My films always start with characters I want to get to know better. It’s important to choose my characters wisely because I spend a great deal of time with them: filming, logging, digesting scenes and events and then editing. In the case of My American Girls, I spent two years with the Ortiz family, all the while searching for a way to articulate what it was that drew me to the family and why their story was worth telling. The principle themes of my films are rarely apparent in the early stages, so I must trust that the characters and my interactions with them will point the way towards discovery. The process is one in which we are all collaborating, consciously and subconsciously, in a quest for stories and motifs.
I hope my films offer viewers the opportunity to be transported into another world and at the same time challenge viewers to see what they have in common with that world and learn more about it. To accomplish this, I like to film my subjects up close and be part of the action as it is unfolding in order to capture intimate, revealing moments. I also want the characters in my films to communicate directly to the audience. I find that given the time and space, individuals do a much better job of telling their own stories in their own voice than any filmmaker ever could.
I feel lucky to have found another compelling character. My current project is called A Panther in Africa, about the life and times of Pete O’Neal, a former Black Panther living in exile in Tanzania, Africa. I met Pete two and a half years ago, and the more I spent time with him, the more I felt like I hadn’t been around him enough. He is a raconteur whose history with the Black Panthers, current activist work and status as an exile tell a dramatic and far-reaching story about America’s past and present.
—Aaron Matthews, Director
Update: A Panther in Africa was part of POV’s 2004 season.