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ON FILM-MAKING: Tips from the Best on How to Make Documentaries

Tuesday 12 May, 2020

Our cinema might be closed, but we still want to keep our documentary community flourishing, and we thought now might be a great time for us to vicariously relive some of the best moments from our previous Q&As.

Seeing as we’re gearing up for the 3rd edition of our ‘Creative Responses to Self-Isolation’ competition, we've delved into our online hub and picked five moments from our recorded Q&As that provide advice on making non-fiction films. 

From the technical elements of editing and shooting, to the personal motivation behind the stories being told, these moments offer a snapshot into the journey that filmmakers embark on when making a documentary. 

Where to Start Editing Your Film 

I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO  Raoul Peck / 2017

Referring to his 2016 BAFTA Award-winning film as a “creative documentary”, Raoul Peck gives us an insight into his six-year-long editing process, and how he managed to create a structure for the film. 

About the film: In 1979, James Baldwin wrote a letter to his literary agent describing his next project, Remember This House. The book was to be a revolutionary, personal account of the lives and successive assassinations of three of his close friends - Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. 

However, at the time of his death in 1987, Baldwin left behind only thirty completed pages of his manuscript. This is the springboard which Peck uses to discuss Baldwin’s lived experiences, entirely in his own words.

Watch the full Q&A, hosted by Gaylene Gould here.


The Importance of Building a Strong Relationship with Your Contributors

VIRUNGA Orlando von Einsiedel / 2014 

Documentarian Orlando von Einsiedel sheds light on the relationship between the documentary filmmaker and subject, and how he maintained a friendly dynamic with his subjects in Virunga. Or as Orlando puts it, “being part of the furniture” is one good way of gaining the trust of the subjects you're shooting. 

About the film: Deep in the rainforests of eastern Congo lies Virunga, Africa's oldest national park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the last remaining home of the mountain gorilla. 

With a brutal civil war creeping ever closer the park is under threat like never before. A team of Congolese rangers, led by a Belgian conservationist, are the only barrier against the armed militia groups and foreign corporate interests seeking control of the park's rich natural resources.

Watch the full interview with Orlando and Producer Joanna Natasegara here.

Listen to Orlando in our DocHouse Conversations podcast here


How Much Should You Focus on Artistry in Documentaries?

NOSTALGIA FOR THE LIGHT Patricio Guzmán / 2012

“We’re not scientists, we’re artists” - wise words from Chilean documentary film director Patricio Guzmán from our 2012 Q&A. In this discussion, Guzmán emphasises the artistry of documentary filmmaking, praising the subjective and “passionate” nature of the non-fiction form. 

About the film: This visionary masterpiece is set in Chile's Atacama Desert, one of the harshest environments on the planet.

Against this backdrop, people search the past to understand the present: women comb through the sands for remains of loved ones "disappeared" by the Pinochet regime, whilst astronomers peer into the cosmos to solve the riddle of the beginning of life.

Watch the full interview, hosted by Sight & Sound’s Nick Bradshaw here.


APPROACHING Non-Fiction and Fiction Filmmaking

MARLEY Kevin Macdonald / 2012

Discussing his career working with both fiction and documentary, director Kevin Macdonald highlights the differences between the two forms and how his film Marley employs a more “classical documentary” style. 

About the film: This definitive doc on the life of Bob Marley - musician, revolutionary, legend - overflows with never-before-seen footage, insights and the music that brought him from grinding poverty in the townships of Kingston to enduring international fame.

Watch the full Q&A, hosted by DocHouse’s Director Elizabeth Wood here.


No Matter What the Subject, Make it Personal

FIVE BROKEN CAMERAS Emad Burnat / 2012 

Having a personal connection to the film you’re making really creates a raw and emotionally open piece of filmmaking. 

Emad Burnat talks about how his seminal documentary Five Broken Cameras shies away from the political nature of war, and instead focuses on the personal experience of war.  

About the film: The extraordinary story of a Palestinian village's resistance to encroaching Israeli settlements is brought to life powerfully, eloquently and personally, through the footage from Emad Burnat's five bullet-ridden and broken cameras. 

This documentary makes for an intensely powerful, personal document about one village's struggle against oppression.

Read about Five Broken Cameras in our ‘Creativity in Confinement’ blog, here.

Watch the full Q&A, hosted by DocHouse’s Director Elizabeth Wood, here.


If you fancy a constructive alternative to streaming during lockdown, head to our online hub to watch tons of filmed Q&A’s and masterclasses, explore here.

If you missed any of our online Q&A’s from our recent watch parties, don’t worry they’re also available to watch too!