The Detroit Institute of Art’s Documentary All-Stars! event brought acclaimed filmmakers together for a discussion on the meaning of the genre on Oct. 7 at the Detroit Film Theatre.
The evening was moderated by Thom Powers, a Metro-Detroit native and programmer for the Toronto Film Festival.
“There’s no room in the world more important to me than this one,” said Powers.
Each filmmaker was asked to show a clip from one of their movies that epitomized what documentaries meant to them.
Barbara Kopple, the two-time Oscar winner of the films “Harlan County USA” and “American Dream,” showed a clip from her movie “Wild Man Blues.” The movie follows Woody Allen and his new wife as they travel across Europe with Allen’s jazz band. During the scene Allen bickered with his family, his mother scolding, “Don’t think you are where you are today by yourself.”
“I picked the clip because it’s about coming home again and here you are,” Kopple said.
Kopple also talked about the most important things in making documentaries are trust. “This is about the innate love of people,” Kopple added.
Steve James, the director of films “Hoop Dreams” and “Life Itself,” showed a clip from his movie “The Interrupters.” The film follows three violence interrupters as they try to steer young men and women away from violence in Chicago. In the clip shown, an interrupter confronts a young woman who has not been attending high school.
James’ awareness on race was heightened growing up in Virginia, with the n-word being said by white teammates throughout his adolescent sporting tenure, he said. Many of his films depict race in America.
"You get drawn into the lives of folks like everyday journalists can’t,” he said.
Chris Hegedus was another native metro Detroit filmmaker who grew up in Rochester, Michigan. Her credits include the films “The War Room,” “Unlocking the Cage,” and “Town Bloody Hall.” The clip shown from “Town Bloody Hall” depicted feminist Jill Johnston going toe-to-toe with the controversial author Norman Mailer in front of a standing room only New York City Town Hall. The topic of the night was Women’s Liberation.
“The women in this film were real heroes to me,” said Hegedus. “I think of this film as something for the time capsule but a lot of the things talked about are still important. It’s nice to be there at a moment in time when things are changing.”
Nelson George’s films include such work as executive producer of “A Ballerina’s Tale” and producer of “Good Hair.” “A Ballerina’s Tale” follows the renowned dancer Misty Copeland as she recovers from an injury, not knowing if she will ever be able to dance again. In the clip shown, Copeland sees a doctor who twists her in every direction, garnering a gasp from the audience with every crack and pop of her hurt body.
“This movie shows the great ballerina smile and the pain behind it,” George said. “What I love about documentary filmmaking is the techniques behind it. The script is still being written and the ending uncertain.”
Morgan Spurlock, the director “Inside Man” and “Super Size Me,” was interviewed last.
His clip came from “Inside Man.” where he discussed elder care with his grandma and family. In the scene, he talks with his grandma about nursing homes and power of attorney. As they talked, he realized how little they have thought about elder care as a family. Spurlock explained that after filming his grandmother got sick and was sent to the hospital.
“You have to be open to show your scars, and through that comes honest storytelling,” said Spurlock.