Scene from Paris is Burning

Paris is Burning

Renowned documentary editor Jonathan Oppenheim visited the Murray Center in October for a special screening of Paris is Burning and subsequent Q&A with filmmaker-in-chief Robert Greene at Ragtag Cinema. Students also got the opportunity to meet with Oppenheim for guidance on their specific projects and careers.

Paris is Burning is an immersive documentary set in New York in the late 1980s exploring the culture of drag queens through the “balls” in which they perform, as well as in their everyday lives.

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Eric Hynes photo

Eric Hynes (right) speaks to students at the Murray Center

Film critic and journalist Eric Hynes visited the Murray Center in October to discuss the extensive parallels he sees between the New Journalism movement of the 1960s and current trends in cinematic documentary film. Hynes used Robert Greene’s Kate Plays Christine as a jumping off point for his exploration of these parallels, discussing the film with Greene, and reading excerpts from a piece he wrote in Film Comment about it.

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Cima headerWomen in filmmaking face many challenges that their male counterparts may not. As a woman student at the University of Missouri studying documentary journalism, I’ve gotten the opportunity to discuss these unique hurdles with successful women in the film industry. These difficulties affect women’s abilities to succeed in the field. But does the same fate befall women filmmakers internationally.

The dynamic European film industry encompassed 91,000 companies, employed more than 370,000 people, and reaped about €60 billion in revenues in 2010. Spain is one of the “Big Five” countries for cinema within the EU. According to a recent report from CIMA, the Spanish Association for Women Filmmakers and Audiovisual Media Professionals, male directors of narrative films outnumber females by a ratio of 5 to 1. More startling statistics include the 2015 nominations from the Goya awards, Spain’s most prominent national film awards. Out of 143 films, 65 narrative features were directed by men while just 12 were directed by women. In the documentary category, there were 50 male-directed films and 17 female-directed films. With about the same number of male and female students in film schools, this effect must come from forces outside the filmmaking education system.

Rebeca Juesas Celorio, a former social worker from Oviedo, Spain says, “There are practically no female women directors. There is a list of 50 directors of 20 Minutes, a digital news show, and only two are women. Of course, Spain is very bad in this regard… It is clear that women do not have access to leading positions in many jobs because they are women.”

The gender disparity in media in Spain is clearly noticeable to the general public. To combat this issue, 2010 CIMA held a meeting in 2010 with more than 100 women in film and TV and new technologies to discuss concerns. Afterwards, CIMA created European Women Audiovisual Network, EWA, “to achieve progress in establishing gender equality in the audiovisual world.” Spain is making strides to fight the overwhelming gender gap and give talented women more of an opportunity in the workplace.

Despite society’s pushback, CIMA’s director, Inés París, is an actor, writer for television and film, and writer/director of three feature films. In an interview from the article Spanish women directors provide an exciting model, París told Carla Reyes, the EWA manager, journalist, and producer, “The goal is to be able to count on full visibility in all the film festivals, whatever gender we are. It’s necessary to achieve equality within the juries of those festivals. But it’s clear that in order to arrive at such an ideal situation we must go through the specific festivals as a way to promote the feminine point of view in cinematography, and as an answer to the way men film-makers often condemn women film-makers to oblivion.”

París wants to utilize women’s film festivals to promote the talent of women, but that is not the end goal for her. She stresses the importance of women’s views being held equally to men’s. This is an important goal for society as a whole. Filmmakers hold different perspectives and ideals that they portray, consciously or subconsciously, through their work. Because society receives such a large proportion of media from the male perspective, París feels the audience is lacking a certain vantage point that women bring. Through the dedication of women like París, steps are being made in the right direction to support women filmmakers in Spain and across the globe.

Sutcliffe and Cabral

David Sutcliffe (right) and Lyric Cabral (center) speak with Robert Greene (left) at the Murray Center event.

An in-depth Q&A hosted by the Jonathan B. Murray Center for Documentary Journalism and led by filmmaker-in-chief Robert Greene, featured filmmakers Lyric Cabral and David Felix Sutcliffe explaining what went into their Sundance award-winning documentary (T)ERROR. The co-directors appeared for two days at the center as the kick-off visiting artists for the 2016-17 school year in August. Their film is the first ever to detail an active FBI investigation from the inside: following the life of informant Saeed Torres as he tracks a terror suspect in Philadelphia. But the deeply engaging and revelatory film wouldn’t exist without a handful of chance occurrences, the first of which was Cabral’s first contact with Torres more than 10 years ago.

As she told the audience, Cabral first met Torres when she moved into the same Harlem brownstone where he was living, in 2002. Then an undergraduate journalism student at Columbia, Cabral said Torres interested her from the start, and she went out of her way to get his attention. But after a couple years of cultivating a relationship with Torres, in 2005 he disappeared. It was then that he confessed to being an FBI informant, something Cabral said made her feel betrayed, but also gave her a story to follow.

The next chance occurrence led to Cabral and Sutcliffe’s collaboration on the project. The two had been teaching together at an after-school program in Harlem, when the FBI arrested one of Sutcliffe’s students. The arrest and ensuing court case led Sutcliffe to make a 55-minute documentary about his student, entitled Adama, and sparked his interest in FBI informants. When Sutcliffe told Cabral he wanted to make a documentary about an informant, Cabral said she actually knew one and (T)ERROR was born.

