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Screenplay & Film Consulting By Susan Kouguell

Category: DOCUMENTARY (page 1 of 2)

Susan Kouguell Talks to Brian David Cange, Producer of “Take My Nose… Please!”

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take my nose image

Directed by legendary editor of Allure magazine Joan Kron, this provocative and humorous feature documentary explores society’s attitude towards plastic surgery. The film follows two comedians as they deliberate going under the knife: Emily Askin, an up-and-coming improv performer has always wanted her nose refined, and Jackie Hoffman, a seasoned headliner on Broadway and on TV, considers herself ugly and regrets not having the nose job offered in her teens – and maybe she’d also like a face-lift.

With commentaries from cultural critics, psychologists, sociologists, surgeons, along with cameos from comedians Judy Gold, Julie Halston, Lisa Lampanelli, Giulia Rozzi, Bill Scheft, and Adrianne Tolsch, the film confronts the pressure women feel to meet impossible expectations and the judgment they endure when they have cosmetic surgery.

About First-time Director Joan Kron

Director Joan Kron

Director Joan Kron

An author and award-winning journalist, Kron’s work includes stints at the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She spent 25 years covering plastic surgery for Allure magazine and documented some of her experiences in the book, Lift: Wanting, Fearing, and Having a Face-Lift.

Take My Nose… Please!

I spoke with one of the film’s producers, Brian David Cange, about the documentary just days before the announcement that the film received the 2017 Miami International Film Festival’s Knight Documentary Achievement Award.

About Brian David Cange

Producer Brian David Cange

Producer Brian David Cange

Cange is an award-winning producer and line producer whose credits include Roxanne, Roxanne and Marjorie Prime (both 2017 Sundance Film Festival Official Selections), Equity, a 2016 Official Selection Sundance Film Festival; the highly acclaimed documentary Mad Hot Ballroom; Backwards; Fugly!; Particle Fever; The Skeptic; the 2008 Peabody Award winning documentary Billy Strayhorn: Lush Life; National Geographic’s I am Rebel, the first in a four-part miniseries; Footsteps in the Snow for A&E and Lifetime Movie Networks; the Emmy-nominated, History Channel mini-series The World Wars, and Making Space, a feature documentary about five accomplished female architects with renowned producer Ultan Guilfoyle.

KOUGUELL: How did you get involved with the project?

CANGE: I became involved through my colleague Andrea Miller. Andrea and I worked together on the documentary film Particle Fever, and I helped her develop other projects, budget them, and sometimes shoot sizzle reels. I met director Joan Kron at the end of 2014. Andrea had suggested I speak to her about physically producing the film and also helping develop the project from a storytelling perspective, making sure there was a narrative structure, and helping her find the right characters to follow. In this case it was Emily Askin and Jackie Hoffman.

Joan was very resourceful; she went out to the comedy clubs every week and sometimes I would go with her to check out comedians.

Script EXTRA: Conversation with Sheila Nevins, President of HBO Documentary Films

KOUGUELL:  What was the response from the comedians to participate in the film? Were they forthcoming as to whether or not they had cosmetic surgery or reticent?

CANGE: Yes, very reticent. Oftentimes people didn’t want to speak about it. Judy Gold, Lisa Lampanelli, Julie Halston, and a few others were confident enough to talk about it on camera.

KOUGUELL: Tell me more about finding the narrative in the project.

CANGE: When Joan Kron first came to me about the project, she had a clip reel of famous comedians: Joan Rivers, Kathy Griffin, Phyllis Diller.  Joan had taken an editing class and she put together a sizzle reel of what she thought would be comedians talking about the history of plastic surgery or the history of plastic surgery in the female comedian environment.  I thought it would be very expensive to put this all together because they were very expensive clips and music rights to obtain.

Joan had the clip-driven sizzle reel, an outline, and a group of interviews she had already done in California, including some of the plastic surgeon specialists.  In the film, the interviews done in the theater were done early on, before I came on. She worked in Los Angeles and did eight interviews for two days. A good number of these interviews stayed in movie.

Emily Askin

Emily Askin

Joan, Andrea and I discussed the way to produce this film that there was a narrative to follow. We all agreed to casting and meeting with comedians who were living and perhaps less famous in some cases it was a little bit of both. Emily Askin was the one we were following first.  Emily agreed to the film; she’d already had a stomach belt surgery prior to working with us so she was also open to the possibility of getting a nose job.

