Kim Longinotto: Not a “Fly on the Wall”

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Yance FordPOV series producer Yance Ford reports back on a couple of Kim Longinotto events from last week.

POV's Chris White and filmmaker Kim Longinotto at her POV filmmaker interview
POV’s Chris White and filmmaker Kim Longinotto at her POV filmmaker interview.

If you were in New York City last week, you may have noticed that filmmaker Kim Longinotto was, well, everywhere. On Thursday afternoon she was interviewed by Chris White, POV’s Director of Programming, at the studios of Downtown Community Television. (DCTV is the new location for all POV filmmaker interviews this season, and we’ve updated the look. Check them out at the end of each broadcast once our season begins, and tell us what you think!) Longinotto’s MoMA retrospective opened later that evening with the New York premiere of Rough Aunties, and was followed by a full weekend of screenings from her body of work, including Divorce Iranian Style (1998), The Day I Will Never Forget (2002) and Shinjuku Boys (1995).



I missed Rough Aunties at Sundance, and was glad to finally see it. A portrait of the South African organization Bobbi Bear, the film is at once breathtaking and brutal. Following this incredible group of women as they rescue children from sexual and physical abuse, Longinotto wasn’t filming so much as she was bearing witness to the depravity and hope of modern South Africa. This act of witnessing, of being present in the most difficult moments, is a thread that connects all of Longinotto’s work: It’s on display in Runaway (2001), Hold Me Tight Let Me Go (2007) and Gaea Girls (2000) a taut portrait of professional women wrestlers in Japan. Longinotto knows where to put herself in just about any situation, and as such, has a body of work that captures the complexities that define us as human.

Faye Ginsburg and Kim Longinotto at MoMA
NYU’s Faye Ginsburg interviewing filmmaker Kim Longinotto after the screening of Rough Aunties.

At the Master Class with Kim Longinotto, which took place at DCTV on Saturday, May 9th, Longinotto spoke at length about her approaches to filmmaking. Moderated by Debra Zimmerman, executive director of Women Make Movies, the master class was the fastest three-hour discussion I’ve ever taken part in. Zimmerman, who has distributed Longinotto’s films for more than 20 years, knows her work so well that she got right to the questions that everyone wanted to ask: How do you develop trust, what is it about collaboration that leads you to work with other filmmakers so often, how did you come to be a filmmaker in the first place? I was especially interested to learn that Longinotto doesn’t subscribe to the “fly on the wall” idea of cinéma vérité. She, rightly if you ask me, asserts that the presence of both the filmmaker and the camera changes the behavior of your subjects. These changes can sometimes be for the worse, but often subjects are empowered by the filmmaker’s presence. She played a clip from her film, Divorce Iranian Style, to illustrate the point. In Divorce, Ziba, a young woman trying to divorce her husband, speaks up for herself at mediation in way she wouldn’t normally dare. Through her glances, directly into lens, we know that she is both emboldened by and showing off for the camera. Regardless of her motivation, the mediation goes well for her because she exploited the space created by the filmmaker — a space that Longinotto will be the first to tell you exists because she is there. I left the master class with a few interesting things to ponder and a list of films to rent. Most of all, I was glad to have the chance to hear from Longinotto in such detail about her work.

The MoMA retrospective runs until May 23rd, Rough Aunties will air on HBO and Hold Me Tight Let Me Go will air on POV on July 28th (check your local listings).

Yance Ford
Yance Ford
Yance works closely with POV's executive director and programming director to evaluate films submitted to POV She is instrumental in curating the series, a showcase of acclaimed documentary film on PBS. Yance frequently represents POV | American Documentary at conferences, festivals and markets, procuring work from filmmakers both nationally and internationally. Yance also oversees POV's annual call for entries, which yields upwards of one thousand entries, and coordinates POV's annual programming advisory board. Yance is a Programming Consultant and Pre- Screener for film festivals around the country, including the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, the Black Maria Film Festival, the Newport International Film Festival, Latino Public Broadcasting, Creative Capital and the Sundance Film Festival. She has served on festival juries at Full Frame and Silverdocs, appeared on panels at Sunny Side of the Doc and DocuClub and served on the IFP Advisory Committee. A graduate of Hamilton College and the production workshop at Third World Newsreel, Yance is a former Production Stage Manager for the Girls Choir of Harlem and has worked as a Production Manager on numerous independent productions for the Discovery Health and History channels. Ford has also worked in various capacities on the documentaries The Favorite Poem Project, Juanita Anderson, Executive Producer, Brian Lanker's They Drew Fire (PBS), and Barry Levinson's Yesterday's Tomorrows (Showtime). Yance's favorite documentaries include: 1. Hands on a Hard Body 2. Tongues Untied 3. Harlan County, USA 4. Cul de Sac 5. When We Were Kings 6. The Thin Blue Line 7. Night and Fog