The makers of the documentary film “Restrepo” tell the Wall Street Journal that they worked to keep politics out of the film.
Sebastian Junger and Tim Hetherington self-funded their film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance.
“Very few people believed we could do this,” said Hetherington. “We came to realize that in order to make the film we wanted, we needed absolute editorial control so financed the entire film ourselves. Filming in Afghanistan was probably the easier part of completing the project.” Junger added that they duo essentially walked away from the full ride — “it would’ve cost no money from our pockets” — because their potential partners refused to have a conversation about editorial control. “Thankfully, we sold the TV rights [to National Geographic], or else we would have been in a lot of trouble.”
Given Junger’s acclaim as the author of “The Perfect Storm,” and Hetherington’s years of experience as a combat photographer, funding must have been a bit easier, even though it was their first documentary. What is interesting is their disinterest – i.e., neutrality – in an age of cause-driven documentaries that often seem on a far political edge.
The documentary film lately seems to have been hijacked by causes — and they’re great causes that need documentaries and it’s an effective way of creating social justice and awareness. But in the public’s mind, that’s what documentary film is. It espouses a cause and they run with it. When people hear the words ‘war documentary,’ they assume it’s a liberal film, probably with an anti-war message, and this film definitely is not.
It’s an interesting situation. Could a filmmaker less-known than Junger get traction with a doc that avoided a point of view politically? Or, will the success of “Restrepo” be a bellwhether for more journalistically objective documentaries that have been pushed aside for cause-driven work? We hope it’s the latter… telling a story without telling an audience what to think politically would be a legitimate niche for docs…
The Film Collaborative, an Los Angeles-based nonprofit, is crowdfunding at IndieGoGo with the current goal of $2,000, saying, “We want distribute films that studios won’t touch, and bring American audiences diverse filmmaker voices from all over the world.”
As a non-profit film distributor, we count on contributions to maintain our educational and filmmaker support services that include:
1) Helping filmmakers get their films exhibited and distributed around the world.
2) Bringing important, award-winning, socially conscious films to a theater near you. Especially those that the traditional distributors overlook.
3) Our Digital Distribution Guide
4) To continue creating our Distributor report card (a “Yelp” for distribution).
5) To enhance our filmmaker community network so that filmmakers can share contacts and data (we call this “Facebook-for-Filmmakers”)
6) to develop an iPhone App and enhance our site to be a platform for filmmakers
Our next release is the SUNDANCE 2010 WORLD CINEMA AUDIENCE AWARD WINNER “UNDERTOW” (CONTRACORRIENTE) directed by Javier Fuentes.
We’re NON-PROFIT on purpose so that filmmakers can reap their own revenues for their next films. Donate to us today, any sum from $5.00 – $5,000 and enjoy the tax write-off. Our Advisory Board and Mission Statement and lots of other information is on our website www.thefilmcollaborative.org
THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!
The Film Collaborative
By supporting and contributing to The Film Collaborative, you can help close the distribution gap between great films and under-served audiences. We will provide a service to filmmakers they do not teach in film school, or anywhere else. We can help filmmakers exhibit their films to the public, provide direct distribution options so that filmmaker can actually earn their money back and make another film. There has never been an entity that both educates filmmakers and provides distribution without controlling filmmakers’ rights, until now.
We don’t take filmmaker’s rights. We are here to help!
Putting PL mount cinema lenses on DSLR bodies is one way to go, and the question is always what you get for that amount of expense: A PL-mount Zeiss Ultra Prime 32 lists at AbelCine at $12,100, so it had better be good. How does it match a camera that has been criticized for its weak codec until a hack to its firmware opened up some of its capabilities?
At PrepShootPost, the experiment is underway:
First up was the Zeiss Ultra Primes, a 16mm and 32mm. Then the Optimo Zoom, and I managed to get a few shots with Sean Safreed’s Voigtlander as a comparison of what a non-PL still camera lens looks like shooting the same stuff.Below are some shots done with the 16mm/32mm and an Optimo Zoom 15-40mm and one shot with Voigtlander 35mm, can you guess which one?
The Los Angeles Film Festival hosted a symposium on DIY filmmaking from several of the most knowledgeable in the filed: Ted Hope, Jon Reiss, Peter Broderick and Kickstarter.com’s Yancey Stickler.
IndieWire has a piece that highlights 10 thoughts from that symposium, many of which are useful for documentary filmmakers. They include:
- The notion that building an audience base that will follow you to the next project is important, which means filmmakers must look at their work as unified in some way. Hope: “Focus on the ongoing conversation with your audience. You won’t be delivering a single product anymore. You will be delivering many products in many formats in many variations.”