Joan approached Jackie Hoffman after reading a story about her in the Wall Street Journal.  Jackie was really on the fence as to whether or not to get a nose job.

KOUGUELL: What was the time period over which the film was shot?

CANGE: The majority of the film was shot in 2015 and 2016.  It was less than 100 hours of filming. The editing process took over about nine months. We brought on editor Nancy Novak; she really understood the narrative balance needed between the story of these comedians, their own journeys, and the history of plastic surgery, which was so important to Joan. And, also making sense of how women comedians are often judged by their appearance just as women actors are. Someone actually asked me after our recent screening in Miami if we had considered any male comedians and we did approach a couple but no one wanted to be in the film.

Jackie Hoffman

Jackie Hoffman

KOUGUELL: Because the men didn’t want to reveal that they had cosmetic surgery done?

CANGE: (laughs) Yes, that’s pretty accurate.

Academy Award®-Nominated Documentary Filmmaker, Carl Deal, Talks ‘Citizen Koch’ & ‘Michael Moore in TrumpLand’

by Susan Kouguell


Regardless of which side of the political aisle you stand, there is probably one point all sides can agree on – Academy Award® nominated filmmakers Carl Deal and Tia Lessin make thought-provoking films that challenge the audience to question the world around them. Their two recent films, which guest speaker Carl Deal recently spoke about at Purchase College, SUNY – CITIZEN KOCH and MICHAEL MOORE IN TRUMPLAND – are no exception.

Academy Award®-Nominated Documentary Filmmaker, Carl Deal, Talks 'Citizen Koch' & 'Michael Moore in TrumpLand' by Susan Kouguell | Script Magazine #scriptchat #screenwriting

Carl Deal and Tia Lessin

About the Filmmakers

Carl Deal and Tia Lessin, are Academy Award®-nominated filmmakers, who produced and directed TROUBLE THE WATER, winner of the Gotham Independent Film Award, the Sundance Film Festival’s Grand Jury Prize, and the Full Frame Documentary Festival Grand Jury Prize. Deal and Lessin were, respectively, archival and supervising producers of Michael Moore’s FAHRENHEIT 9/11, winner of the Palme d’Or, Academy Award®-winning BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE and co-producers of CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY, WHERE TO INVADE NEXT and most recently Deal produced (with Michael Moore) MICHAEL MOORE IN TRUMPLAND, which Lessin Executive produced.

Tia and Carl were nominated for an NAACP Image Award and a Producers Guild Award for TROUBLE THE WATER. Tia line produced Martin Scorsese’s Emmy and Grammy-winning film NO DIRECTION HOME: BOB DYLAN and was consulting producer of LIVING IN THE MATERIAL WORLD: GEORGE HARRISON. Her work as a producer of the series THE AWFUL TRUTH earned her two Emmy nominations, one arrest and a lifetime ban from Disney World. She is the recipient of the L’Oréal Paris/Women in Film’s Women of Worth Vision Award and the Sidney Hillman Prize for Broadcast Journalism for BEHIND THE LABELS, a film about labor trafficking in the US garment industry. Carl Deal has contributed to many other documentary films, and worked as an international news producer and a writer, reporting from natural disasters and conflict zones throughout the U.S., Latin America, and in Iraq.



The film tells the story of the changing American political landscape through the eyes of three Wisconsin state employees, all lifelong Republicans, who suddenly find their party taking direct aim at them, stripping away the economic ground their families have built and depended on for generations: Set against the rise of the Tea Party in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United ruling, a citizen uprising to recall Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker collides with the Tea Party-aligned “Americans for Prosperity,” a group founded and lavishly financed by two of the world’s richest men — David and Charles Koch. As Republican working class voters find themselves in the cross-hairs of their own party and its billionaire backers, they are forced to choose sides.

CARL DEAL: “The film was made in 2011-2012, and came out in 2013. It’s very topical given the election season right now. What you see here is a behind the scenes; and today it’s still happening all over the country; there are still certain states that are being targeted in the same way as Wisconsin was targeted in this film.”

