Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sterlin Harjo on the Dos and Don'ts of Filming in Indian Country


“If I had a dollar every time a white guy asked me to b a 'producer' on their standing rock doc I'd be able to fund my own standing rock doc"


That quote is a tweet from veteran indie filmmaker (and one of the founders of Native comedy troupe The 1491s) Sterlin Harjo, a member of the Seminole Tribe with Muskogee heritage, who has been asked a lot of Indian questions lately. He's been asked to produce three or four docs on Standing Rock, and to suggest Native casts for two current TV shows, but not once to write or direct—even though his résumé from the past decade includes three narrative features and one doc, all of which were acclaimed Sundance premieres. So it's with heartfelt gratitude — and a bit of trepidation — that I reached out to him to ask just a few more.


To read the interview visit Documentary magazine.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Whose Story?: Five Doc-Makers on (Avoiding) Extractive Filmmaking

From Black Lives Matter to Standing Rock, the question of who has the "right" to tell a community’s story has been endlessly debated this year, with no clear answer in sight. Sure, everyone can pretty much agree that "drive by" doc-making—usually involving a white journalist/filmmaker swooping down on a community of color, nabbing some sensationalistic footage over a few days, then quickly returning to an editing home base far, far away—is not the way to go about getting to any sort of deep truth surrounding an issue.

But exactly how much on-the-ground time is required to be a so-called "insider"? And who counts as an outsider anyway? As Erik Ljung, debut director of The Blood Is at The Doorstep—a harrowing look at one victim's family's struggle in the wake of the killing of black and unarmed Dontre Hamilton by a white Milwaukee cop—puts it, "I am a white man living in Milwaukee, and my experience is very different from that of the Hamilton family, who live just a mile from me." While Ljung takes care to emphasize that he's a Caucasian male who's never been racially profiled, he also happens to live down the street, so to speak, from his protagonists. In other words, the range of possibilities between what's come to be debated as "extractive" storytelling and a powerful, POC-shot, Ferguson-immersive film like Sabaah Folayan and (St. Louis homeboy) Damon Davis' Whose Streets? is anything but black and white.


To read the rest of my article check out the fall issue of Documentary magazine.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Doc Star of the Month: Oakland Police Department Deputy Chief LeRonne Armstrong, 'The Force'

The second part in a trilogy exploring interrelated systems within the wider Oakland community, The Force, for which Peter Nicks nabbed the Best Directing, US Documentary award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, is a riveting cinema vérité look inside the Oakland Police Department as it struggles to implement the reforms deemed necessary to lift it out from under federal oversight. Filmed over an adrenaline-fueled two years, the film is also, unfortunately but honestly, a powerful portrait of best-laid plans gone dangerously awry.

Documentary was lucky enough to catch up with the OPD's own Deputy Chief LeRonne Armstrong, a caring and surprisingly candid Oakland native, en route from his northern hometown to the film's LA premiere.


To read my interview visit Documentary magazine.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Tone and Form: Elvira Lind on 'Bobbi Jene'

I first met the Danish director Elvira Lind at the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival (where I help program the features). This was back in 2014, the year before she won the CPH:DOX New Talent Award, before she launched her queer docuseries, Viceland's Twiz and Tuck. Lind was at the spa town to present Songs for Alexis, her extraordinarily nuanced portrait of Ryan Cassata, a teenage musician transitioning into adulthood (and into another gender. Ryan also happens to be trans—and in love with the titular Alexis, his cisgender girlfriend). When Ryan treated the audience to a post-screening concert, the cheers from his proud mom were rivaled only by those of the doc's director—who was simultaneously cheering and shooting, of course. In other words, Elvira Lind is a documentarian who invests as much in her flesh-and-blood subjects as in the films themselves—a trait that often separates the good storytellers from the great.


To read the rest visit Documentary magazine.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

“Women Are Often Seen as a Risk while Men are an Investment”: Ingrid Veninger on Porcupine Lake and her pUNK Films Femmes Labs

Porcupine Lake is the sixth feature from pUNK Films founder Ingrid Veninger. It’s also the first from the pUNK Films Femmes Labs, which started as a DIY idea of gathering six Canadian female filmmakers to work on their six screenplays for six months to reality — courtesy of Oscar-winner Melissa Leo, who happened to hear Veninger’s pitch for funding at the Whistler Film Festival and immediately sign on as sponsor.

The film itself feels like a throwback to the early heady (not to mention pre-tech, as there’s not a smartphone-glued character in sight!) days of low-key/low-budget independent film. It’s a cinematic coming-of-age tale that follows two preteens, Bea from Toronto and Kate from the summer cottage town in rural Ontario where the film is set, as they navigate everything from sex and sexuality and troubled parents who often act like children to older siblings with troubles of their own. In other words, it’s a small story that captures life’s momentous changes and adult consequences. Filmmaker was fortunate enough to catch up with the Slovakian-Canadian actor/producer/writer/director prior to the flick’s TIFF premiere.


To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.

Fighting MS and Big Pharma: Matt Embry on Living Proof

A journey both personal and political, Matt Embry’s Living Proof follows the Canadian filmmaker on his quixotic quest to get some answers to a medical mystery. If no one knows the causes or cures for multiple sclerosis, then why are so many MS charities touting drugs (with considerable side effects) that don’t work in the long term? And why does the FDA drag its feet on approving promising non-pharmaceutical cures? And why won’t the powers that be in the MS establishment listen to the director himself, diagnosed with the disease over two decades ago, and who through only strict diet and exercise (and Vitamin D and a drug-free procedure called CCSVI), remains healthy and surprisingly asymptomatic? For Embry, the obvious answers lie buried in the bottom line of Big Pharma — a risky diagnosis to make. Filmmaker caught up with the Calgary native shortly before the film’s TIFF premiere.


To read my interview visit Filmmaker magazine.