- The notion that crowdfunding docs is often more successful that features. Stickler: “Features have a harder time raising money than documentaries because there isn’t a core group interested in the subject, so you’re selling yourself.”
- Social media builds on your storytelling. “MySpace Director of Content Socialization Sean Percival reinforced that social media is just another way of continuing your film’s narrative.”
- Filmmakers must be salespeople in the DIY model. “Producer of “Children of Invention” Mynette Louie warned that DIY distribution will suck up a lot of your time and your other projects will be neglected.”
One of the somewhat disturbing trends we’ve noted in documentary filmmaking in the past decade is one we believe has been directly attributable to reality television: One in which the story culminates in a head-to-head competition among the show’s participants.
Julia Child has been supplanted by Iron Chef. “The Real World” is a fake world in which bogus contests reign. “The Apprentice” portrays the world of business as a series of foolish and often humiliating petty competitions (OK, well maybe that’s true).
Documentaries in that way have shifted on some levels from being discussions of a reality or a portrait of a world (“Fog of War,” “Harlan County” “Grey Gardens”) into a plotline that takes us to the championships of something (“Spellbound” about spelling bees, “Wordplay,” about crossword puzzles, “The Good Mother,” about a Mother of the Year contest, “Superhero,” in which a Superman impersonator takes part in a look-alike contest, etc).
In many ways, this film would not seem out of place on a television network. With an emphasis on the competition more than on the subjects’ inner lives, with the through-line building toward who is “the best,” and with the emphasis on the visuals of the on-stage competition, it borrows heavily of the reality-show convention, as so many of these types of films do.
Competition documentaries have a fairly standardized format: We visit several contestants in their home environments, seeing them talk about the impending contest, then we shift to the competition venue, generally at midpoint. This makes for a very dependable production schedule and very clear structure: preparation/competition/reflective denouement. It’s a format that can be accomplished with minimal shooting days and with a dependable “moment of truth.”
Having the story build to a winner, and losers, can make for both an easy audience experience and perhaps one that loses the greater ingredient of documentaries, which is the open question. Watching Robert McNamara squirm and defend in “Fog of War” leaves one disturbed and uncertain; “Grey Gardens” give us “it is what it is” experience with no easy answers. Isn’t that a good thing?
The fact that it has taken the $50,000 documentary prize at LAFF may also indicate a certain legitimization of this form. Having the drama of the contest, mixed with the familiarity of the reality format for audiences, may may it more accessible for wider audiences, but is it changing the form?
The question may be whether that’s creating less space for the purely thoughtful documentary that examines, questions and contemplates. When one looks at “classics” as “Titicut Follies,” “Don’t Look Back” or “The Last Days,” one wonders if they would have a harder time finding a place in the new landscape.
Must there always be competitions? Monty Python asked that question years ago with “Philosophy Football”:
Since a techie who calls himself Tester 13 reverse engineered the firmware of the Panasonic Lumix GH1 to deliver a high-bitrate MJPEG codec rather than the AVCHD codec native to the camera, the debate on image quality has gone on. At DVXUser, PappasArts did some testing and has posted his findings. Go here to see large-scaled images.
The Chevron case continues, and with it the question of whether documentary filmmakers should be able to exercise journalistic privilege, as 300 “prominent” documentarians signed a letter to the U.S, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
To recap the case, accordng to Dow Jones,
Joseph Berlinger, the producer of “Crude: The Real Price of Oil,” has been ordered to turn over 600 hours of nonpublic footage he shot.
Lawyers for Chevron, and two Chevron lawyers facing criminal charges in Ecuador, have argued the footage should be turned over because it will shed light on a corrupt legal process in Ecuador. They argue the deck is stacked against the oil company in a bruising legal fight over environmental damages to Ecuador’s Amazon region. Another filing Wednesday by Dole Food Company Inc. (DOLE) in the case supported Chevron’s position that the footage should be available.
Earlier this month the appeals court upheld a stay on the matter and approved an expedited hearing on the appeal, likely coming next month.
It’s good to see that while the fiction-film community is signing petitions for Roman Polanski, the documentary crowd is arguing they are journalists. The court, in its decision, will have to decide whether this is true. Documentary filmmakers have often preferred to characterize their work as “entertainment,” especially when their treatment of the facts is not, shall we say, precise (see Michael Moore, whose name does not appear to be on this filing).
