American Documentary Film Festival 2015/ 5

Sunday morning in the Camelot Theatres in Palm Springs. The headline of the morning discussion in the festival’s panel series is ”The Mating of Documentary & Narrative Cinematography”. And the panelists are ”Award winning D.P.’s Haskell Wexler ASC, Joan Churchill ASC, Stephen Lighthill ASC and Frederic Goodich ASC, who will discuss the pros and cons of current digital image capture and the impact of newly devised languages on both traditional reality capture and formal fictional narrative.” ASC stands for American Society of Cinematographers.

It became a memorable morning. Goodich was the one, who had planned the session, and he had done that in an excellent way showing clips that were commented by the panelists. Like Wexler’s classic ”Medium Cool” from 1969, like Peter Watkins ”Punishment Park” from 1971, filmed by Joan Churchill, like ”Under the Skin” with Scarlett Johansson, who plays a mysterious woman, who seduces men – non-actors who enter her car without knowing they are being filmed, if I got it right.

Joan Churchill is currently making ”My Dinner With Haskell” – here is a short quote from her website:

“My Dinner with Haskell” is a feature length documentary about the legendary cinematographer and inspirational activist filmmaker, Haskell Wexler, who we follow over a 2 year period as he interacts with the people & events in his life, using his influence to promote his message of social justice and hope, both within & outside of the Hollywood system…

A clip was shown from that upcoming film with Churchill herself behind the camera and Wexler and Pennebaker in debate about “to set up scenes or not to set up scenes”, the latter making films according to what was formulated in the prologue to the seminar by Robert Drew’s son: recording life as it happens, whereas Wexler said the vérité films – another word frequently used over here – is all fiction, somebody’s fiction, a lot of what I did in “Medium Cool” was scripted.

In the discussion that followed the clips Joan Churchill talked about her collaboration with Nick Broomfield (“we knock on the door and start filming immediately”) and told the audience that “Punishment Park” has been re-mastered and re-released – the film that Jean Rouch thought was a documentary, when he saw it!

“The hand of the filmmaker must be clear”, said Stephen Lighthill, who showed a moving clip from his film about a man, who suffers from altzheimer, can not find the title.

There was nothing new added to the everlasting discussion about documentary filmmaking but meeting Joan Churchill, who praised the new light cameras, and the 93 year old Haskell Wexler was wonderful. Wexler concluded the session by saying ”forget about How and technique, what matters is Why”. Big applause from the audience and from me to Goodrich, who set up this event that could have filled a whole day!

Photo: Wexler and Goodrich



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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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