We are on the cusp of announcing more details on our Centerpiece Screening of CONVENTION, which follows the making of the 2008 Democratic Convention through the eyes of its organizers, reporters, police and protesters leading up to the historic nomination of Barack Obama as the Democratic nominee for President of the United States. Most of the filmmakers will be in attendance and will present a special DOC TALK on ensemble filmmaking as part of the SILVERDOCS International Documentary Conference.
New information as of today, there will be a slew of filmmakers and subjects for a post screening Town Hall including: Chantal Unfug, Special Assistant to the Mayor, Deputy City Liaison to the DNC; Katherine Archuleta, Chief of Staff at the US Department of Labor (formerly Lead City Planner for the DNC); Representative Chris Van Hollen; Kevin Scott, Permit and Protest Liaison for the City of Denver; Curtis Hubbard, Political Editor of the Denver Post; Allison Sherry, Staff Writer, Denver Post; and Reverend Leah Daughtry, 2008 Democratic National Convention CEO. Moderated by NPR Tell Me More host Michel Martin.
Director AJ Schnack tells all about the project:
CONVENTION is the third nonfiction feature by filmmaker AJ Schnack. His previous films include KURT COBAIN ABOUT A SON (2006), for which he was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award and received the inaugural Cinematic Vision Award at AFI Silverdocs, and GIGANTIC (A TALE OF TWO JOHNS) (2002). Both films were released theatrically and on DVD in North America and were broadcast in the US on the Sundance Channel. ABOUT A SON premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and was also released theatrically in France and Japan and aired in the UK on More4’s True Stories. Schnack is the author and editor of the popular nonfiction film blog All these wonderful things (http://edendale.typepad.com), which he began in 2005 and which is perhaps the most widely read resource for nonfiction filmmaking online. He is the founder and co-chair of the Cinema Eye Honors for Nonfiction Filmmaking, which recently celebrated its 2nd edition at the Times Center in New York City. Schnack is currently in production on a feature film about Branson, Missouri, the Ozark Mountain show-town. He is also in development on a new ensemble film (in the style of CONVENTION) that hopes to shoot in early 2010.
What inspired this film? How did you find your subjects?
When I was in journalism school at the University of Missouri, I organized a group of writers and photographers to Des Moines to cover the Iowa caucuses for the student newspaper. It was such a great experience – running around with a group of people all covering different angles of a larger story – and one that I’d been thinking about a lot over the years. Getting out on the film festival circuit with my first two films and writing a lot about nonfiction film has given me the opportunity to forge friendships with a lot of great filmmakers. But while it’s fun to hang out at festivals, you almost never get a chance to work together. And yet there was a rich history of collaboration between some of the legends of our form – Robert Drew, DA Pennebaker, the Maysles, and Ricky Leacock. So the idea of doing something like what I’d done years ago in Iowa – and the notion of recruiting some great filmmakers – came together in this project. For subjects, I was lucky to team with Britta Erickson, who is one of the producers on the film, a Denver native and city leader. Britta opened the door for us at the Mayor’s office and at the Denver Post – these people knew and trusted Britta (some of them went to high school with her) – which allowed us to come in and make our pitch: we want you to give us total access during this huge moment in your life, planning for an event that’s bigger than any that the city has dealt with before.
What were some of the biggest challenges/surprises?
Getting credentials to get into the Convention itself was much more difficult than I expected. Having dealt with credentials at film festivals, I was completely amazed at how bizarre, chaotic – and ultimately unproductive – this process was. It took weeks of emails, phone calls and even meeting people for cocktails just to get a sense that we might succeed. Early Monday afternoon (the first day of the Convention), we still weren’t sure that we were going to get any credentials for any of our filmmakers. Then suddenly we had them. And after that, it became ridiculously easy to get more.
Who are some of your favorite filmmakers?
At the moment, pretty much everyone on our CONVENTION team. I’m still amazed at what we accomplished together in such a short period of time.
What is your all time favorite documentary?
My feelings about nonfiction film are constantly changing and evolving, and that includes my feelings about the films themselves. But CONVENTION was obviously influenced by films like PRIMARY as well as the fiction films of Robert Altman. Some favorite recent nonfiction features include Margaret Brown’s THE ORDER OF MYTHS, Darius Marder’s LOOT, RENE, Pernille Gronkjear’s THE MONASTERY (MR. VIG & THE NUN), Jason Kohn’s MANDA BALA (SEND A BULLET) and John Maringouin’s RUNNING STUMBLED.
What other projects are in the pipeline?
I’m in the middle of shooting a multi-year film about Branson, the Ozark Mountain show-town in SW Missouri. I’m co-directing with David Wilson, who is one of the filmmakers on CONVENTION. I’m also hoping to do a new ensemble film, in the style of CONVENTION, early next year.
Why did you become a filmmaker?
I don’t really remember ever wanting to be anything else. I might have thought I needed back-up plans (journalism, for example), but I always wanted to make films.
What are some of your creative influences?
I think of each film as being drawn from a palette of influences. For CONVENTION, I was inspired by the films of Robert Drew and Robert Altman and the great ‘70s films that combined journalism and politics – ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN, THE PARALLAX VIEW, THE CANDIDATE. Also on the palette: the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, the memories of network television gavel-to-gavel coverage of political conventions and Hendrick’s gin, tonic & cucumber.
Did you go to film school?
No. I graduated from the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism. The closest thing I had to film school was many years of being an Executive Producer at a company that made music videos, many of which were made for very, very low budgets. That experience – two guys, a camera and moving as fast as you could – would prove to be invaluable experience in making CONVENTION.
What do you shoot on?
We used the Panasonic HVX. David and I had been using it for months on our Branson film and I love working with it.
What has been the most unexpected thing to happen since taking the film on the festival circuit?
Yet to be determined.
Why did you want to screen your film at SILVERDOCS?
Silverdocs is the premiere documentary festival in the United States, it’s been a good friend to me (my KURT COBAIN ABOUT A SON screened there in 2007 and won the inaugural Cinematic Vision Award) and because I can’t imagine a better place to have a world premiere screening of a film about the 2008 Democratic National Convention than on Washington D.C.’s doorstep.