Docs

Report from Silverdocs: an exercise in ensemble filmmaking

Wednesday evening was the world premiere of AJ Schnack's collaborative film Convention at Silverdocs. Prior to the screening, Schnack and the collection of filmmakers he hand-picked for the project sat down with moderator Debra Zimmerman, of Women Make Movies, to discuss the process of making a film about the Democratic Convention as a team.
June 18, 2009

Wednesday evening was the world premiere of AJ Schnack’s collaborative film Convention at Silverdocs. Prior to the screening, Schnack and the collection of filmmakers he hand-picked for this project sat down with moderator Debra Zimmerman, of Women Make Movies, to discuss the process of making a film about the Democratic Convention as a team.

In college, Schnack worked with writers and photographers collaboratively and he felt that was a great way to get different sides of the same story. When he assembled his team of filmmakers to make Convention he wanted more than just a camera crew; he needed people who were used to making creative decisions but who could also shoot the footage themselves. Among those who worked with Schnack on the project were Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert (A Lion in the House), Laura Poitras (My Country, My Country), Paul Taylor (We Are Together) and Daniel Junge (They Killed Sister Dorothy)

Filming this project was like a whirlwind, or a ‘freefall,’ as producer Laura Poitras called it. Most of the team found out a few days before the convention started that the film was a go and that they were needed in Denver right away. Then they had four days to follow their characters before it was all over. As photographer Steven Bognar pointed out, none of the filmmakers had time to make the subjects trust them in the way they normally would when making a documentary; instead they just dropped in and started shooting.

Clearly, it worked. And while Schnack said editing a documentary filmed by multiple directors was the hardest thing he’s ever done, it was also a dream come true. ‘To get in ten characters in the Robert Altman-esque way I wanted was tough,’ he said. But what made it worth it was to get the opportunity to watch the raw footage of filmmakers he really respected.

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