While perhaps still best-known for his acting roles, Entourage star Adrian Grenier (pictured) is becoming increasingly involved in the world of documentaries.
The Santa Fe-born 35-year-old made his debut as a doc director a decade ago, with 2002 effort Shot in the Dark, and garnered significant attention in 2010 for his HBO doc Teenage Paparazzo. This week, his documentary oeuvre expanded further, with the Hot Docs world premiere of My Name Is Faith.
The film, which Grenier lends his name to as executive producer, looks at children who suffer from Attachment Disorder.
Focusing on the titular Faith, a 12-year-old girl struggling to connect to her adoptive parents after growing up with a drug addict mother in a heavily traumatic environment, the doc offers a hard-hitting and emotional insight into the difficulties faced by both parent and child alike.
It is co-directed and co-produced by Tiffany Sudela-Junker, Jason Banker and Jorge Torres-Torres, a trio who linked with Grenier via mutual friend and fellow filmmaker Jonathan Caouette.
“I’d heard about the project many years ago and was always curious about it and tracking it from a distance,” says Grenier, talking to realscreen in Toronto. “It had stuck with me and was one of those films I kept telling people about.”
When the filmmakers approached him to lend his name to the film, he adds, there was no hesitation in jumping on board.
“It’s quite remarkable how this whole team came about, because Tiffany had this amazing access, and she sort of bridged the trust between the filmmakers [and the subjects] for this very intimate look at these kids,” he says. “Obviously the kids are dealing with a lot, so the last thing they want is to be filmed or infringed upon.
“Then you have these two guys [Banker and Torres-Torres] who just by their nature are the sweetest, most delicate filmmakers, who were really able to be there, embedded, and weren’t impinging on the process – that’s why they were able to get amazing, delicate footage.”
Torres-Torres and Banker had worked together previously on documentary projects, and this was their first experience working within a much larger team – and in a much more emotional situation.
“We typically produce and shoot our films ourselves, so we have full control from the beginning,” Banker explains, “and this was one of the first times where there was restraint and teamwork, with a bigger team – and it was an amazing experience.
“A different type of sensibility came out of that restraint, and Faith is definitely one of the more uplifting and wholesome projects we’ve worked on. It was great being on that other side of the spectrum.”
Torres-Torres adds that he had never worked so closely in a situation that was so intimate and so emotionally stressful. The environment would often involve filming children in extreme states of distress.
“It was hard sometimes to shoot, so I would just stay back as far as I could,” he says. “And they really appreciated that and let me have more access. The sensitivity – you could just feel it in the room. It was intense and personal.”
The film’s emotion carries over to Grenier, who says he dislikes the terms Attachment Disorder, which “seems so clinical.”
“Really, what it is, is that these kids don’t know how to receive love,” he says. “They’re so guarded and there are so many walls up in there – they’re in survival mode so much so that they can’t actually connect to another human being.
“The majority of us out there aren’t able to understand that – to imagine a kid not being able to participate in something that’s so fundamentally human. And I think it affects all of society on a larger scale than just the families – it ultimately comes back to reflect who we are.”
For Grenier, Faith is the most emotional of a string of documentary projects he is involved in. After last year lending his voice to U.S. network History’s series Vietnam in HD, he recently launched a branded short documentary initiative with the Ford Motor Company via SHFT.com, the multimedia platform he co-founded with producer Peter Glatzer.
The project will see the creation of a number of short docs profiling leaders in innovation who are shaping new sustainable businesses, and Grenier says several of the shorts have already been completed.
“It’s really just a megaphone for a shift in culture towards a more sustainable lifestyle, and towards living more sustainably,” he explains, “It’s really a catalyst for those changes.”
Also on the horizon is a documentary by Matthew Cooke called How to Make Money Selling Drugs, which Grenier is co-producing. The film will feature interviews with drug dealers, prison employees and lobbyists, and has stars attached such as Woody Harrelson, Susan Sarandon and 50 Cent. “That’s to come,” says Grenier, “We’ll be back with that. It’s not too far off – in the next couple of months.”
But for now, the actor’s key focus is on Faith. “It’s a film that I think fits perfectly in my history of docs because I’ve always used film and documentary as a healing process and a questioning process, and a way to reflect my experience,” Grenier says.
“I’ve been making films and documentaries for a long time, so I want to align myself with films like this because they’re important, they challenge people’s ignorance in a lot of ways, but they also inspire people to do great things. So I feel lucky to have an opportunity to align with them.
“In the doc world, we have to stick together – power in numbers, because docs often get overlooked and this one shouldn’t.”
With his hit HBO drama Entourage now finished and at least half a dozen fiction and non-fiction projects in the works, Grenier has a wide variety of choices as far as next steps go. However, he insists that his commitment to the factual realm will be a long-term one.
“I’m here to stay, I think,” he says. “I find documentaries to be the most vital form of storytelling now. Everybody is so hyper-sensitive and aware and savvy to how stories are manufactured and told, and there’s something unpredictable about documentaries.
“Whereas the scripted format, people start to criticize the acting or the lighting. But when you’re out there in the thick of these moments [with docs] there’s nothing staged – it’s so raw and real, and that’s why it’s exciting.”
- Check out the trailer for My Name is Faith below. The film has its final Hot Docs screening tomorrow (May 5) at 6.30 p.m. at the ROM Theatre.