A Master Class / by KirstenStudio

kim-longinotto-58183This past Saturday I attended a master class by the documentary filmmaker, Kim Longinotto.  The Museum of Modern Art is currently hosting a retrospective of her work.

During the master class there was valuable discussion with film clip examples that reflected both practical and artistic choices, but the two things she spoke about that I found most interesting were 1). how she doesn’t really care to arrange shots, and 2). how the presence of her and her camera, influence the behavior of those she films.

In regards to her shooting style, Ms. Longinotto talked about finding a place to be and sort of staying there as to not disrupt the natural flow of what’s going on and not to end up being a distraction, which of course makes sense, but no doubt many filmmakers feel a pressure to get various angles and cutaways. I am an editor so it is my nature to want those options, even if I don’t use them.  She did point out she and her editor like to stay with a moment, rather than create a lot of cuts.  Certainly makes sense and as long as that moment is poignant, a person probably doesn’t need a cutaway.  Ms. Longinotto also mentioned she isn’t necessarily fond of shooting someone exiting.  The kind of shot where the cinematographer asks their character to walk ahead so they can film the subject walking away and then ask their character to stop so they can get ahead and capture their entrance or departure from the other side.  I got the impression she feels like it just feels and looks too set-up and you know, I think she’s right.  Audiences are smart.  Viewers know an arranged shot when they see it.  However I know from experience that it can be tricky to create cohesive narratives without those handy transitions. Ms. Longinotto’s work comes out pretty clear without those shots though.  Not that she doesn’t have exit or entrance shots or other orienting sort of queues, but what I think she was saying is that she doesn’t (or rarely) ask for them.I guess that’s why her work seems so natural.  Kim Longinotto’s honesty also comes through in the way she perceives her presence and the camera’s, while shooting her subjects.  She points out, the camera alone changes the dynamics in any given situation.  People fall in and out of awareness as they are being filmed, which is an interesting idea in itself, how that effects behavior, but to what Kim Longinotto was saying, it is because she is filming, people often become more open, are brave enough to ask questions they might normally leave unsaid and this creates a very interesting scenario.  So the way she seemed to view it is the presence, and the occasional awareness of it isn’t necessarily a negative.  The subject’s consciousness of the filmmaker and what that filmmaker is there for, can sometimes bring a dramatic or important moment to a situation that might have otherwise been seemingly less so.  The discussion of the filmmaker's influence on his/her subjects, just by being there isn't a new one, but Kim Longinotto's perception of it, somehow seemed free and uncynical.

sisters-72After attending the master class on Saturday, I attended a screening of Sisters in Law (2005) at MOMA with a talk back following the film.  A terrific documentary done in collaboration with Florence Ayisi.  Like much of Kim Longinotto’s work, Sisters in Law was without cynicism and is a story of courageous and interesting women.  Something I think we can all use a little more of, especially now.