Protesters fill the rotunda in the Wisconsin State Capital in the run up to Gov. Walker’s anti-union bill in a scene from CITIZEN KOCH

Protesters fill the rotunda in the Wisconsin State Capital in the run up to Gov. Walker’s anti-union bill in a scene from CITIZEN KOCH

Advice for Storytellers

CARL DEAL: “This film began with the idea to do something about climate change deniers and along the way of making this, very early on, we concluded that we are filmmakers and we are people who are engaged with the world so we try to make media that engages with what is relevant today, in the moment. It became a movie about money and politics because we realized that’s where the problem lies. We never thought we’d be in Wisconsin; we ended up in Wisconsin sort of on a whim because that’s where the news of the day took us.   So, for you storytellers, I hope you always follow the story where it takes you, and get out of your head and not be fixed in following the idea that you have when you get support to do a project. Let the project also have a life of its own.”


Making a film that has the potential to stir up controversy carries its own set of risks. Deal was asked how one manages the issue of backlash and specifically how they handled it on CITIZEN KOCH.

CARL DEAL: “We got Errors and Omissions insurance and we made sure that we were insured in case anything happened that got in the way of us finishing the film. We knew we were taking on some powerful interests with it.  We were set to premiere at Sundance and our broadcaster was about to release the last transfer of the film when they called us and said we needed to change the title or else. The New Yorker did an exposé on it.”

New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer writes: “Lessin and Deal had provisionally called the film “Citizen Corp,” but they worried that the title made it sound like a film about a corpse. After Sundance officials pressed for a final title so that they could start promoting it, Lessin and Deal told ITVS that they had settled on “Citizen Koch.” The new title reflected the evolution of the narrative: reporting had focused increasingly on the pitched battle in Wisconsin over the efforts of Scott Walker, the Republican governor, to ban collective bargaining by public-sector-employee unions. As the  reported, Koch Industries was among Walker’s primary financial backers in his 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

CARL DEAL: “The title of the film is so important sometimes. The “Citizen Koch” title was a direct reference to Governor Scott Walker; it set up expectations for viewers who thought it was an exposé about the Koch brothers, which it wasn’t. Think about your titles.”

Character-Driven and Context in Citizen Koch

CARL DEAL: “There are many different ways to make a documentary film. There’s a trend now to make only character-driven documentaries and those can be really beautiful and emotional stories, and I also think the context for these stories is really important. Not every audience is going to understand the context with an emotional connection to characters so that’s why we did it both ways here.”



Oscar-winner Michael Moore dives deep in the heart of hostile TrumpLand territory with his daring, profound, and uproarious one-man show. When the show gets banned from the first town they tried, Mike moves on to an even bigger community of Trump supporters in the ironically-named Clinton County, Ohio.



Susan Interviews Producer & Co-director Juliana Penaranda-Loftus of ‘Landfill Harmonic’

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“To have nothing is not an excuse to do nothing”
–Favio Chávez,
Conductor of the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura

Favio Chavez (Orchestra Director)

After their awe-inspiring concerts made them viral sensations and put them in the spotlight of international media, The Recyled Orchestra of Cateura has been featured on 60 Minutes, NBC News, People, Time, Wired, Oprah Magazine, NPR Music, and more.

LANDFILL HARMONIC, the award-winning documentary has received over 30 awards at international festivals.

As a classically trained violist, I had the opportunity to play with a youth orchestra when I was a teenager and travel on concert tours to South America and the Far East.  Whether we played in the jungles of the Amazon or a president’s palace, and regardless of the audience’s economic and ethnic backgrounds, these six weeks of summer travel and approximately 30 concerts, forever impacted my life.

The often-used phrase “the universal language of music” is not a cliché, it is indeed the truth and underscored in the documentary Landfill Harmonic.

Several years ago when I first saw the 60 Minutes piece about Favio Chávez and his Recycled Orchestra of Cateura in Paraguay, it grabbed my attention and as time passed the story of the orchestra continued to pique my interest.  After viewing a press screener of Landfill Harmonic, I knew I had to set up an interview.

One doesn’t need to be a musician or even sing in tune, to be enthralled by the power of this film.

