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Adaptation

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Gripping Reality

 

Highest-Grossing Documentaries
(1982-Present)
From boxofficemojo.com


1) Fahrenheit 9/11
$119,194,771

2) Bowling for Columbine
$21,576,018

3) Winged Migration
$11,689,053

4) Super Size Me
$11,536,423

5) Hoop Dreams
$7,830,611

6) Tupac: Resurrection
$7,718,961

7) Roger and Me
$6,706,368

8) Spellbound
$5,728,581

9) Touching the Void
$4,593,598

10) The Fog of War
$4,198,566

NOTE: Documentary is sub-genre of Non-Fiction.
Large format (ex. Everest), concert (music, ex. Woodstock, and comedy, ex. Raw), compilation (ex. That's Entertainment) and reality TV movies (ex. Jackass) omitted.

 

 


Gripping Reality

By Kerrin McNamara

 

Rain made a slushy mess of the Toronto streets leading to Jackman Hall at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Still, a crowd trudged through the drizzle to see Peter Raymont’s Shake Hands With the Devil. The documentary was fresh off an award-winning run at the 2005 Sundance film festival.

The theatre hushed the moment the
lights turned down and Gen. Roméo Dallaire appeared onscreen, revisiting Rwanda ten years after witnessing the genocide. When the lights came back on, the audience erupted in a standing ovation. A man’s emotional victory over his haunting past was a cinematic triumph.

At a post-screening gathering, Raymont admitted between sips of Merlot the success of Shake Hands, and subsequently all documentaries, started with the subject.

“The film is good because he’s great. It’s not me,” he says. “I was just like a witness.”

Luck accounts for the poignant scenes, like when Dallaire agrees to visit the memorial with hundreds of skulls. Or when he recounts how the bodies were piled at the morgue.

Without Dallaire, there is no film.

How do you convince people, emotional and vulnerable, to let a camera intrude in the darkest corners of their lives?

Just finding a person can prove to be a challenge. Alex Anderson, a documentary filmmaker and a program director at the School of Image Arts at Ryerson, says access to subjects is key. Although anyone can contact the person they want to film, gaining their trust is another story.

“Say I was going to make a film about young people on the streets of Toronto. I’d go in there looking middle-aged and all concerned and they would resist me. There are some stories young people can get better access to no matter how much experience the older filmmakers have, but you’ve got to make the access.”

Making the connection and getting permission is the first big step but in a documentary, the stories are real. These people may be considered actors but their scene never ends. Creating a lasting relationship with them is what Peter Raymont did with Roméo Dallaire. To do that, he had to take a hands-off approach to directing the film.

“Donald Brittain used to say a documentary director should ‘Get a good subject, get a good crew, and get the hell out of the way.’ So I did that. I got the best crew in the world. I didn’t interfere very much. My main role was being Dallaire’s buddy, keeping him going, and maintaining that trust. He wasn’t communicating with the cameraman or the soundman. He locked his eyes on me. My job was to keep nurturing that relationship.”

 

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