“For me, the path to becoming a documentary filmmaker began in journalism. For several years, I worked in public television and radio as writer, researcher, and editor.
In the United States, daily journalism serves as a fourth branch of government and, if practiced responsibly, provides an essential resource for public discourse. Oftentimes, however, the confines of a one-page newspaper story or a three-minute television segment prevent stories from being told comprehensively or emotionally.
In long-form documentary, a director can spend the time to invest his or her audiences into the film’s characters and the story lines they traverse. The very devices that Hollywood uses to construct feature films, that is, three act story structures, character development, and conflict/resolution devices, can also be implemented in the documentary. As a craftsperson, I am drawn to documentary for these reasons. As a social activist, I am drawn to documentary as a vehicle for social change.
While daily journalism can report facts and events, it is not often able to change deeply held attitudes or beliefs, especially ones regarding volatile issues such as sexual orientation, race, or class. I make films to challenge beliefs and give voice to those in society whose experiences have been overlooked, misrepresented or vilified. If viewers can identify and empathize with characters on screen as they are drawn into a story, there is a greater likelihood that misperceptions, stereotypes, and ignorance can give way to deeper understanding and compassion.
As democracy becomes ever more predicated on understanding cultural differences, I see documentary film as a powerful tool to bridge misunderstandings, create forums for thoughtful dialogue and, ultimately, diminish the walls that divide us as a nation.”
—Tom Shepard, Director