The documentaries and nonfiction programs that are nominated at this year’s Emmy Awards chronicle a diverse range of stories that continue to show why these genres are an essential part of the new Golden Age of Television we are currently living in. The creatives behind five of this year’s Emmy contenders for documentary/nonfiction programming joined our recent Meet the Experts panel. The subjects tackled include how a financial arrangement controlled a worldwide pop star, the career of one of America’s greatest stand-up comedians, the relationship of television’s first power couple, big-wave surfers looking to catch the ultimate experience in Portugal and a world famous chef seeking to rethink how we supply food to people in need of relief.
In our panel discussion, we hear what these directors and producers have to say about finding out about their Emmy nomination this year, what it was like to win their previous Emmys and what documentaries inspired them to get into this line of work. Gold Derby recently talked about these subjects with Samantha Stark (“Controlling Britney Spears”), Michael Bonfiglio (“George Carlin’s American Dream”), Jeanne Elfant Festa (“Lucy and Desi”), Joe Lewis (“100 Foot Wave”) and Sara Bernstein (“We Feed People”).
You can watch the television documentary group panel above with the people behind these five projects. Click on each person’s name above to be taken to their individual interviews.
Bonfiglio felt extremely humbled with the five nominations “George Carlin’s American Dream” received but also felt it was truly a recognition of the efforts of everyone who worked on that film. “Documentary filmmaking is absolutely a team sport and the nominations were reflections of all the great work that our whole team did.” He added that “It’s strange to be in competition with these films that are not meant to be compared to one another, but it’s very exciting and kind of cool to have your work appreciated by your peers.” Stark was really struck with the nomination in part because it shined a light on how poorly women like Britney Spears can be treated. “I think the nomination made me moved that people cared about that because conservatorships are meant for the most vulnerable people in our society and it was very moving that people cared.”
All five of the participants also have the distinction of being past Emmy winners with Bonfiglio, Festa and Bernstein winning in the documentary categories. Stark won a News & Documentary Emmy Award and Lewis won his in the Comedy Series category as a producer for “Fleabag.” Festa remembers winning in 2020 for “The Apollo” when the ceremony took place over Zoom. “I think we were boiling hot dogs and I was in sweats. I called my mom and she couldn’t hear very well and she kept saying, ‘The Oscar? The Oscar?’ Everybody was laughing,” she recalls. Stark’s win took on an extra special meaning after losing her father several years after her win. “The very first thing I did was run out to call my dad because he would always talk about that ever since I was little, that he was working so hard so that I could go out and accomplish things like that, so I knew he’d be so excited.”
In reflecting on the documentaries that influenced their careers, Bernstein was quick to acknowledge Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky for their works including “Brother’s Keeper” and the “Paradise Lost” films. “I think the ‘Paradise Lost’ films is when I first started at HBO and I was just blown away by how tragic, of course, but also just how incredibly riveting it could be to watch real life unfold.” Lewis chose to highlight an experience he had as a teenager. “I don’t know how cool this will sound, but I went to TV and film summer camp when I was 16 and they showed us Errol Morris’s, ‘Vernon, Florida’ and at first I was like, ‘What is this?’ It was just funny and it’s real and it stuck with me until now.” He also singled out Chris Smith for “American Movie” because of the way it weaved comedy and reality together.
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