“Filmmaker TalkBack: Close-Up and Personal”
Coverage by Daniel Rester
At the 12th annual Ashland Independent Film Festival, a series of “filmmaker talkbacks” were held. The one on Saturday, April 6th featured a number of documentary filmmakers discussing their craft – and was titled “Close-Up and Personal.” The panel was moderated by Lucy Walker, winner of this year’s AIFF Rogue Award – as well as being an Academy Award nominee and the director of the new documentary The Crash Reel.
The speakers included Sam Cullman and Benjamin Rosen, who made the short documentary Black Cherokee, and Riley Hooper, who made the short documentary Flo. Also included was Jill Orschel, who made the short documentary Like a Dance. As for longer films, there were directors Tad Nakamura (for Jake Shimabukuro – Life on Four Strings) and Greg Finton (for The World According to Dick Cheney).
The talkback began with Walker becoming interested in why each director chose to make documentaries. Finton said, “[We] do everything we can to make ordinary people into larger-than-life characters.” Orschel responded that she liked putting “order into chaos,” referring to the struggles of documenting things. Nakamura discussed times that he connected to films in a high school history class, while Cullman discussed his impatience for fiction and Rosen described the improvisation and collaboration within documentaries. Hooper found that she loved to “connect to real stories,” while Walker discussed how they were all in the “golden age of documentaries.”
Walker then switched gears and asked the filmmakers if there were particular films that had influenced them. Finton noted Paris, Texas, while both he and Walker agreed on Hoop Dreams as well. Hooper found that she loved the observational style of Salesman, while Orschel was inspired by Roger & Me. Rosen found Larry Clark’s work on Kids to be amazing, while Cullman found inspiration from Hearts and Minds. Nakamura first discussed how his parents were documentarians before moving on to state that Style Wars and Dogtown and Z-Boys were both important to him. Walker, feeling that Finton “stole her answer” (in a joking manner), wrapped things up with that part of the discussion by talking about Streetwise.
The next part of the panel focused on the processes behind making films. Finton said that Showtime initially approached him about making Cheney, and that he approached Cheney as a film character. The project supposedly took eighteen months to complete. Rosen is used to the “unique process” of directing and producing reality TV. Cullman searches for subjects that he believes he could still have an interest in at least five years down the road. Hooper searches for “the human experience,” while Orschel “doesn’t look for the truth [behind a subject, but rather] a truth.” She described it to be like a dance. Nakamura stated that he believed trust between the filmmaker and the subject was essential, while also thinking about the audience.
The final part of the talkback focused on the unique relationships with film characters. Walker believes that filmmakers have a great responsibility, because “the camera is affecting everything, always.” She described it to be like holding a mirror up to subjects in way. Orschel stated that she “feels like she’s [often] in the [material],” while Nakamura discussed how “[one] always projects a little bit about [themselves in the work].” Cullman got perhaps the most interest from the crowd, however, stating, “The film is about them but not for them.”
Walker then allowed for the talkback to come to a finish. Audience members came up and spoke to the filmmakers, as journalists snapped photos and wrote notes. And then everyone went back to their other film festival activities. Overall, the talkback seemed to be both informative and successful.
*All of the above quotes are taken from the talkback itself, and no other source.
Some of the filmmakers introduce themselves: