That’s me telling her to make documentary films. Do you see how serious I am?
Anyone and everyone could be a documentary filmmaker if they just found a story that they loved, felt passionate about, and had the stamina to stick with it for the long run. But if you want to make a documentary that really connects with an audience, you have to pick a great subject or a great way to visually tell your subject’s story.
Some documentaries that I feel have done this and done this to the point of mastery are the following: Grizzly Man, The White Diamond, Burden of Dreams, Standard Operating Procedure, A State of Mind (this is a MUST SEE documentary about the North Korean equivalent of the Olympics. Brilliant.), When the Levees Broke, Gray Gardens, and Bus 174 which blew my freaking mind in the mastery of telling this story. There are many many more incredible documentaries, but these are the ones I think of immediately when rattling off a list of my favorites.
I hope to some day reach the same level of storytelling mastery and visual language excellence as these documentary films, but I will never get there if I don’t just start making documentary films myself.
Original DVD cover of Proceed and Be Bold!
When I first decided to try making Proceed and Be Bold! (the film I am touring around for the On Screen/ In Person Grant) it was 2008, I was an Associate Producer making hour long documentaries for a public access station and just wanted to gain some more practice, so I could do my job better. So I started with a short documentary about Amos that I posted to Youtube which was in its infancy at the time-it was a freaking baby! No one had any idea that Youtube would become the #1 online location for video consumption. (Watch out though, Youtube, Facebook is hot on your trail and wants your #1 spot.)
It was so new, that I only thought to even post up the short video in order to show it to Amos quickly before mailing a DVD of the documentary to a short college film festival near him that he wanted to screen it at. In one week, the video got 800 views (which was a much bigger deal back then than it is now), because Amos had sent it to Letterpress listservs and emailed it to all of the printers he knew.
There was so little representation of letterpress printers, that the community went wild, and I immediately knew that there needed to be a documentary about Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. and his work. I had no plan and I had no clue, and I honestly think that those are two major requirements for making your first film or documentary. I know that there are people out there that will fight me about my opinion on this, but I don’t care. Screw film school, screw people telling you that you can’t do it and just do it. Just do it to show yourself you can do it. Show your friends, family, the world. Hell, do it to show Nike you can do it. Honestly, if I can do it, you can do it. And so can you and so can you too. And if you fail, you can write me an email and cry to me about it, and I’ll let you know that it’s okay to fail and after you cry awhile, I’ll tell you to shut up and go do it again. If you love it, do it. What’s the alternative? To always wonder? Why torture yourself?
Still not convinced? Well, the last 3 years I have spent promoting and screening Proceed and Be Bold! all over the US and parts of the world, and it has been the most incredible experience of my life. Getting to know Amos as an artist and a person has been incredible, and getting to meet so many viewers and get to discuss the film with them has made me see what the intrinsic value of TRUE independent cinema is, and that’s standing in front of anywhere from 1-50 people, saying hi, thank you for coming to watch my film, then getting to sit in the back row and watch your film that you’ve probably watched over 100 times at this point, again with a new audience and with their new eyes. Then after the screening, getting to thank them again for coming and answer any questions they have.
My favorite part of attending screenings was getting to hear and see the audience’s reaction and questions to Amos Paul Kennedy Jr, and getting to see and hear him react in person back to them. At the San Francisco Documentary Film Festival, someone asked him about his thoughts on the term “post-racial.” He replied, “When race doesn’t exist, America doesn’t exit.” Who talks like this that you personally know? He’s fearless, honest, and telling the truth I think. A truth that not many people want to discuss or even talk about. But Amos is not the person you want to be talking to if these issues make you cringe. But then again, he’s exactly the person you should be talking to if these issues you make you cringe, because facing the things that make you cringe and working them out in some fashion so that you can grow as a person is the whole point of being human, I think, and what better way to approach cringe worthy topics that in a group of 10-50 people watching a documentary that can hopefully help you shape new ideas and opinions which you can then discuss afterwards with the person who the documentary was about. That is what life is about, right?! That’s what independent film is about.
Me stalking Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. Thanks for keeping me around, Kennedy.
I consider myself extremely lucky everyday since I met Amos Paul Kennedy Jr. that he was whose story I chose to tell, even if my true intentions for choosing him were that he was incredibly nice and generous to me, which in turn served to protect my own feelings and attempt to escape out of the filmmaking process unscathed. He also never turned me in for stalking him, although at some points, I’m sure he really wanted to.
I have learned more from Amos about race and art in America because of the making of this film and the conversations that I have had with him than I have learned in my entire education, the films I watched during my life and my life experiences themselves. Maybe we should all just save ourselves $50,000+ dollars and make films instead of going to college?
I hope that Proceed and Be Bold! does that for more audiences in true independent fashion one on one, On Screen and In Person than any Masters Degree would in Art or Identity Politics. The On Screen and In-Person Grant I have received from the amazing Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation is allowing me to do over the course of the next month in St John, Wilmington DE, Vineland, NJ, Oswego, NY, Charleston, WV, Lynchburg, VA, and Norfolk, VA.
Thank you Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation! I greatly appreciate this honor, and Kennedy, I am so sorry that you are not here with me in person in St. John to speak again about the importance of practicing your craft and about the fallacy of a post-racial America.
Post by OSIP Touring Filmmaker, Laura Zinger