What a way to end the Hot Docs Filmmakers Series with Brett Story. Linda Barnard, as majestic as always, led the discussion on our final week together. Director of LAND OF DESTINY and A PRISON IN 12 LANDSCAPES.
Brett Story. Where do I begin? Brett proves that hard work, determination, and willpower are enough to produce the awe-inspiring and lyrical documentaries that she has been able to create in such a short period of time.
"I started in public radio," she said, admitting that film school was always in the back of her mind but never became a reality. And what might surprise you is that she admitted that there was never a gender distinction at the radio. Everyone was encouraged to learn the technology and master each skill. She honed in on her recording, editing, and interviewing skills here.
She later pursued a PhD in Geography, which she said really contributed to her ability to research and fund her projects!
"My greatest asset (or at least I think so) is that I am a listener." Brett insists on letting the interview flow organically, making sure the subject is comfortable and the people around him or her are okay with her filming.
What she learned early in the career is that cinema is a language that is more than just interview.
And Brett Story not only talks the talk, but walks it too! In a short clip from A PRISON IN 12 LANDSCAPES that was played during the session, this was beautiful evident. A man who was released from prison plays chess in Washington Park for money. The scene opens with a wide establishing shot of the older man playing a younger boy. The next shot is a medium close-up, focusing on the quick action on the chess board. Then a cut to what could have been a jarring shot of the subjects face up-close, talking about his life. Then two quick cuts of the subjects face and the boys face as they concentrate and continue to play the game.
Why is this so brilliant and lyrical? Shot choice, patience, and pacing. These three things that take people years to learn and master are evident in this young woman's early films (#BossLady). What this scene does is set the mood, concentrates on the action, and then asks WHY. So what? We see that the game of chess is a fast paced mental game - which is why the final shots rest on the faces and not the chess board itself. The extreme close-up would not work for many other filmmakers. It is quite jarring. But makes sense in this vignette. We get to see into the soul of this man and it feels so intimate that for a split second we are there in Washington Park. That is the so what - connecting with someone that has been labelled in society as a "criminal". We look past the label and see!
Linda Barnard said that "Brett Story is socially engaged, but visually driven."
Brett truly captures what I think people tend to forget: documentary is an art! There is a poetic non-linear aspect to her work that allows her to see the big ideas and focus on minute details. She isn't afraid to offer sequences that are associative. It just means that the audience is invited to make connections themselves.
And her role is to allow people to enter into a space at different angles.
"That is the beauty for me. The afterlife of a documentary." - Brett Story.
"it isn't enough to have two ideas, you need a third. For something to become a piece of cinema it needs part three."
Brett Story sought out a female cinematographer for 12 LANDSCAPES because she needed someone who was patient, quiet, and a good listener. While many cinematographers who are male possess those qualities, she said she had a few bad experiences and had her authority as director challenged too much.
The take away, especially in documentary, is that you have to surround yourself with people who believe in what you are doing.
A truly inspiring lady that made me want to get up and push and work even harder! Thank you Hot Docs, Linda Barnard, and Brett for a wonderful morning together!