It’s a weird time to be a nonfiction filmmaker in America. But rarely has it been more important. Not only do we need true stories, but we need deep, nuanced true stories that eschew the broad brush of clickbait journalism in favor of what New York Times writer Michiko Kakutani called “the fresh, mixed-up happy-sad texture of real life.” In other words: we need documentary filmmakers. And we need good ones.
“On your way to wonderful, you’re gonna have to pass through all right,” Bill Withers warns filmmaker Damani Baker in his documentary Still Bill. “And when you get to all right, take a good look around and get used to it, because that may be as far as you’re gonna go.” In other words, it’s very hard to be great. And very few people get there.
We’ve spent more than four years of talking with some of the best filmmakers in the world, and there are a few questions we haven’t asked. What had these filmmakers been totally wrong about when they first started? And what was the very best thing they did for their careers? We thought these two questions could help calibrate the navigation system — give us all a sense of what we should be moving toward, and what we should be moving away from. So we sent out a bunch of emails. The responses we got back were wonderful and surprising. Some were personal (Eliot Rausch’s sobriety; Reinaldo Green meeting his wife). Some were professional (Joel Edward’s disillusionment with the industry; MINDCASTLE’s belief in director’s cuts). But they all had one thing in common: these lessons were learned painstakingly and firsthand.