IMG_3471 violines


Landfill Harmonic follows the Recycled Orchestra of Cateura, a Paraguayan musical group that plays instruments made entirely out of garbage. When their story goes viral, the orchestra is catapulted into the global spotlight. Under the guidance of idealistic music director Favio Chávez, the orchestra must navigate a strange new world of arenas and sold-­out concerts. However, when a natural disaster strikes their country, Favio must find a way to keep the orchestra intact and provide a source of hope for their town. The film is a testament to the transformative power of music and the resilience of the human spirit.

Producer and co-director Juliana PenarandaLoftus

DSC_6213 Juliana head shotRecently I had the opportunity to speak with producer and co-director Juliana Penaranda-Loftus by phone for our interview.

Juliana Penaranda-Loftus began her career working in production for prime time television shows in Colombia. After completing her Bachelor’s degree, she moved to the United States where she received her Master’s Degree in Film from the American University in Washington, DC. After September 11, she directed and produced a documentary about Aid Afghanistan, an organization fighting for the right to educate women. The organization used the documentary to raise funds to support schools and programs in Afghanistan. Since then, Juliana has produced several independent feature films and in 2009 established her own production company, Hidden Village Films with the purpose of producing films of social relevance. In 2012 she was one of eight women selected by the American Film Institute for their Directing Workshop for Women.

KOUGUELL:  Tell me about the evolution of this film.

PENARANDALOFTUS: Alejandra Amarilla (Founder and Executive Producer) contacted me at the end of 2008 to talk about the idea of making a documentary about underserved children in Paraguay her home country.

In April 2009, we traveled to start the research and find the story. It was the last day of the trip when we heard the story about Favio Chávez and his efforts of teaching children with recycled instruments. Alejandra loved the story from the beginning and as founder she selected from the options we had. I loved the story too. We saw the potential with Favio to be able to take the kids to where they are today.

We started following up the story via phone calls and email.  I was doing pre-interviews over the phone and email. We returned to Paraguay every year, sometimes twice a year depending on what was going on.

The production took five years. We started shooting in July 2010 and the last shoot took place in September 2014.

About the Collaboration

Landfill Harmonic is directed by Brad Allgood and Graham Townsley, and co-directed and produced by Juliana Penaranda-Loftus.

Due to the filmmaking team’s outside work commitments and changing schedules, the process was further complicated by the need to reshoot some sections.  Penaranda-Loftus emphasized the importance of the great teamwork they had, which made this film become a reality.



Inspiring Storytelling and Insights from the Filmmakers at the Tribeca Film Festival’s Documentary Shorts: ‘New York Then’ Program

By: Susan Kouguell | May 30, 2016

Good storytelling is the key to a successful documentary.  Whether you are profiling a person, investigating a crime or documenting an event, telling an engaging and thought-provoking story is imperative in order to capture your intended audience. In a short or feature-length documentary, ‘characters’ give a face to the story you are telling. A character can not only be human but an animal, an object, a location, or the filmmaker can choose to be a character in his or her film.

Documentary filmmakers approach their material, and find inspiration and ideas in various ways. The documentary shorts presented at the Tribeca Film Festival were no exception. Joe’s Violin, Mulberry, Starring Austin Pendleton, Taylor and Ultra on the 60s, The Factory and Being a Warhol Superstar and Dead Ringers centered on some element or reflection on New York’s past, delving into themes of chaos, survival, and a glimpse into a life of the city that forever evolves and a time that cannot be forgotten.

After the screening, the filmmakers joined in for a Q&A.

Inspiring Storytelling and Insights from the Filmmakers at the Tribeca Film Festival's Documentary Shorts: 'New York Then' Program by Susan Kouguell #scriptchat #screenwriting

Joe Fiengold and Brianna Perez meet for the first time. Photo credit: Cinematographer Bob Richman.

About the Film: Joe’s Violin

A 91-year-old Holocaust survivor donates his violin to an instrument drive, changing the life of a 12-year-old schoolgirl from the Bronx and unexpectedly, his own.

About the Director: Kahane Cooperman is the director/producer of Joe’s Violin’ She has also directed several other documentaries. She is currently the showrunner/executive producer of The New Yorker Presents. Prior to that role, she was a co-executive producer of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. She began her career at Maysles Films.

Kahane Cooperman talks about Joe’s Violin

Cooperman began by introducing the two subjects of her film who were seated in the audience, the violin owner Joseph Feingold and Brianna.

