Su-City Pictures East, LLC

Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Month: April 2015

Agnès Varda Salute

The Actualities of Agnès Varda at the Film Society of Lincoln Center

by Susan Kouguell

 

Agnès Varda at the Film Society of Lincoln Center

Agnès Varda at the Film Society of Lincoln Center

In a salute to Agnès Varda at the Film Society of Lincoln Center Art of the Real, Documentary Redefined Series in New York City, Varda’s short films and features were included in the Actualities of Agnès Varda program, featuring the acclaimed filmmaker in person.

I had the honor of speaking with Agnès Varda at the 2014 Locarno Film Festival at two separate events, which I covered for this publication:Conversation with Varda: HERE and Highlights from the Locarno Film Summer Academy Master Class : HERE

Speaking before and after each of the following short films, Agnès Varda is ever the powerful and poignant storyteller with a provocative sense of humor.

 

“Black Panthers” (1968, 31 minutes)

"Black Panthers"
“Black Panthers”

Centering on a “Free Huey” rally in Oakland California in 1968, Varda discussed her experience filming this short documentary.

Varda: “Tom Luddy told me I should come to Oakland because of these demonstrations. Every Saturday I flew from Los Angeles to be there. I had a 16mm camera. I shot a lot of it alone; and I had some help from some others. I needed to get their speeches. I needed to understand the mind body theory. So far, the theory of black men was written by white men. This was the first time they were really involved in their own history. I remember thinking about the women, and also for the first time in the sixties women were writing about their history. I was fascinated by the equivalence. It was a precise time in 1968; two years later it was almost gone. It was so important at the time; I thought and everyone thought it would change the history of black people. The documentary bore witness, the testimony of that time of the Black Panthers. The film was not shown in France; they were afraid to wake students. It was not shown in the U.S. then either.”

“I bore witness. I was discreet as much as possible. It belongs to their history. Each time there is a film about Black history, we are asked about it.”

Susan Kouguell and Agnès Varda at the Film Society of Lincoln Center
Susan Kouguell and Agnès Varda at the Film Society of Lincoln Center

 

 

DOCUMENTARY WRITING

Susan’s Online ‘Writing the Documentary Class’ starts April 23

SIGN UP NOW!

READ MORE, SIGN UP HERE

The 4-week Course runs  April 23 – May 21, 2015

Over the last few years documentary films have not only crossed over to a wider mainstream market, but the filmmaking techniques themselves have evolved. No longer are filmmakers’ encumbered—literally weighted down by carrying heavy cameras, sound and lighting equipment and relying on credit cards, limited granting opportunities, and rich relatives to make their films a reality. Digital technology has opened up the possibilities for filmmakers to bring their visions onto the screen. But one element of this process has not changed—and that is the key to a successful documentary—knowing how to write one.

REGISTER NOW

 

Reenactments in Documentary Films

Reenactments in Documentary Films: Is There an Authentic Truth in Documentary?

Replicate. Reproduce. Reveal. Is there an authentic truth in documentary?

The use of reenactment in documentary films has filmmakers, film theorists and critics divided. Some believe the use of reenactments brings historical accuracy into question while others feel it enhances history. More recently, exploitative crime television shows and docudramas that utilize reenactments are often over-the-top melodrama, thus further fueling this topic and giving it a poor name.

Documentaries are often labelled subjective or objective, but arguably a purely objective documentary does not exist. Why? Documentarians are always making choices: what, where and how to shoot, who and what to include and who and what not to include in the film, and how to structure the film — in a nonlinear or linear fashion. All these can elements subtly — or not so subtly — reveal the filmmaker’s attitude about the subject matter and in turn this influences the audience’s response.

Documentaries are often labelled subjective or objective, but arguably a purely objective documentary does not exist. Why? Documentarians are always making choices: what, where and how to shoot, who and what to include and who and what not to include in the film, and how to structure the film — in a nonlinear or linear fashion.  All these can elements subtly — or not so subtly — reveal the filmmaker’s attitude about the subject matter and in turn this influences the audience’s response.

Documentary Films

Reenactments in documentary films have a long tradition. Stepping back for a moment in time, let’s examine a few examples.

Considered to be the first full-length documentary Nanook of the North, (1922) directed by Robert Flaherty, involved a group of Inuit, living on the Hudson Bay coast below the Arctic Circle. This silent film contains several reenacted and restaged scenes, including a walrus hunt. Ethnographic director Flaherty argued that because the recreated scenes were based on his subjects’ memories, he believed the film was truthful in spirit.

