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DGA Filmmakers in the Documentary World

April 18, 2022 An African American Steering Committee Virtual Event

On April 18, the African American Steering Committee (AASC) virtual meeting featured the panel discussion, DGA Filmmakers in the Documentary World. In a conversation moderated by DGA Special Projects Committee Member Alex Stapleton (Hello, Privilege. It's Me, Chelsea), Directors W. Kamau Bell (We Need to Talk About Cosby) and Lisa Cortés (All In: The Fight for Democracy) spoke about a variety of subjects including the inspiration for their films, the challenges of getting participants to sit down with them and whether films about people of color should be helmed by people of color or what cross-cultural examination might bring to the process.

During the conversation portion covering the editing process, Stapleton said one of the biggest challenges of documentary filmmaking is finding the ‘spine’ of the story and asked how the directors tackled that issue.

“You know you’ve got something but you want to make it interesting,” said Cortés. “You mix the pieces all around when it comes time to edit your narrative and you might have to do a reshoot. I certainly come into projects with an idea and have learned through the research and the people I talked to that sometimes my idea was not actually the most important one. That's when you have that ‘a-ha!’ moment of like, ‘Oh no wait a minute. It wasn't that conversation that were we were having, it's actually this other one when you pull the layers back.’”

Bell agreed adding, “Whenever I'm interviewing people and I have that ‘a-ha!’ moment, that means something happened here. If I’m having that ‘a-ha!’ moment, somebody in the audience is also going to have that ‘a-ha!’ moment. So, I’m always trying to hold on to all those moments, but sometimes you’ve got to figure out what’s more important, the ‘a-ha!’ moment or the idea we came up with when we first put this together. I’m always skewing towards the ‘a-ha!’ moments. The thing we did on the scene that we didn’t plan is going to be the thing that nobody else thought about.”


 See video from this event in the gallery below

About the Panelists:
W Kamau BellW. Kamau Bell
In addition to We Need to Talk About Cosby, Bell’s directorial credits include the “Chris Rock's ‘Bring the Pain’” episode of the television documentary series Cultureshock. Bell has been a DGA member since 2020.
 
Lisa CortesLisa Cortés
In addition to All In: The Fight for Democracy (co-directed with Liz Garbus), Cortés’s directorial credits include the feature length documentary The Remix: Hip Hop X Fashion (co-directed with Farah Khalid) and the documentary shorts Imagine a Future (co-directed with Shola Lynch) and A Park Grows in Brooklyn (co-directed with Ruth Rachel Anderson-Avraham). She is currently in post-production on the feature length documentaries Little Richard: I Am Everything and The Empire of Ebony. Cortés joined the DGA in 2020.
 

Alex StapletonAlex Stapleton (moderator)
Stapleton’s directorial credits include the feature length documentary, Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel, the television documentaries Raising an OlympianTake Part LiveHello, Privilege. It's Me, Chelsea and Shut Up & Dribble; and episodes of the series The Playbook and Artbound. She is currently directing two projects for HBO that will air later this year. Stapleton has been a DGA member since 2013 and serves as a member of the DGA Special Projects Committee and as a co-chair of the Committee’s Global Cinema Series subcommittee. 

 

About the Committee:

The African American Steering Committee (AASC) was born of a desire to address the specific needs of the African-American members of the Directors Guild. One of the primary goals of the Committee is to establish a productive line of communication between African-American members and the creative community. The Committee meets monthly to plan events throughout the year celebrating the achievements of African-Americans, as well as forums with industry executives to proactively address what can be done to hire more African-Americans.

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