POV intern Alice Rhee is a sophomore at Oberlin College. This January, Alice is watching lots of documentaries and working with POV’s Interactive department on POV’s Web presence. She reports back from last week’s Cinema Eye Honors ceremony.
Can you find a more fascinating group of people than documentary filmmakers? They are socially conscious, inspiring and can infuse meaning into the mundane through the alchemy of film. To top it all off, they’re also hilarious, which I found out when I attended the Cinema Eye Honors last week.
I’m spending my winter break from Oberlin College interning at POV. Documentary filmmaking is my current passion: it combines my interests in storytelling and cinema. I love a great opportunity to see the world through someone else’s eyes, and the documentaries I’ve seen at POV have made lasting impressions.
One of the perks of interning at POV has been the chance to attend this year’s Cinema Eye Honors ceremony at the Times Center. It was a thrilling opportunity to join the filmmaking crowd for an evening of laughter and celebration. Walking home through Times Square that night, all I could see around me were possible stories to record: the world was filled with visual poetry.
Documentary filmmaking is flourishing at the moment, and I came away from the awards ceremony with a strong desire to join the movement. I heard industry legends encourage fresh-faced filmmakers to persevere in honing their skill. “There are great fiction stories to tell,” said veteran filmmaker Peter Davis, the director of Hearts and Minds, “but so many more compelling real stories to tell.” Comparing words and images to weapons in documentary filmmakers’ epic battle for the truth, he urged the audience to “sharpen those swords.”
And what incredible beliefs the nominated films were fighting for! Every time the lights dimmed for the screening of a nominee’s trailer, the air was electric with emotion. From the haunting family story of October Country to the moving power of solidarity in Burma VJ, these documentaries dare to confront hidden worlds, capturing the unimaginable.
With many of today’s Hollywood productions, part of the fun comes from watching the insane special effects and appreciating how far technology has come. With documentary films, the “How did they do that?” factor has nothing to do with computers and CGI, and everything to do with courage and ambition. How else did the filmmakers of The Cove survive filming in hostile Japanese seaports? Or the filmmakers of Food, Inc. get testimonies from farmers who were risking their livelihoods to bring truth to light? I know, I’m gushing, but trust me, you would feel the same passion if you had gone to the Cinema Eye Honors. I mean, I got to play Mad Libs with Albert Maysles! If that won’t convert you, then nothing can.
I’m still figuring out which story I might want to tell — there are so many out there! But meanwhile, why not ask yourself the same question? Pick up a camera and let it roll. If we all keep our minds sharpened and our eyes open, then the documentary filmmaker’s battle for the truth has a fighting chance.
Alice Rhee is a sophomore at Oberlin College, majoring in Creative Writing and English with a New Media concentration. She teaches creative writing at Murray Ridge, Oberlin’s center for the developmentally disabled. Her writing can be seen in Scholastic’s Best Teen Writing of 2008 Anthology and the Oberlin Review. She is currently in love with documentaries that take place in foreign countries, medium-format photography and the poetry of Charles Bukowski.