DocHouse Conversations - Looking back at Series 1
As we come to the end of the first series of our new podcast, DocHouse Conversations, Carol Nahra - podcast host and DocHouse Programme Associate - looks back on eight episodes created and released during the lockdown that no-one expected.
When our screen went dark in March, we at DocHouse began finding new ways to share our love of documentaries. On April 1st we launched DocHouse Conversations, an eight-episode series that I have had the great good fortune to host.
Looking back on our first eight episodes, it was a privilege to hear about the craft of filmmaking from such a fascinating array of voices. I wanted guests whom listeners could really dig deep into their filmmaking career. For each episode we included links in the notes to anything mentioned in the podcasts, as well as their films available online, so that our community in lockdown could spend time both watching and listening to each filmmaker.
I hope you’ll listen to the podcast series in its entirety. Here are some excerpts to whet your appetite:
EPISODE 1: VICTORIA MAPPLEBECK
I knew that I wanted to launch the podcast with Victoria Mapplebeck, because she is adept at filming throughout times of crisis. So it came as no surprise to find that she was still filming in lockdown. “It was sort of an easy decision for me because I am virtually filming with the mobile everyday anyway. So I began filming video diaries. It’s changed so quickly from one day to the next.”
In this clip, Victoria describes how she began shooting soon after her breast cancer diagnosis, which came when she was finishing up her Bafta-winning Missed Call:
EPISODE 4: DAN REED
It was surprising to me that the two most experienced filmmakers I interviewed, Dan Reed and Vanessa Engle, both discussed the fresh terror which comes with each new film.
“There is always the very present feeling that this could be the one that skids off the row,” Dan said. “This could be the one that really really really does not work and it’s not going to be okay... In the end if you can bring enough force to bear on a small point you will come through. But it’s whether you can marshall that, whether you have the resources. Running a company and doing lots of different films. You have to be careful not to overreach. I’m kind of wary of that now.”
Dan found that after Leaving Neverland, it is now easier to get the ear of broadcasters around the world. “The danger is, you can’t believe your own propaganda. You can’t inhale other people’s celebration of whatever short term success you might have had. Because that will lead you to over promise and under deliver. And I’ve always been about under promising and over delivering.
In the hour I spent talking to Dan, he also provided a fascinating insight into how he ends up getting, and then making sense of, the many archive sources that underpin his acclaimed films documenting terrorist events, and specifically a sequence in Terror at the Mall. You can listen to him describe it here:
EPSIODE 8: VANESSA ENGLE
Vanessa Engle spoke of the anxiety each commission brings, despite her love of directing documentaries: “Even now sometimes when I am absolutely at the thorniest point in a film - and there are always still so many thorny moments - it doesn’t get any easier… Because it’s frightening. If you make a mistake or you let yourself down or don’t do as good a job as you would like to do - which is often really out of your control if it were to happen - everybody gets to see. So you have to be quite driven to do it. It would be a very strange person who put themselves in that situation who didn’t worry about it.”
With the benefit of clips, we were able to delve into a handful of Vanessa’s sixty broadcast films. In this sequence Vanessa discusses her Money series and how it created waves online in 2011 in the new instant feedback loop of twitter:
EPISODE 7: YANCE FORD
My conversation with Yance Ford, the Oscar-nominated director of Strong Island, ended up taking place after two weeks of Black Lives Matter protests. He said that in order to support filmmakers of colour, funders and commissioners needed to begin to spread the wealth around.
“You have to desire multiplicity of perspectives in order for filmmakers of colour to be hired. A lot of well intentioned people are making decisions by default,” he said. “I know filmmakers who are out fully funded now doing films about the protests around the country. Very few, if any, are filmmakers of colour. Probably none of them are black. Where are the fully funded projects for black filmmakers?”
We spent a fascinating hour discussing what this moment means for filmmakers, and looking back at his career at America’s flagship documentary strand POV. I also asked him about the very memorable aesthetic he developed for Strong Island. Have a listen:
EPISODE 3: DAISY ASQUITH
In nearly every conversation, we spent some time discussing the filmmaker’s relationship with the people in their films. And while it is clear that it’s all important to everyone, it was also interesting to see the differences in approach.
Daisy Asquith shared how the online response to her film Crazy About One Direction led to her PhD thesis: “Their response to my Channel 4 documentary was so intense that I thought ‘I need to understand this.’ And it seemed like it might be a useful kind of trigger for a PhD about what the relationships we have with people we film mean, and what the experience does to a person to be represented by something else.”
Daisy was fascinating in her discussion of the “shame” of the teenage One Direction fans: “The shame is projected upon themselves. They are so used to being told ‘You’re silly, you’re stupid; your music taste is bad. You fancy the wrong people. You are not allowed to desire Harry Styles (of course he is cool now but at that time it wasn’t cool to desire Harry Styles). And you should be listening to Led Zeppelin is what boys tell them. And they have a sense of shame about their own fun; their own desire. So I think there’s a lot of self policing in fandoms, and it’s a real shame.”
In this excerpt, Daisy expands on the notion of performance in documentary, another focus of her doctoral work:
EPISODE 2: ORLANDO VON EINSIEDEL
My second guest in the series, Orlando von Einsiedel, sees his films as collaborations with his contributors. “The films we make, we become very close to the people we are making them about. And actually they become a shared project,” said Orlando. “I’d always like to think the films we make, the end of those films, the people in front of the camera they would just as much feel that it’s their film as us as filmmakers.”
Orlando spoke about how awards ceremonies bring much needed attention to the issues at the heart of the film. “The way we tend to work is we make films about issues that we believe are important and we want as many people as possible to know about those issues. And putting our films, making them qualify for awards is a strategy, to shine a spotlight at the issues at its heart. If you are nominated for an Oscar, the light that is shone on that issue is extraordinary. Just as an example, when The White Helmets won the Oscar, for the next twenty minutes after that moment, the words The White Helmets were the most googled term in America. Which is just extraordinary.”
EPSIODE 5: FILMMAKER PANEL
Halfway through the series, we convened a virtual panel of filmmakers whose films had all been affected by the global lockdown. Judit Olah’s feature documentary debut Return to Epipo, had a virtual world premiere at CPH: Dox, after the festival very quickly had to move online.
Judit described how she agreed with misgivings to keep the film in the programme lineup, only to see the film have its world premiere sink without a trace. “For us it felt like it didn’t even happen, actually. We didn’t get any feedback at all. We don’t know how many people watched the film,” she said in the panel. “We didn’t go on online Q&As. Nobody contacted us or asked us anything, neither from the festival or a journalist or anyone. I guess because it was really the first few weeks of the whole new situation so everyone was in shock and it just didn’t happen.”
For Coup 53 director Taghi Amirani, navigating the new world of online streaming and festivals has been a tricky balancing act. Here he describes how he has navigated it:
As Taghi also notes, “We are trying to embrace the virtual experience because it’s the only option we have. We all know nothing really matches the in space, physical theatrical experience for any film,” he said. “We work to make these films because we want to see that moment of connecting with the audience - a live flesh and blood audience. Because that’s when the film really works.”
The DocHouse community will have the chance to see Coup 53 on Wednesday 19th August at a special online screening, followed by a Q&A with Taghi and guests. Save the date, tickets will be on sale soon.
You can listen to the complete podcast series here.