The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized.
... [P]oetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.
Huge congratulations to director/editor Stefan Forbes, who was just awarded the prestigious Library of Congress Lavine & Ken Burns Prize for Film, which will provide a $200,000 grant to support post-production for his forthcoming documentary HOLD YOUR FIRE. Ken Burns praised the film as an "extraordinary examination of policing in America... masterful work", while Carla Hayden from the Library of Congress called it a "searing and powerful look into a little-known moment in history that has profound repercussions for how we understand policing today". HOLD YOUR FIRE tells the story of a 1973 hostage standoff in Brooklyn, the longest siege in New York Police Department history, and the NYPD's first experimentation with the revolutionary tactics of de-escalation, under the guidance of psychologist Harvey Schlossberg.
As a consulting editor on this project over the past year, I've been a witness to Stefan's dedication and persistence as he has worked tirelessly to bring alive a tremendous cache of archival imagery, while also weaving contemporary voices that represent multiple sides of a highly charged conflict, and simultaneously making clear a nuanced, complicated historical context. This is no small feat and editing challenges like this can feel absolutely daunting when you're in the middle of the process. So I want to cheer Stefan for his commitment to this process. The power of this story is in how relevant it is to our current circumstances, nearly 50 years later; the work of crafting this story is profoundly important. Keep at it Stefan!
BORDER SOUTH / FRONTERA SUR, a documentary I worked on as a Story Consultant, will have its broadcast premiere on PBS on October 11th, 2020. Director Raúl Paz-Pastrana filmed for five years on migrant routes between Southern Mexico and the U.S. Border, then worked with editor Ellen Knechel to craft a poignant, at times dark, at times humorous, revelatory experience of what this journey is like for thousands of immigrants who follow the trails hoping for a better life.
January seems like a good time of year to fall down a rabbit hole into the mind of John McPhee and daydream about storytelling structure. For some people, the concept of "structure" conjures rules and rigidness; but for me, a deep understanding of story structure is really about finding and sharing a path toward a kind of ecstatic freedom.
Structure, in McPhee's writing, carries as much meaning as the words themselves. What a more ordinary writer might say directly, McPhee will express through the white space between chapters or an odd juxtaposition of sentences. It is like Morse code: a message communicated by gaps.
...In the grand cosmology of John McPhee, all the earth's facts touch one another -- all its regions, creatures and eras. Its absences and presences. Fish, trucks, atoms, bears, whiskey, grass, rocks, lacrosse, weird prehistoric oysters, grandchildren and Pangea. Every part of time touches every other part of time. You just have to find the right structure.
GRIT, a documentary I worked on as a Supervising Editor, continues its festival rollout around the world and will have its broadcast premiere on POV on September 9th, 2019. I love this story about a feisty teenager who is determined to take on a multinational behemoth. Although the circumstances are tragic (as they so often are when it comes to multinational behemoths), this is ultimately an inspiring portrait of resilience and creative action -- wonderfully and uniquely Indonesian.
HARVEST SEASON, a documentary I edited for director Bernardo Ruiz, will have its broadcast premiere on Independent Lens on May 13th, 2019. Our whole team is super excited that this uniquely American story about family, immigration, land, love, loss, seasons, beauty, pride, heritage and chasing big dreams will finally find its home on Independent Lens, where it will reach everyday folks in their living rooms. We adore the passionate, big-hearted stars of this film - Vanessa, Gustavo, Rene, and Angel - and perhaps you will be charmed by them too.
Directed and shot by David Hambridge and edited by Andrew Harrison Brown with intimacy and care, KIFARU tells the story of the last male Northern White Rhino in the world, named Sudan, and his caretakers, Jojo and Jacob, who live in Kenya. I came onto this project towards the end as a Consulting Editor, offering some challenging feedback about characterization, theme, and throughline. I am so happy to see the team's hard work, dedication, and persistence earn recognition and accolades. Huge congrats to team Kifaru for winning both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award at Slamdance. Look for this doc on the festival circuit in 2019!
HARVEST SEASON comes to the festival as part of its American Perspectives subsection and is one of the many real discoveries from this lineup. Those with an admiration and taste for wine will flock to this truly entrancing documentary, a deep dive into the role Hispanic wine makers are having on the state of Napa and Sonoma Valley wines, and the socio-political issues that this population also face. Told expertly and with some startlingly gorgeous photography, director Bernardo Ruiz gives a first hand account of small wine producers and the struggles they face both economically and politically in 2018 America. Trump is a cloud hanging over this film, sure, but what makes this such an expert and superlative piece of work is that the focus never loses sight of the minority population which is under attack, telling their stories through a film that's as beautiful as it is intimate and emotionally moving.
