recording sound on say a Zoom H4N which can record at a much higher bit rate and sound a lot better…but when operating one man band I feel we finally have a really usable option now. This is great news for a lot of people.
In the race of various vendors to create a market for solid-state, high-quality HD recorder, there have been a spate of new products. These include the Aja KI Pro, Convergent Design’s NanoFlash, Focus Enhancements’ FS-H200, and Two’s OB-1. All of these are devices that can route around your camcorder’s compression system and record higher bit rates, and therefore higher video quality.
But the CineDeck is one of the more interesting in that it combines its recording device with a 7-inch high-res field monitor, allowing not only two devices in one, but the ability to edit clips in the field on the device itself.
According to their PR rep Kevin Bourke, CineDeck will be available next week – March 1, to be exact. List price is $7,995.
MovieMaker mag has an online piece by documentarian Dawn Mikkelson that tracks a seeming rite of passage for filmmakers – sending to Sundance with high hopes but no success, then trying to find distribution with high hopes and no success, and finally coming to self-distribution as a way of getting your film into the hands of people who would actually want it.
My second documentary, This Obedience, became my first taste of this. The film, which follows a Midwestern lesbian Lutheran pastor whose ordination broke the rules of the church, completely paid for itself in distribution without ever being picked up by a traditional distributor or studio. The film had a robust festival tour and was broadcast on PBS affiliates throughout the U.S. (through American Public Television) and Canada (on OutTV), but that’s not where our money came from. We made back our six-figure production budget primarily through grassroots screenings, a college/seminary tour and individual DVD sales through our Website. The key was that we found our audience through relationships with nonprofits and a network of sassy Lutherans that desperately wanted to support the project and raise awareness about an issue.
The key is to get the topic to those who are connected to the topic. When a film truly breaks out, and becomes more widely popular, it can often be because a context around it changes. Why did “Man on Wire” do so well? It’s good, to be sure, but there’s also something more, a kind of nostalgia-creep about the Twin Towers that was the wave on which the film rode. “Anvil! The Story of Anvil” did enjoy a Sundance premiere, but had so little luck from there the filmmakers went to self distribution before a word-of-mouth campaign helped magically put it on the map.
If you can’t have the magic, at least make your money back, and if you can’t appeal to everyone, remember most topics have a core base of interest distributors have little interest in trying to dig for.
My dream is to be a working moviemaker who has creative control of her work and, through the support of an enthusiastic community, developing and maintaining an audience that helps me continue to do so. That’s not too shabby.