Sharon Liese interview: ‘The Flagmakers’ director
“It is humbling, I feel honored and I’m also terrified,” admits director Sharon Liese, whose National Geographic film “The Flagmakers” has been shortlisted for Best Documentary Short at the 95th Oscars. “This is very new territory for me. My co-director Cynthia Wade has been here before, but I have not so it’s a whole new world, but it’s great.” Wade won an Oscar in this same category for “Freeheld” in 2008. Watch our exclusive video interview above.
“The Flagmakers” poses one of today’s most pressing questions: who is the American flag for? Employee-owned Eder Flag in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, sews and ships five million American flags a year. The flagmakers – locals, immigrants and refugees – stitch stars and stripes as they wrestle with identity and belonging.
“It’s a magical place and it’s a place that’s just so unexpected in terms of Oak Creek,” the directory says. “And then to see this bubble of America right inside that factory. The film started out as a different film in Kansas City, where I live. Cynthia and I had been talking about wanting to do something with immigrants because there was so much negative rhetoric. We wanted to see what we could do about influencing that sentiment. There was a program in Kansas City teaching women to sew. They were mostly immigrants and refugees. We were filming it and at the end of the six-week program these women got jobs at an American flag factory in Kansas City. We were like, ‘This is the story, we need to pivot.’ We were not able to get access to that factory. We started a nationwide search and we found this place in Oak Creek. Once you walk in, it is so beautiful and so cinematic. The different sounds and smells just converging. We were just charmed by it immediately and we knew that having been there that once we walked out we would never look at the American flag the same way again.”
Liese says of the diversity among the flagmakers, “It’s really easy to dismiss people who think differently than we think and hold beliefs that are different than ours. But there’s a sense of humanity that you see in these people who think very differently and believe differently, and get along and connect. We think that that’s an important message. You need to get through some of that clutter to be able to see the humanity and to see what people are really about. If we’re going to fix any of these things that we need to fix in the country, we need to start with seeing people as people.”