Cinema Eye Honors Roundtable Discussion - March 18, 2008
Last night I attended the inaugural Cinema Eye Honors where awards were handed out for outstanding achievement in nonfiction filmmaking. You can find the complete list of winners here. To my surprise and delight, halfway through the ceremony, co-chair Thom Powers gathered to the stage four directors whose films were nominated for awards that night—Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Darkside), Esther B. Robinson (A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory), Jason Kohn (Manda Bala) and Pernille Rose Grønkjær (The Monastery: Mr. Vig and the Nun) for a roundtable discussion. The one problem I had was that the theater was dark, and I couldn’t really see what I was writing even with the help of my cell phone light, and then when I got home, my hand writing was worse then ever, so I was only able to include below the notes that I was actually able to decipher, but they are very good statements from the four directors. (Note to self—Next year, bring the special Indiepix light pen with me.)
(L to R) Alex Gibney, Esther B. Robinson, Thom Powers, Jason Kohn & Pernille Rose Grønkjær. Photo courtesy of Indiepix.
Powers: You spent years giving money to documentaries as a foundation chick. What’s the transition been like becoming a filmmaker?
Robinson: The arts system doesn’t really have any support in America. There’s an incredible community of filmmakers who have made films like mine. All these films exist on resources of low funding.
Powers: You’ve done well taking on dry subjects like Enron and bringing them to visual life.
Gibney: At the end of the day, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is not about accounting and Taxi to the Darkside is not about interrogation. They’re about people. I’m following the trail of the narrative of the story.
Powers: You spent a lot of time making The Monastery and condensing time. What made you think this was worth a film?
Grønkjær: I was the only one. There was something in my stomach. I wanted to film him (Mr. Vig) more and more. Every time I saw him, I kind of fell in love. It was so magical to be with this guy. This was a fairy tale story. The whole visual side of this man’s universe kept me coming back.
Powers: You worked with Errol Morris before. What was it like working under another director?
Kohn: He was more than my old boss. It was nothing like what you’d imagine.
Powers: Can you reflect on where documentaries are today?
Gibney: There are no rules anymore. You’re not constrained by one kind of mysterious rulebook. There’s a sense of discovery even as you’re observing the world outside.
Robinson: There’s an extraordinary wealth of beauty and surprise. Cinema magic. There are so many producers and directors on the verge of giving up. Producers right now are really taking a hit. How do we support people making them happen?
Grønkjær: So many good documentaries are coming out of Denmark. We have a good support system. I had a discussion with my friend about telling stories. I see myself as a storyteller and not a documentary filmmaker. Some stories are better for documentaries than for fiction. I’m exploring all options.
Kohn: Documentary is not a separate form of filmmaking. It’s just another genre. We’re genre directors.