When speaking with talent affiliated with some of the most prominent television documentaries of the past year, the subjects of their favorite documentaries as well as the challenges of conveying the truth in a time when it’s easy to get lost in disinformation were subjects that provoked deep discussions. Gold Derby recently put this question to James Gay-Rees (“1971: The Year That Music Changed Everything”), Hao Wu (“76 Days”), Madison Hamburg (“Murder on Middle Beach”), Ellen Kuras (“Pretend it’s a City”) and Wendy Williams (“Wendy Williams: What a Mess”) during our recent “Meet the Experts” panel.
You can watch the documentary group panel above with these five creative talents. Click on each person’s name above to be taken to their individual interview.
For Hamburg, he wasn’t able to single out one specific documentary that influenced him. He did cite masters of the genre including Frederick Wiseman and Steve James, but ultimately came back to a specific kind of documentary that ended up influencing him. “I think I’ve really grown an affinity for vérité documentaries.” He also cited the French television docuseries, “The Staircase,” by Jean-Xavier de Lestrade for its use of vérité within the true crime format.
Gay-Rees singled out two films as being a huge influence on him. One was the Oscar-winning, “When We Were Kings,” which chronicled the infamous “Rumble in the Jungle” boxing match between Muhammad Ali and George Forman. The other notable doc for him was the 2003 film, “Touching the Void.” “I think it was an incredible piece of work for me, just because, again, it just proved what a documentary could be, you know, the big production and then a documentary about two guys on the side of a mountain with very little footage.”
On the subject of truth, Wu notes that he thinks that a lot of truth is subjective before diving into his feelings about who ultimately bears responsibility for it. “How you tell the truth is really up to the storyteller or to the artists. For me personally, I give myself the goal of trying to bridge the political divide, so to speak, and trying to reach across the aisle to tell both sides.” This helps shape the narratives that Wu builds in his documentaries. “I feel like let’s not spoon feed our audience what they should be thinking. Let’s move them, stimulate them and let them enjoy their own conclusion.”
Hamburg added on to Wu’s point about film’s power to bridge divides that exist between different factions of society. “I think that films are empathy machines where a lot of times, especially with how polarized our country is, there is a lot of time spent on kind of screaming subject matters into the void, where a film and a documentary gives you space to generate empathy with the people affected by those issues.” He ultimately concludes that the story has to revolve around the characters and that can be the greatest weapon to use in bringing someone over to a different mindset. “If you want to change, someone’s mind, allow them to see themselves in the characters that you’re putting on screen.”
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