“UNDER AFRICAN SKIES” | director, Joe Berlinger
[PREMIERE SCREENING: Sunday, January 22 8:00 pm –The MARC, Park City]
I am as surprised as anyone that I have actually been able to raise a family by doing nonfiction work for the past 2 decades. In that time, I have witnessed a lot of change – in technology, in distribution, in audience appetites and in the maturation of nonfiction as an industry – and we can certainly have a healthy debate about whether it is easier or harder to make a living these days as a nonfiction film and television maker than it was 5, 10 or even 20 years ago. But while we can debate whether or not it is easier or harder to be a documentarian today, I would argue that being a documentarian today has never been more important.
I have been reminded in the past two years of the power and the pitfalls of practicing the art of nonfiction cinema. In 2010, I went through a costly and emotionally draining First Amendment battle with oil giant Chevron over the outtakes to my movie Crude, about an environmental lawsuit in the Amazon Rainforest. And in August of 2011, we saw the release of the Damien Echols from death row and Jessie Misskelley and Jason Baldwin from life sentences for crimes we believe they did not commit just as our third HBO film about their plight, Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory was nearing completion. Being reminded of the dangers to nonfiction filmmakers for taking on controversial subjects involving corporations while also experiencing the power of the medium to influence a positive outcome in the case of The West Memphis Three’s wrongful conviction has only strengthened my resolve to continue to work in this medium.
Journalism of all forms is under assault in this country. Newsrooms are being cut back; print journalism has been gutted by the democratization of the internet; fear of offending advertisers keeps certain stories out of the mainstream media and the corporatization of America is a frightening and ever-growing problem perhaps best illustrated by the supreme court’s decision to allow corporations to flood campaign financing with unlimited funding. Documentarians are one of the last bastions of independent journalism remaining in this country, with some of the most important reporting on real problems affecting all of us being done by the documentary community. So, I can’t imagine telling the stories that appeal to me in any other medium.
any other medium.