The filmmakers explained most of the process of actually shooting Torres’s investigation only took a matter of months, from the fall of 2011 through the spring of 2012. What followed was a sequence of applying for and receiving grants, networking and getting the film into festivals and a final year of editing. The finished film, which premiered at Sundance in 2015, cohesively leads audiences through a series of questions and answers, and uses their preconceptions to set up certain façades before knocking them down. But Cabral and Sutcliffe explained it took a good deal of outside help to arrive at the finished film.

Cabral audio image

Lyric Cabral plays audio of her early conversations with (T)ERROR subject Saeed Torres.

(T)ERROR is a film that builds a reality in viewers’ minds, playing off what they think they know about the FBI and terrorism, only to effectively disassemble it completely. But the process of building this reality is one with which the filmmakers struggled. Cabral and Sutcliffe told Murray Center students the opening of the film was a crucial part of that process and that getting it to where it is now was a real struggle. They said they edited several iterations of the opening scene before settling on the one in the film. As it stands, the film begins with Torres telling the filmmakers he doesn’t want to be filmed, only to consent a moment later. It establishes the unreliable, and confrontational relationship between Torres and the filmmakers that adds an air of mystery and authority, which they later strip away.

Sutcliffe cited filmmaker Laura Poitras (Citizenfour; My Country, My Country) as an inspiration and a mentor, but also said Poitras was one of several voices who cautioned him and Cabral about the potential legal pitfalls of making (T)ERROR. Cabral herself called the film an “ethical mess,” but noted there was also the possibility of legal infractions that the filmmakers had to be very careful to avoid, including obstruction of justice. With help from legal advisors, they managed to make their film without breaking the law, but in doing so they were forced to withhold certain information from their subjects, until the film was complete.

contemporary_colorDocumentary Journalism senior Marc Nemcik is interning a Filmmaker Magazine this summer.  The publication is allowing Nemcik to contribute some content, including interviews with filmmakers.  This month, Nemcik spoke with sound designer Lawrence Everson about his work on the new Ross Bros.’ documentary, Contemporary Color.  The film chronicles the renowned color guard competition as it plays out inside massive performance arenas.  Nemcik asked Everson about how he made these seemingly daunting venues work with his sound design plan.

Read the interview here at Filmmaker Magazine.

Richard Linklater picture

Filmmaker Richard Linklater

“Do you ever have those dreams that are completely real? I mean they’re so vivid it’s just like completely real. And there’s always something bizarre going on in those. I have one like once every two years or something, I always remember them really good. One time I had lunch with Tolstoy, the other time I was a roadie for Frank Zappa. Anyway, so this dream I just had was just like that except instead of anything bizarre going on, I mean there was nothing going on at all.”

—Richard Linklater, Slacker (1991)

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San Diego Film FestivalAttention student filmmakers: After putting in all of this work and creating great films, it is time to share your stories with the world. So what is the next step? Though some prominent film festivals don’t accept student work, there are many that encourage students to submit their work. Listed below are several choices:

San Diego Film Festival: Located in San Diego, California, SDFF’s vision is to “…to build community around the art of visual storytelling…[by] present[ing] the viewing of films and discussions with filmmakers that inspire, entertain, educate, transform and stimulate conversation among film lovers.” With the festival running this year from September 28 to October 2, submissions opened on February 8 and close by the extended entry deadline of June 24. Entry fees start at $30 and go up to $110, and student filmmakers can receive a discount of up to $10.

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Penny Lane

Filmmaker Penny Lane

Documentary filmmakers constantly search for stories and ideas that will connect with their intended audiences. When creating a personal brand, filmmakers have another challenge facing them: connect with not only their audiences, but also prospective clients, subjects, funding sources, distribution houses, and other entities in the documentary industry.  Here is the story of two documentary filmmakers, Penny Lane and Nick Broomfield, who have established their identity to communicate their brand of storytelling online.

Penny Lane

Filmmaker Penny Lane has that name. She is so aware of her connection to the Beatles’ hit song that she devotes an entire section of her website to it. “Is ‘Penny Lane’ some sort of stage name, or nom de plume?” reads the first line of her Frequently Asked Questions section on her website. Her succinct answer: no. Lane’s FAQ follows with several more questions, all regarding her name and the Beatles. Did she change her name legally? “No. Penny Lane is my given name. It’s on my birth certificate.” Lane has seized the opportunity to showcase her sense of humor, and to clear the air about her given name throughout her website. It is a sort­ of built-in brand, that she had to do nothing to achieve, because it was given to her at birth. She concludes her FAQ by answering this question: “Did your parents like the Beatles?” Her answer: “Clearly.”

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BudgetFilmmaking is expensive, that’s a certainty. Previously on the Documentary Journalism website, I wrote about must-subscribe YouTube channels for documentary filmmakers. Two of these, Film Riot and Indy Mogul, have a strong focus on cheap work arounds for independent filmmakers to help stomach the costs of bringing films to life.

For this series of articles we’re going to look at some traditional roles that go into working on a feature length film and how filmmakers on a budget can cut costs by doing the work themselves.

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Tim Day headshot

Tim Day

In an industry where the ultimate goal is to have the final product displayed on a giant screen, it’s easy to focus so much on the visual aspects of your film that you forget about the sounds that you’re capturing. However, the sound of a film is what conveys the emotion of the story to the audience. As a filmmaker, I find myself getting obsessed wiht the framing of a shot or getting everything in focus so much that I completely forget to make sure my sound is perfect. That leads to hours in the editing room trying to find any usable sound from my footage. To gain more of an insight to the people who work in audio, I interviewed Tim Day, a sound designer and creative director at Center City Film & Video in Philadelphia.

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