POV: Describe the film’s style.
Drury Gunn Carr: We intentionally made it a mystery, because for many people in Libby, it was a mystery why they were getting sick, and for a long time they were not told what was really happening to them. We chose to reveal things slowly, so you only get pieces of information a little bit at a time. That’s how the people in Libby had this revelation.
Doug Hawes-Davis: Certainly we fit into the cinema verité tradition. Aesthetically we’re minimalists. I believe that the pace of any film should match the pace of the place and the people that the film is about. In this case, I hope we created something that allows people to get a feel of the pace of life in Libby, both before the crisis became public and after. It’s a controlled minimalism.
POV: Why do you use the documentary form?
Davis: Since we started making documentaries 10 or 12 years ago, I’ve been very empowered by the process, watching how the form communicates to people. There’s no way you can communicate every detail of a given issue or situation, but it’s a powerful medium. I don’t think it’s the best form for everyone, but it certainly works for us. I love allowing people to tell their stories this way and communicate directly to the viewers.
Carr: When people see a story in the paper or on television, they learn something, but it’s sort of a flash in the pan — here one day, gone the next. You don’t get to know much about the people who are affected. They’re not really people, they’re part of the news. In a documentary, you can follow people’s lives, allowing viewers to identify with people and think, “This could possibly be me.” It’s not just a 30-second soundbite. Documentary form can never be totally truthful about life because life is not a documentary, but a documentary can reveal what a news story can’t.
POV: Archival footage is so often part of documentaries and the cinema verité style. What can you tell us about how you used archival footage in Libby, Montana?
Davis: Archival research was both a challenge and a joy because we unearthed interesting, unusual material, especially in creating the historical context of the film. A lot of the material came from the Lincoln County Heritage Museum. Some of it was abandoned by the St. Regis Corporation, which ran the lumber operations there. They were just company reels, old film prints that were gathering dust. We helped the Lincoln County Heritage Museum transfer the material to video so that we could view it. The other aspect of the archival research was connecting with people who had home movies dating back to the ’30s. There’s nothing impressionistic in it — it’s all real. I find that part of the process to be really enjoyable, unearthing material that people haven’t seen for years and trying to create a context around material that’s both present and historical.