“Documentary Is All about Trying to Divine Order from Chaos”: Director Tim Wardle | Three Identical Strangers
As you made your film during the increasingly chaotic backdrop of the last year, how did you as a filmmaker control, ignore, give in to or, conversely, perhaps creatively exploit the wild and unpredictable? What roles did chaos and order play in your films?
Documentary is all about trying to divine order from chaos – be it finding a coherent retrospective story within five conflicting accounts of the same event, or hoping that something (anything!) with emotional or narrative substance will happen on your vérité shoot. On this film the struggle between chaos and order was exacerbated by our physical distance from the contributors; we were a UK-based team working on a US story, which had a significant present tense narrative fraught with considerable journalistic and legal challenges.
With previous documentaries I’ve had the luxury of being able to pick up a camera and film contributors whenever I wanted, on the off chance that something interesting might happen. But on this film we couldn’t do this, and at first it was incredibly frustrating. A significant part of the narrative we were trying to tell was – and still is – shrouded in mystery and shadowy conspiracy theories. People would talk to us on the phone, then quickly get cold feet and pull out – it put us on edge and made us constantly feel like we should be immediately flying out to film anyone we spoke to, but logistically and financially this was impossible.
However, in the end our physical distance from the story was a blessing because it forced us to be incredibly disciplined about who, what and when we filmed. It reminded me of one of the first documentary filmmakers I ever worked with (as a researcher) who used to shoot vérité on Super 16mm and would be unbelievably focused on what he needed from a shoot. We ended up filming the whole 96-minute documentary in 13 days (with an extra three for recon) spread judiciously over four US trips during the course of one year. The order that was imposed on us helped mitigate much of the chaos inherent in making a documentary.
[PREMIERE SCREENING: Friday, January 19 at 12:30pm — Ray]