German director Harun Farocki’s anti-war documentary Inextinguishable Fire (1969, black and white, 29 minutes) explores the manufacturing and use of napalm by reenacting the inner workings of Dow Chemical Company’s Michigan headquarters during the Vietnam War, using only a small amount of actual combat footage. Taking the idea of recreation and reenactment a bold step further, director Jill Godmilow’s What Farocki Taught (1998) is a 30-minute, shot-for-shot remake of Inextinguishable Fire. Translated from German into English and filmed on color Kodachrome, the backdrops, props, script, costumes and shots are all copies of the original. Every shot is reproduced — with an occasional superimposition of Farocki’s film.

Director Errol Morris’s film The Thin Blue Line (1988) employed staged re-enactment scenes of a police officer’s murder in order to demonstrate various witnesses’ contradictory testimonies. The film argued that Randall Adams was wrongly convicted for murder by a corrupt justice system in Dallas County Texas.

READ MORE HERE

THE ART OF REENACTMENT

‘Repeat as Necessary: The Art of the Real’ Series at the Film Society Lincoln Center

by Susan Kouguell

As part of the Repeat as Necessary: The Art of the Real series at Lincoln Center, Harun Farocki’s anti-war film “Inextinguishable Fire” and Jill Godmilow’s “What Farocki Taught” were recently screened followed by an insightful Q&A.

“Inextinguishable Fire” directed by Harun Farocki and “What Farocki Taught” directed by Jill Godmilow

"Inextinguishable Fire"
“Inextinguishable Fire”

“Because so many images already exist, I am discouraged to make new ones; I prefer to make a different use of pre-existing images. But not every image can be recycled; a hidden value must pre-exist.” (Harun Farocki, 2008 interview with the South China Morning Post)

As part of the Repeat as Necessary: The Art of Reenactment at the Film Society Lincoln Center program, German director Harun Farocki’s anti-war film “Inextinguishable Fire” (1969, black and white, 29 minutes) screened first followed by Jill Godmilow’s “What Farocki Taught” (1998, 16 mm 30 minutes) a shot-for-shot remake of “Inextinguishable Fire.” Translated from German into English and filmed on color Kodachrome, the backdrops, props, script, costumes and shots are all copies of the original. Every shot is reproduced — with an occasional superimposition of Farocki’s on set about her project: “We don’t have a name for this type of film… it replaces the documentary’s pornography of the real.”

"What Farocki Taught"
“What Farocki Taught”

Filmmaker and video artist Faroki (1944-2014) made over 100 films, many of which were experimental documentaries, often addressing the use of images to instruct and propagandize.

Director Jill Godmilow’s films include the 1974 Academy Award-nominated “Antonia: A Portrait of the Woman” co-directed with Judy Collins, “Far From Poland” (1984), about the Polish Solidarity movement known for its ground-breaking deconstructive approach to the juxtaposition of fact and fiction in documentary, and the Sundance fiction winner “Waiting for the Moon” (1987) about Gertrude Stein.

READ MORE HERE

BAUMBACH on WHILE WE’RE YOUNG

Writer/Director Noah Baumbach Discusses

While We’re Young

by Susan Kouguell

Displaying NOAH1.JPG Photo Credit: Tatiana Kouguell-Hoell

In writer/director Noah Baumbach’s latest film While We’re Young, a middle-aged couple’s marriage and career are turned upside down when a disarming twenty-something couple enters their lives. Thematically, the film centers on age – growing up and growing older in one’s relationship and career, as well as taking ownership of one’s life.

I asked Noah Baumbach about his writing process on While We’re Young and how strictly he stuck to the script as the director.

Baumbach smiles and states: “My writing process is not going on the Internet.” More serious now, he continues: “I have to spend a lot of time on the script – for me, and for the actors. I stick close to the script when shooting. Scripts are a blueprint of a film. Actors bring their own interpretations. Going on set with actors on location you discover even more about the characters. Knowing that you are going to discover something else about the characters on location is something I have to acknowledge. I think about how it is going to be when they are in a certain location, how they are going to react. As the director, you’re guiding and controlling what you can.”

When asked about Jamie’s character (played by Adam Driver) Baumbach responds to the line in the film about Jamie: “He’s not evil. He’s just young.” Baumbach states: “I think that’s true. He is who he is.”

 

READ MORE HERE