It's an exciting time to be a documentary maker. Today, we announced Made With Kickstarter, a new showcase of emerging filmmakers over at the New York Times. In celebration, we asked the filmmakers to talk to us about their own documentaries as well as the direction that documentary filmmaking is headed.
All of the documentaries below can be watched over at the Times' video page.
"I was interested in stories behind objects — what a thing can tell us about a person, a place, or a time — specific stories that point to universal truths and experiences. What better place to explore this idea than at the world's longest yard sale? I made a short documentary about a yard sale in LA several years ago. So many weird and wonderful people showed up that day. So when I read about the world's longest yard sale I knew I had to make a film there.
I'm not sure documentaries need to "go" anywhere. In honor of Albert Maysles (who passed away on Thursday, and whom I had the pleasure of knowing), I recently re-watched Salesman. For me, nothing tops that film. It's such an intimate portrait of a human being and his unique experience. Every time I watch it I connect with it in a different way and have new insights. I'm not saying all documentaries should try to emulate Salesman. There are definitely some really interesting experimental and "hybrid" documentaries being made these days. And, of course, contemporary filmmakers are making some amazing direct cinema films. Each filmmaker should do what feels appropriate for them. I can only answer this question for myself and say that personally, I aspire to make a film as intimate, nuanced, and beautiful as Salesman."
"When I first read about Bill's story I was struck at his drive to be the best at whatever he does. He found that he's great at bowling and has spent the better part of his life at being the best that he can be. The night that he was on the path towards a 900 (three perfect games or 36 strikes in a row), which is the event Strike focuses on, was a special moment that I think any athlete or creative can connect with. It's about being in the zone, where everything in the outside world melts away, all of your skills and training fall into place, your focus is razor sharp, and you're just in an unstoppable flow. But as robotic and consistent as you hope to be, we're only human and things don't always go perfectly. That was what I wanted to capture in the film.
It's an awesome time for documentaries. The internet has obviously helped more films find an audience, but even more traditional broadcasters are getting behind docs, like ESPN and CNN. The quality of filmmaking and story telling options has also improved, thanks to really great and really inexpensive camera gear. You can shoot amazing footage with a kit that you can toss into a bag. Aerial shots are cheap. With GoPros you can pretty much stick a camera anywhere you can imagine. Smooth, cinematic shots no longer require a Steadicam rig or giant dolly. And the improvement in technology isn't just about making prettier pictures - with smaller cameras documentary filmmakers can get access to areas where before they would have called too much attention to themselves. We've all got an amazing video production studio in our pocket.
The cost of gear and shooting great images is decreasing while our options in how and where we can visually tell a story and keep an audience engaged is increasing."
— Joey Daoud, Strike: The Greatest Bowling Story of All Time
"My film was inspired by John Roderick’s memoir “Minka: My Farmhouse in Japan.” I’ve always been drawn to films about memory and storytelling. Reading the book, I fell in love with the idea of their house as a container of memory.
Documentaries will continue to be as exciting, moving and profound as they have always been, in old and new ways. So many brilliant filmmakers are pushing boundaries, expanding the form, and taking risks of all kinds."
— Davina Pardo, Minka
"I was in New York on 9/11/01, editing my first documentary. I knew I wanted to try to address 9/11 in a film somehow, but it wasn’t until four years later that the story for The Trees presented itself. I was on the subway and met a friend of a friend who was a landscape architect working on the design of the 9/11 Memorial plaza. I was immediately hooked by the story he told me: Each of the 400-odd oak tress that would make up the memorial grove were symbolically gathered from the areas affected by the attacks — the New York metro area, D.C., Virginia and Pennsylvania. The trees would be grown in giant boxes in New Jersey for five years before being trucked into the city — across the Manhattan Bridge—and planted in time for the 10th anniversary of 9/11/01. And the entire memorial plaza would be one of the largest “green roofs” in the world. So I set out to make a film that is both an examination of how one thinks about and designs memorials, but also a behind the scenes look at this humongous and exciting construction operation. I also saw film as a way to showcase the engaging, passionate and unheralded landscape architects and arborists deeply involved in rebuilding lower Manhattan. The more I filmed, the more it became clear that The Trees must also explore the deeper themes of how communities mark loss and the way memorials can function simultaneously as vibrant public spaces and places of remembrance within in urban environments.
I do believe that crowdfunding platforms are vital to the future of documentaries. We’ve had some success at our production company getting grants to make documentaries, but it’s very competitive and just feels like the sources have dried up over the years. This is not to say that doing a $52,000 Kickstarter — the amount we raised for The Trees—is easy. Far from it. It was many, many hours of work from a large and dedicated team of people. But we were successful and the percentage that Kickstarter takes as a fee is roughly the same as “fiscal sponsors” take in the grant world. At the same time, the Kickstarter campaign helped us to dramatically build buzz and awareness through social networking and news stories. It even led to conversations with distributers for the film.
So to me, this means that anyone out there with a great story and dedication can bring their documentary to life. They don’t need to enter into the arcane world of grant writing. They can then take their finished film and self-distribute it on something like Vimeo on Demand, which allows the filmmaker to keep 90% of the profits. We all want our films to end up getting bought by PBS, IFC, or HBO, etc., but if they’re not, they can still be seen and filmmakers can try to recoup some costs. That to me is a great thing and makes me hopeful for the future, especially as all of this technology matures."
Scott Elliott, The Trees: Growing a Forest at Ground Zero
"When I met Jean and heard her story, a story of a mother whose son who was killed on the streets of Harlem who then co-founded the organization "Harlem Mothers" to fight for other children’s life, I was totally amazed by the heart of this woman. I wanted to tell her story and help her cause any way I could.
I’m happy to see documentary films everywhere I go. They are in cinemas, airplanes, schools, these films are made by everyone today, from professional filmmakers to grannies who want to tell their stories. Maybe one day instead of sending postcards to people will send to each other documentary films they made. It’s like documentaries are becoming a pen to express what is in our hearts. Most importantly, documentary films provide social change in our societies. This gives me the strength to continue making social films."
— Ivana Todorovic, A Harlem Mother