PB: Do you have a favourite film?
AD: I don’t. Although I love Sarah Polley’s film: Stories We Tell; the nuance—she doesn’t over complicate complexity, she lets it play itself out. That’s what I enjoy.
PB: It’s an intelligent way to treat your audience.
AD: Yes and there weren’t contrived or contorted “Aha!” moments. There was this gradual getting under the skin, of vulnerability, of flaws—of how flawed we all are. I think that’s what I find so interesting about court cases. People can behave appallingly but there are good aspects to those people.
PB: Do you watch documentary series about court cases like Making a Murder, The Staircase, The Jinx, The Paradise Lost Trilogy? I binge watch them—it’s terrible, once I start on episode one there’s no shifting me.
AD: Oh yeah.
PB: With the exception of The Jinx perhaps, those films are more about the justice system than the individuals or crimes. The juries who’ve already made up their minds regardless of evidence, the shortcomings of the Judge, the corrupt or shoddy practices of police investigations or the prosecutor, dodgy witnesses, and then there’s the smart and good defence lawyers who are as appalled as the audience, in most cases, getting nowhere. When I start watching, I have all my ‘theories’ and guesses about who is guilty and who is not. By the end, and because of the horror of those court cases, I don’t care—it’s become about something bigger.
AD: That’s the interesting thing to me about the law. The law defines behaviour and you have to fit within a category, which doesn’t allow for that complexity or layering at all so everybody is forced to play the game within an adversarial construct and the rules are set. It’s so artificial. I think a lot of court cases, particularly human rights or public interest cases, are about trying to bash through those barriers and actually bring in the layers. It’s not so black and white but people are desperate for the black and white. Juries are desperate for that.
PB: They’ve been given their instructions, sitting in their own category. And they’re in court; there has to be an end point—someone wins and someone loses. I think it’s why films like The Thin Blue Line, Paradise Lost and The Jinx have been successful reviewing evidence because they are looking at it from outside the legal construct; people talk and say what they think and feel, there’s time and time passing. The filmmakers are following the human mess and rolling with it.
If you don’t have a favourite film, do you have a favourite genre?
AD: Easy. Documentary. It’s why I’m so attracted to The Hunting Ground as the primary tool for so many things. It’s the tool that allowed me to think about a research project that covered such a range of issues; it’s the tool that allows me to have a discussion with people who say “We don’t have a problem here” and then I invite them to a screening. It’s also allowed us to have a re-think about what our obligations are as universities. The power of documentary for me—and it’s what Stories We Tell achieves—is the bringing together of the craft of fiction filmmaking and documentary. To me, the narrative is all-important but I love the creative dimension of fiction filmmaking—cinematography, editing, sound and music, the look of the film. When you combine that with a powerful true story, in a documentary, the impact is extraordinary because it’s hitting every sense.
PB: I think human beings respond to the formal elements of filmmaking, combined with great stories, because it’s acknowledging the unmarked moments of existence; I call it living between the lines: noticing the light, hearing music, reading a face, seeing a composition, making unobvious connections—I think film does that better than anything else.
In this fascinating interview by film journalist Anne Thompson, director Sarah Polley talks about why she didn’t want to give interviews about the film, how she made the film and why it ended up being formally innovative. Also how none of us are very good at listening. WATCH. (No spoilers—if you don’t read the comments).Tags: andrea durbach, sarah polley, stories we tell film, the hunting ground australia project