TV documentary roundtable panel: ‘Janet Jackson,’ ‘Lucy and Desi,’ ‘Our Great National Parks,’ ‘We Feed People’
Ron Howard had a backup plan in case his filmmaking aspirations didn’t pan out as an adult. “I probably would’ve been a high school history teacher and maybe the basketball coach or something if I didn’t transition from a kid career and get to fulfill my dreams, which I was lucky enough to be able to do,” the “We Feed People” director tells Gold Derby at during our Meet the Experts: Documentary group discussion with James Honeyborne (“Our Great National Parks”), Rick Murray (“Janet Jackson”) and Amy Poehler (“Lucy and Desi”). “I’ve always been curious, always interested, so there’s that part of it — this discovery.” Watch the exclusive video interview above. Click on each name to view that person’s individual video chat.
That curiosity has served the Oscar winner well as he’s ventured more into documentary filmmaking the last few years. “We Feed People” follows José Andrés‘ nonprofit World Central Kitchen, which provides meals in disaster-struck areas. “I’ve had this experience doing scripted projects over the last 25 years or so where many of the films I’ve done over that time have been based on real events,” he continues. “I’m pleased to discover that there’s more similarity to the disciplines than I necessarily expected, so I’m able to apply a lot of myself and even use my past to help find that story [and] help shape it. It satisfies that for me — the curiosity and the desire to really dig deep. I’m fascinated by the differences in the medium as well and I feel like I am learning a lot.”
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“Lucy and Desi,” about the lives and relationship between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, is Poehler’s first foray into documentary filmmaking and the Emmy winner loves “the very simple idea” of not just telling a story in a documentary but finding the right one to tell. “There’s a lot of stories to tell with all of the material that you get and there’s a lot of stories in each one of us,” she shares. “Everyone has their version of a story, so for me, the most exciting thing was working hard to tell a story and the shaping of that, figuring out what is the part that is the best way to tell the story and what’s the part that’s another story to tell for another time.”
For Honeyborne, who specializes in nature documentaries, the most rewarding aspect is “the opportunity to give nature a voice.” Presented by President Barack Obama, “Our Great National Parks” highlights some of the most stunning national parks around the world and its wildlife. “In this series, we’re talking about the importance of wilderness and wilderness is home to countless wild animals and parks,” he says. “They’re not very good at standing up for themselves, so I think the opportunity as wildlife filmmakers for us to represent those creatures and to hopefully immerse viewers in their world.”
And everyone can agree that one of the best parts of documentary filmmaking is when the project is done and released. “I’m sure all of our projects took a long, long time,” Murray, who spent five years making the Janet Jackson doc, states. “To hear the audience talk about it and noticing the little Easter eggs and kind of coming away with the sort of opinions that you kind of wanted them to form about certain characters, that’s really, really rewarding and definitely the best bit. Until then, you’re just in a constant state of stress until it’s actually finished.”