“The way I got this idea was very simple. My car radio was on and I tuned on the classical radio station WQXR and I heard a promo for their instrument drive; it said donate your instruments and the instruments are going to New York City school kids. They mentioned the donations they already had gotten and one of the instruments was Joseph’s violin. I just thought, I wonder if there’s a story there with this violin and if the student who gets the violin will know the story. I got in touch with the radio station and they allowed me the privilege of pursuing the story and this film is what unfolded. It was a very moving experience. I do love music but I don’t play an instrument. I think music is incredibly powerful but I’m also moved by the idea of how a small gesture can make you dream and change someone’s life. Somehow the idea of this was very compelling to me and that it might play out in the context of this one instrument shared by two people who were born 80 years apart.”

Vinny Vella sits in front of Mo’s the butcher on Elizabeth Street in Little Italy. From the short film MULBERRY. Photo Credit: Paul Stone

Vinny Vella sits in front of Mo’s the butcher on Elizabeth Street in Little Italy. From the short film MULBERRY. Photo Credit: Paul Stone

About the Film: Mulberry

This cinematic portrait of Little Italy explores how a working class neighborhood of tenement buildings transformed into the third most expensive zip code in the United States. Part funny, part sad, the film investigates how gentrification and rent control are affecting the neighborhood’s long-term residents.

About the Director: Paul Stone

Brooklynite Paul Stone started his directing career in the edit room at Ridley Scott & Associates. In Tales of Time Square, Paul recreated 1980’s Time Square. The footage was often mistaken for stock and went on to be screened at over 50 festivals in the U.S. and abroad. His previous short Man Under( TFF 2015) explored the rise in NYC subway suicides.

Paul Stone talks about Mulberry

“I saw my neighborhood disappearing, changing. I have no problem with gentrification, but it’s gotten to a point of hyper gentrification. Little Italy in New York is known for its soul and its people, and it was rapidly disappearing. I wanted to tell the story about who inspired me in terms of my friends and that Little Italy is still alive and well, and that there are still a lot of characters left.”

Austin Pendleton teaching a class at HB Studios in the West Village of Manhattan 2011. Shot by Greg Vanderveer. Directors Gene Gallerano and David H. Holmes

Austin Pendleton teaching a class at HB Studios in the West Village of Manhattan 2011. Shot by Greg Vanderveer. Directors Gene Gallerano and David H. Holmes

About the Film: Starring Austin Pendleton

Austin Pendleton is that quintessential character actor you might recognize. We follow Austin as he reflects on his life and craft, while his A-list peers discuss his vast influence, dogged determination, and what it means to be an original in today’s celebrity-obsessed world.



A Conversation with Oscar® winner Michael Moore at the New York Film Festival

Moore’s latest film, “Where to Invade Next” explores the current state of the nation.

Michael Moore and Susan Kouguell

Michael Moore and Susan Kouguell

Twenty-six years ago — (Michael Moore reminded me how long ago it was) — I was an acquisitions consultant for Warner Bros. and discovered a new documentary at the Independent Feature Film Market. I ran to the payphone (yes, pre-cell phone days) downstairs at the Anjelica Film Center and called my boss to tell her she must see it. The film was “Roger & Me.” Warner Bros. picked up the film.

Since then, Moore continued making provocative and impassioned films, including the Academy Award-winning “Bowling for Columbine,” “Sicko,” “Fahrenheit 9/11,” and “Capitalism: A Love Story.” Moore’s latest film, “Where to Invade Next” explores the current state of the nation.

Moore: “My film is about us. I just decided to tell a story about America without shooting a single frame of the movie in the United States.”

Former Radius Founders and Co-Presidents Tom Quinn and Jason Janego are teaming with Alamo Drafthouse Founder and CEO Tim League to form the yet-to-be-named distribution label and will distribute “Where to Invade Next.”

"Where to Invade Next"
“Where to Invade Next”

Here are highlights from the New York Film Festival press screening.

The idea for the film

“I was 19 and I just dropped out of college. I got the Eurail pass and youth hostel card and spent a couple of months going around Europe. I was in Sweden and broke a toe, and I was sent to a clinic. I went to pay the bill and there was no bill. I never heard of such a thing. And all through Europe I kept running into things like that. And I thought why can’t we do that? The idea grew organically as most of the things do in my films.”

