4 top Oscar contenders for Best Documentary on being ’empathy machines’ [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

Documentaries can give voice to the powerless, focus on issues people have never heard of, and perhaps most importantly, create empathy.

“When I was watching everyone’s films here, I was thinking about how documentary filmmaking is so much about creating empathy,” “The Edge  of Democracy” director Petra Costa said at Gold Derby’s Meet the Experts: Documentary panel, moderated by this author (watch above). “We’re empathy machines, the film as a device of creating empathy. … I think documentaries take us back to that place of turning things that happened back into experience because otherwise they just lose themselves in the [repetitiveness] of the events and you don’t have time to digest them and to feel empathy for them.”

Creating empathy was one of Victoria Stone’s goals when she made “The Elephant Queen” with her partner Mark Deeble. The film follows an elephant matriarch, Athena, leading her herd in search of water. “I love living in the wild, trying to understand how the natural world, of which we’re all a part, works, and then having the privilege of trying to tell stories that somehow connect other people to the wild and to the natural world, which currently in such a traumatized world, we desperately need,” Stone said.

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Such empathy could perhaps inspire people to be proactive and be the change they want to see in the world. “I think that’ll be the best thing if other people see our films and start thinking, ‘Well, what do I want to be or what do I want to do with my life or what do I care about?’” “Sea of Shadows” helmer Richard Ladkani stated. “And we have just ingrained them with some thoughts about going out there and making a difference or making something meaningful or talk about important issues. It doesn’t have to be films, but anything that is meaningful and has a reason of that’s why I’m here, that’s a great thing.”

Feras Fayyad adds that being an eyewitness to history is the other vital aspect of documentaries, which makes sure that one never forgets. Like with his Oscar-nominated doc “Last Man in Aleppo,” his new film, “The Cave,” also takes place in his native war-torn Syria, focusing on Dr. Amani Ballor, the first female hospital manager of an underground hospital.

“What I can tell from my experience, in every single experience in documenting Syria, it’s finding people together, surviving and being an eyewitness,” he said. “Just bringing that as documentation for history for people who do not have the power to write it. As the victims, you need to survive and to survive, you need to write, and to write, this is the art. The first human painted, finding the meaning for his life; he painted on the caves. We do the same things.”

Video by Andrew Merrill

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