On Thursday 31 May the Curzon’s Renior cinema transformed from an art house theatre into a school auditorium when documentary film directors Nick Broomfield and Carol Morley explained why and how they make documentaries. DG’s Sophia Loukaides attended and gives you an overview of the seminar’s highlights.
Ben Gibson, president of the London Film Society described them as “the Miles Davis’ of documentary film,” a rather nice compliment telling you to keep eyes and ears open for good advice – which we did.
The evening lasted for about an hour and a half and featured clips from the personal works of the visiting directors as well as from other influential documentary classics such as Grey Gardens and Don’t Look Back.
Broomfield kicked off the session looking at some of these classic scenes as well as one of his own works, Drive me Crazy. One of the first clips is from the 1936 John Grierson film entitled Housing Problems. One of “the first bits of real cinéma vérité British documentary,” a genre of which Broomfield himself is a huge fan though he admits they are “very difficult to make”.
Carol Morley, who recently saw a hugh success with the beautiful hybrid documentary Dreams of a Life, described how she loves documentary but hates the word ‘factual’. She believes that the purest sense of the word documentary is “quite broad and exciting.”
Her motivation varies from documentary to documentary. Morley believes that there are certain stories that are extraordinary but still touch upon what could be called ‘the ordinary’ and they should be portrayed on film. This was the case of her own very successful film Dreams of a Life, she felt a very strong desire to bring out her main character’s legacy. Morley explains documentary isn’t necessarily real life, but what is special about it is that it fabricates real life.
What lured her into this area of filmmaking was the experimental side of things. She loves the way filmmakers have found quirky ways of investigating themselves and important issues especially in the presence and essence of the mockumentary.
How to pitch what you can’t control?
Both filmmakers lamented about the way in which the majority of films are commissioned nowadays. One of the problems with pitching your documentary, Broomfield believes, is that you have to set out a beginning, middle and end.” However, some of the best documentaries are made without knowing what will happen in the middle or end. Morley adds that also the experimental documentaries which she loves so much are often neglected or avoided by commissioning editors.
Their advice to audience members that want to make films?
“There is a lot of truth behind what people say about learning it all in the editing room and don’t give up,” Broomfield says. “Just go for it.”