Planning ahead

“Don’t give me too much credit for thinking this out a whole lot in advance. We don’t think it would be really cool to sit down at the lunch table with a can of Coke and see what the kids do.

The best stuff is what I don’t plan out. What my field producers do in terms of research — I have them tell me only the basics, I don’t want to know any of the research. When the Italian couple (in the film) tells me about the 15 days paid vacation, this is the first time I’ve heard it, even if the field producers know it. I don’t want to act. We don’t do a second take. If the sound guy says we didn’t get it, you can’t ask them (the subjects) to do it again. We’ve seen too many documentaries like that. It has to happen with them and me in the moment.”

No, Michael Moore is not running for office

“…to say that you have the right to regulate a woman’s uterus but not guns? It’s like, I think the only safe place for guns is in a woman’s uterus. Then they would be regulated by our Republican congress!




Marcel Ophüls – The Memory of Justice

A Conversation with
Academy Award-Winning Director
Marcel Ophüls

Professor Regina Longo, Cinema Studies faculty at Purchase College, SUNY, moderated a discussion with Oscar-winning director Marcel Ophüls.

"The Memory of Justice"

Several days prior to the “The Memory of Justice” (1976) screening of the newly restored film at the New York Film Festival, on September 27, Professor Regina Longo, Cinema Studies faculty at Purchase College, SUNY, moderated a discussion with Oscar-winning director Marcel Ophüls.

From the New York Film Festival: “The third of Marcel Ophüls’ monumental inquiries into the questions of individual and collective guilt following the calamities of war and genocide, ‘The Memory of Justice’ examines three of the defining tragedies of the Western world in the second half of the 20th century, from the Nuremberg trials through the French-Algerian war to the disaster of Vietnam, building from a vast range of interviews, from Telford Taylor (Counsel for the Prosecution at Nuremberg, later a harsh critic of our escalating involvement in Vietnam) to Nazi architect Albert Speer to Daniel Ellsberg and Joan Baez.”

Marcel Ophüls

Conversation Highlights

On  “The Memory of Justice”

Making the film — it was not sense of mission. I didn’t think I had to teach other people what the Holocaust was about or what other aspects of World War II were about. It was my job to make an audio visual form of storytelling of contemporary events. I don’t want to change the world. I think that’s much too big a job.


DE PALMA documentary at the New York Film Festival

A Conversation with Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow 
on Brian De Palma and their New Documentary De Palma 
at the New York Film Festival

By Susan Kouguell

“I lived in a family of egotists” – Brian De Palma in De Palma
Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow 

at the New York Film Festival
Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow 

at the New York Film Festival

In the documentary “De Palma” directed by Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow, iconoclast American director Brian De Palma talks directly to the camera, in an honest recounting of the highlights and low points of his movie-making career. Only De Palma is seen interviewed on camera; no other talking heads, no other voice-over interviews from either Baumbach or Paltrow are seen or heard.

Paltrow: “The film was shot with one camera and one angle on Brian. There are no other people talking about Brian. It was our direct approach to him.”

Intercut with clips from De Palma’s body of work from the 1960s to the present, as well as from other directors, most notably Alfred Hitchcock, the film moves at a rapid pace with honesty and a sense of humor, as it explores how movies get made (and often not the way intended) and how they don’t get made.

Directors Baumbach and Paltrow describe their documentary as an extension of their friendship, having spent time with Brian De Palma over the last ten years.

Paltrow: “We kept it in the same spirit as having coffee with him.”

Noah Baumbach
Noah Baumbach

Baumbach: “Brian was totally open and available. We wanted to talk about filmmaking. We weren’t going to go in areas that were uncomfortable for him. We’d let him guide, knowing that we would let him lead the way.”

Paltrow: “The most surprising for us about Brian was how electric he was on camera; how he told these stories the same as he did with us at dinner. He was so good on camera. So direct. So made for cinema.”

From the success of his films “Carrie,” “Dressed to Kill,” “Blow Out,” and “Carlito’s Way” to the box-office failures, including “The Bonfire of the Vanities” and “Mission to Mars,” De Palma is candid about his successes and failures.



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




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



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.



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.


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