HARVEST SEASON screens in the community where the film's stories take place. Mill Valley Film Festival will host two very special screenings, featuring a discussion with two of the film's stars, Vanessa Robledo and Gustavo Brambila, along with director Bernardo Ruiz.
HARVEST SEASON delves into the lives of people who work behind the scenes of the premium California wine industry, during one of the most dramatic grape harvests in recent memory. The film follows the stories of Mexican-American winemakers and migrant workers who are essential to the wine business, yet are rarely recognized for their contributions. Their stories unfold as wildfires ignite in Napa and Sonoma counties, threatening the livelihoods of small farmers and winemakers who are already grappling with a growing labor shortage, shifting immigration policies, and the impacts of a rapidly changing climate.
HARVEST SEASON is a co-production of Quiet Pictures and the Independent Television Service with support from Latino Public Broadcasting.
NO MAN'S LAND, directed by David Byars, tells the story of gun-toting, militant ranchers in a standoff with the federal government, law enforcement officials, and the local community in and around Malheur National Wildlife Refuge (Oregon) -- a high-stakes battle over ideological principles of freedom and self-determination. I worked as a consulting editor on this project, supporting the talented editor David Osit as he negotiated a delicate balance of providing historical/political context while also creating a feeling emotional immediacy, conveying point-of-view without taking sides or tacitly endorsing extremism, and digging deep below the surface of a sensationalized news story to get at more complicated themes that reveal a bigger story about cultural fissures in American democracy. No Man's Land premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and will have its broadcast debut on PBS May 7th, 2018.
Riveting... [No Man's Land] follows the best tradition of Griersonian, observational, and verite documentary by taking the time to show its subjects as real people.
- Filmmaker Magazine
GRIT, directed by award-winning filmmakers Cynthia Wade and Sasha Friedlander, will premiere at the 2018 Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto on April 30th.
As a Supervising Editor on GRIT (a credit I share with one of my editing heroes, Janus Billeskov Jansen), I had the honor of putting heads together with Cynthia and Sasha in the thick of their edit as they worked to solve the storytelling puzzle of distilling stakes, emotional immediacy, complex cultural and political context, and multiple character perspectives. How could this story of environmental injustice in a faraway land, about people who often get ignored, be crafted so as to resonate with audiences on the other side of the planet?
We eventually found our answer in Dian, a feisty teenager whose life was forever changed by the tsunami of boiling mud that buried her village and displaced 60,000 people in nearby communities. A toxic mud volcano continues to erupt to this day in East Java, Indonesia -- widely believed to have been triggered by drilling by a multinational natural gas drilling company. In confronting this injustice, Dian sets off on a path along the arc of the moral universe and we join her journey.
The directors share more insight about the making of the film, as well as some nuggets of wisdom about being a filmmaker, in an interview with Women and Hollywood.
Shot with poetic grandeur and packed with stirring political heft. -POV Magazine
Documentary editor and film professor Jacob Bricca has published a rare and substantial book on the art and craft of editing documentaries. It's hard to learn editing from reading a book, but this one is packed with practical and inspiring insights that are nearly impossible to find elsewhere. In addition to offering his own tips and strategies, Jacob interviewed several editors for the book (including Kim Roberts, Mary Lampson, Geoffrey Richman, Marshall Curry, Kate Amend, Aaron Wickenden, and me!); I found it fascinating to read about their process and how they approach particular challenges in the edit. Jacob also created these awesome short videos to accompany the book. There is a wealth of resources here -- worth checking out if you are learning how to be an editor, learning how to work with an editor as a director, learning how to shoot for the edit room, or teaching students how to edit documentaries.
When you watch your friend work his ass off for the better part of a decade, staring down doubt and uncertainty, yet resolutely continuing to put all kinds of love and persistence into a project he cares about passionately... and then you watch him knock it right out of the ballpark... Massive congrats to you on your first feature Jon, to the Rainey family who opened their lives so generously for the camera, and to the entire team who brought this powerful film to life. Look for QUEST on POV, soon.
QUEST, Jonathan Olshefski's living, breathing, stunning documentary study of an African-American family in North Philadelphia... a film that feels at once narratively firm and organically shaped... graceful, lively, endlessly empathetic... -Variety