2015 Judge Lucy Walker on the Power of Documentary Film
British documentary filmmaker Lucy Walker, who has twice been nominated for an Academy Award, is returning to Mountainfilm in May to serve as a cinematography judge. Walker, whose brilliant films include past Mountainfilm selections The Crash Reel, Waste Land, The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom and The Lion’s Mouth Opens, took a minute from her schedule to talk to Mountainfilm Program Director Katie Klingsporn about the power of documentary film. The following is excerpted from their conversation.
KK: You are the director of several award-winning documentaries. Can you talk about the power of documentary film as a medium?
LW: Documentary is so powerful because you get to experience things through the full power of this big screen medium. But it’s powerful not only in the kind of film experience but also in terms of enlarging yourself in terms of seeing the world through a pair of eyes that isn’t yours.
This incredibly vivid medium of film makes you feel like you’re there with somebody in these incredibly important moments in their life. We may see people through a film better than we can even in real life if the filmmaker has done a good job. You can see their world in a very deep way.
I feel so lucky. I feel this medium is at such a vital stage right now with so much incredibly exciting groundbreaking works, partially through the technology of high-definition cameras with beautiful lenses that are available to documentary filmmakers for the first time in our generation. There’s so much flexibility — you can take these cameras so many places you couldn’t before and you can really finely craft in the editing room. We’re hungry about the world, and we have the opportunity to catch what’s happening around us.
The tremendous spirit that we get to see, the indomitable spirit, it’s very powerful … Mountainfilm catches that lightning in a bottle. It’s such a fantastic event to keep returning to.
KK: So what made you get into documentaries? Was there a moment or a film that inspired you?
There were so many amazing pieces of work, not just documentary. But two documentaries that definitely inspired me were Streetwise (1984), about street kids in Seattle, and Hoop Dreams (1994).
KK: What was it about them that spoke to you?
I couldn’t believe that the camera would run with these people, because you really felt that you were seeing peoples lives in a really direct way and really understanding what life was like for them. It’s so powerful to be there. The experience of capturing moments in life that are turning points for young people — it’s life compressed into a film-length study and you see these pivotal moments in people’s lives, right there on the screen. It’s powerful and so now.
KK: Are you working on anything right now?
LW: I am, but I never tend to talk about things before they’re done.
KK: What makes you want to return to Mountainfilm?
The programming being impeccable. I mean, it’s amazing. An amazing experience, such a beautiful venue, such an incredible group of people. My only major complaint is I can’t be in more than one place at once.