POV: When you screened Larry v. Lockney in Texas, some people in your audience commented that they weren’t able to tell what side your sympathies fell with. The film does a remarkable job of representing the range of strong opinions held by Lockney residents. Talk to us about how, as filmmakers, you strive to achieve fairness in a story. Was that one of your goals in making Larry v. Lockney? What role do you think fairness should play in point-of-view documentary?
Photo by Michael Ainsworth, Dallas Morning News
Jim Schermbeck and Mark Birnbaum: We knew from the beginning that because it was such controversial subject matter, we needed to be sure that both sides felt they had a fair hearing from us. We were also of one mind about the need to have the story told only by the people who were a part of it instead of any sort of narrator. (If we had chosen Larry or a townsperson to narrate, it would have immediately colored the storytelling, even if we had written the words. In fact, any third-person distillation of the story would have done that because it would have been imposing the language of someone who wasn’t involved on the story.)
Both of us are very biased toward unnarrated documentaries — at least when it comes to exploring other people’s lives or stories. There’s no question that “diary docs” and personal point of view can be used effectively and entertainingly. But the last thing we wanted to do was interject ourselves into what was already going on in Lockney. We wanted to observe, and with any luck, understand what was going on. Any filtering would have diluted Larry’s persona and those of his opponents. It would have gotten in the way.
Because Jim has been a professional advocate and the subject of questionable media coverage himself, he was particularly empathetic to the concerns both the townspeople and Larry had about fairness.
It’s also a matter of investing time with the story. We became a part of the landscape in Lockney. We were able to be there during all times of year and all kinds of events. We saw more of the town and townspeople than anybody else writing or covering the story of Larry’s lawsuit. We came to know all the major participants as more than just one-dimensional cartoons in a legal battle. Even if all of that background never shows up on screen, it does help us put the arguments and conflict in a larger context — and we hope a fairer one.