Class Agenda – Wednesday, May 3


Moving toward longer-form filmmaking


Benefits/costs of working alone vs. with a team?

DP (director of photography), B camera, lighting, producers, etc.

Feature-length documentary shot by one woman: First to Fall

Interview with filmmaker Rachel Beth Anderson

Traditional documentary: Luchadora

Funded by Kickstarter

Example of verite short documentary: Extremis

Excerpt from interview with the director:

How did you gravitate towards Donna as the main patient you focus on?

The overall strategy was to round with an ICU attending physician and then find appropriate moments to introduce myself and explain what I was doing in the ICU and have a conversation with some of the patients that were confronting some of these questions that I was hoping to capture. It was actually a different physician that I was rounding with that day that introduced me [to Donna] – Dr. [Monica] Bhargava, the Indian-American physician that you see in the film. During rounds, she said there’s a family here that you might want to talk to because they’re dealing with these questions and they’re very thoughtful about it. I went and spoke to Donna’s brother Gordon and immediately, he understood the value of the film. I didn’t have to convince him of anything. He instantly saw this was a way to connect with other people and that other people could derive value from understanding what they were going through.

When something like that happens as a documentary filmmaker, you just fall to your knees and thank whatever documentary gods you think are watching over you because it’s such a gift to be able to find someone who in the midst of such pain and hardship can understand the value of capturing the experience to share with other people. And even though [Donna] couldn’t talk, she was completely conscious. There were times when her family wasn’t there when she would just wave me in with her hand and we’d have a one-sided conversation because obviously she couldn’t respond to me, but she could nod and she was completely onboard with it from the very second I walked in the room. They were actually the first family that I really spent a lot of time with and that was very encouraging to me early in the process. You have to understand I am approaching people on what may be the worst day of their lives and asking to film them. It’s not an easy ask and to find someone like Donna and Gordon, who instantly understood the value of the film and were willing to make themselves vulnerable in order to share their story, that was a huge, huge gift.

While it’s a situation you instantly empathize with, you also are able to present everyone on camera in multidimensional terms, though you resist doing traditional sit-down interviews or asking about anyone’s backstory on camera. Was it difficult to achieve that?

Yeah, it was a question as I continued filming how much backstory I would present — would I go home with some of the patients’ families and capture that dimension of who they are and their life? It’s hard to explain creative impulses sometimes, but I just had the very strong feeling that the film wanted to live in the ICU, that it wanted to be present tense and it really wanted to focus on the process of decision making. The humanity of the patients and their families would be so strongly represented in those moments that their backstory would feel superfluous in a way.

What we are seeing is people who are confronting the most fundamental human questions in the moment and in my opinion, that tells you everything you need to know about a person. Part of the reason this is a short film is because what we infer about all these people, even when we see them in just short pieces only in the ICU, has more dimension, more humanity, more beauty than we would see if we spent an hour of screen time with them at home because what we’re capturing in those moments is really who they are at their core.


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