73rd Awards MTN Events

Meet the Nominees: Documentary

April 8, 2021 73rd Annual DGA Awards

On April 8, DGA members were able to view online the 2021 edition of the Meet the Nominees: Documentary event. Following a welcome from DGA Documentary Committee Chair James Moll, nominees Michael Dweck (The Truffle Hunters), Pippa Ehrlich (My Octopus Teacher), David France (Welcome to Chechnya), Amanda McBaine & Jesse Moss (Boys State) and Benjamin Ree (The Painter and the Thief) engaged in a lively and entertaining conversation about their work, illustrated by clips from each film, and moderated by Documentary Awards Committee Co-Chairs Patrick Creadon and Chai Vasarhelyi. Nominees Gregory Kershaw (The Truffle Hunters) and James Reed (My Octopus Teacher) were unable to participate.

In a welcome that included a moment of silence in honor of the late DGA President and legendary documentary filmmaker Michael Apted, Moll set the stage for the event, saying, “In a time when truth itself has come under fire, these nonfiction films resonated across borders, boundaries and identities. A ‘shared story’ about our experience as human beings still seems to be something that – even in a time of division – can connect us.”

See exclusive video of the symposium below.

Introducing the nominees, co-moderator Vasarhelyi proclaimed, “From kelp fields to the truffle forests of Italy, from Norway via Texas to Chechnya, all of you nominees, congratulations! In a year of these trying circumstances, where it has actually been an opportunity for more people than ever to watch documentaries, it means a lot that your five films and your five directorial visions have emerged to the top.”

Speaking about the intentions behind making The Truffle Hunters, Dweck revealed, “Gregory [Kershaw], my co-directing partner and I, we’re both obsessed with finding these worlds that exist outside the sphere of globalization and technology, which are getting harder to find every day. These worlds have maintained their identity and maintained their connection with local histories, with local culture, with nature. When we stumbled upon this world, we thought this place is a place that we can use the full power of cinema to transport people into this world and make them feel the way we felt.”

Ehrlich spoke about things she learned while directing My Octopus Teacher. “This was my first film so I’ve learned so much from everyone who was involved on this project. I learned a lot from [My Octopus Teacher subject] Craig [Foster], especially about natural history filmmaking and how to engage with animals, how to work with light underwater. Also [co-director] James [Reed] of course, and Jinx Godfrey, who was our edit consultant who came on at the end. In terms of learning how to make a really concise and tight edit and really, really focusing on your core narrative. They were incredible mentors for me.” 

France confessed how the risks involved in shooting Welcome to Chechnya changed the way he made the film. “We were shooting on hidden cameras. We were shooting with cell phones. We were shooting with any device we could that would allow us to shoot without anybody knowing that we were shooting. That was our prime directive, if you will, was to never be known to be making a film so we couldn’t shoot with any professional cameras. We didn’t have any professional sound crews, for example. There’s no sound engineers. There were no booms. There was nothing.”

The husband-wife team of Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss took on different aspects about the making of Boys State. Moss spoke about working as a directorial team with wife, and said, “This was rare for us to be in production in the field together. Other films, I shot and Amanda produced them and co-wrote in the edit room. This film, we were doing sound, operating the camera along with our team. That took us back to our very first film that we made 20 years ago where we were doing that ourselves together alone.” Fielding a question about their casting process, McBaine admitted, “Part of our job is to find, even within this kind of strange thing we do, the authentic moments. And so, that’s always what we’re targeting, even in the chaos of what we were filming, but then especially in the year of edit and I think we chose the right people who we could find that truth with.”

Ree discussed working with his most important collaborator on The Painter and the Thief, the editor Robert Stengård. “We edited for eight months and I also edit myself, so we sent it back and forth to each other in Avid. That makes it very helpful because you get blind so easily editing a scene. So, I do a version, then he doesn’t agree with that version, sends it back and we go back and forth in this way maybe 15 times for every scene and try it every possible way we can to make the scene work in the best way.”

In his closing remarks for the event, co-moderator Creadon spoke about the DGA Documentary Committee. “It took several years to get up off the ground. Freida Lee Mock and James Moll and a bunch of other folks have worked over the years to form this Committee and it’s here to support the community.”

See video from this event in the gallery below.

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