Dole, according to the wire story,
…which is itself embroiled in legal battles in Latin America, said a documentary shot on its operations in Nicaragua knowingly disregarded the truth. While it was able to use the footage of the film in its own lawsuits, it said if the court protected the “Crude” outtakes under journalistic privilege it would be overstepping the law’s intent.
“Notwithstanding the alarmist claims that the heavens will fall if Berlinger is forced to provide the outtakes to interviews of persons who voluntarily appeared on camera for his film,” Dole’s brief says, “the incursion on the interests of Berlinger, or other documentary filmmakers, is minimal.”
When documentary filmmakers ask to be treated as journalists, they will have to answer as journalists. That includes being open to lawsuits regarding fairness, accuracy. The judge in the case, Lewis Kaplan, said,
Berlinger investigated … a newsworthy event, and disseminated his film to the public. The Court therefore assumes that a qualified journalists’ privilege applies to Berlinger’s raw footage.” However, “[t]he protection afforded by the journalists’ privilege turns on whether the material sought is confidential or nonconfidential.
Initially, the brief was prepared on behalf of the International Documentary Association. The following organizations joined the brief: Center for Asian American Media, Directors Guild of America, Film Independent, IFP, Inc., Latino Public Broadcasting, Native American Public Telecommunications, National Association of Latino Independent Producers, Pacific Islanders in Communications, Producers Guild of America, Tribeca Film Institute, University Film and Video Association, Women Make Movies, Writers Guild of America East and Writers Guild of America West. Individual amici also joined the brief: Patricia Aufderheide, Theodore Braun (“Darfur Now”), Kirby Dick (“This Film Is Not Yet Rated”), Alex Gibney (“Casino Jack and the United States of Money”), Andrew Goldberg (“Armenian Genocide”), Robert Kenner (“Food, Inc.”), Tia Lessin (“Capitalism: A Love Story”), Eddie Schmidt (President of the International Documentary Association) and Ricki Stern (“Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”).
The case is set to be heard by the Court of Appeals panel on July 14.
We can’t see too many serious documentary filmmakers needing to know this, but Gizmodo has a bit about editing movies on the iPhone, and if nothing else it’s testament to how the technology has become accessible.
The iMovie app opens quizzically, with unlabeled icons. Just hit the plus to start a project. Pick one of five themes—modern, bright, travel, playful and news—which come with transitions, animated title art for opening, middle and closing clips, and music.
You add clips from your video collection, which are shown like iMovie for Mac clips, with multiple thumbs per clip. You add another video or image and transitions are inserted between clips. Click on those transitions to use the theme or generic fade transitions, and adjust the time to change. You can also add video or stills using the camera, or add your own soundtrack from your music collection.
Anthony Kaufman has a feature at IFC examining the spate of combat documentaries out of Iraq and Afghanistan, called “Giving Audiences The War They Want.”
Interestingly, with all that technology affords to bring these war zones into our living rooms, the American public has seemed to largely ignore the, But, Kaufman says,
Indeed, the filmmakers behind “Restrepo,” “Armadillo” and “Hell and Back Again” all have similar aims: to capture a “you are there” immediacy that filmed combat can so bracingly convey. And because of the nature of the war in Afghanistan, and its many differences to the more diffuse battlefront in Iraq — in addition to the use of intimate shooting techniques — they’ve been able to evoke the kinetic horrors of war in a much more palpable way.
He examines the work, among others of Danfung Dennis, who was featured last October at this site in a piece by Kurt Lancaster. His film was then titled “The Battle For Hearts and Minds” but seems to have changed into “Hell and Back gain” as Dennis seems to have found his story there.
Shot with the Canon 5D Mark II, which looks like a standard still camera, and mounted on a lightweight stabilizing system with custom-made aluminum “wings,” Dennis’ scenes have a kind of gut-wrenching quality that echoes the violent landscapes we’ve come to associate with previous war imagery, whether the jungles of Vietnam or the beaches of Normandy, whether their fictional representations, from “Apocalypse Now” to “Saving Private Ryan” to those from news footage.
And yet, there’s also something disingenuous about these documentaries. Much of Afghanistan’s plight — and America’s rebuilding efforts — has nothing to do with flying bullets, attack helicopters and soldiers struck down in the heat of battle.
Playing alongside “Restrepo” at the Human Watch International Film Festival this week, Carol Dysinger’s “Camp Victory, Afghanistan,” which examines U.S. soldiers’ efforts to train an Afghan army, lacks the nail-biting suspense of its more war-like brethren, but its wider scope and awareness of cultural — not bloody — conflicts is frankly more accurate about what’s at sake.