Doc Blog

If you are planning to make a doc on a celebrity, the top floor of the Sutton Place hotel would have been the perfect place to be today, as the final Doc Talk featured an diverse panel discussing their use of celebrity in film. The panel featured Sophie Fiennes (The Pervert's Guide to Cinema), AJ Schnack (Kurt Cobain About a Son), Sara Berstein (HBO Documentaries), and John Scheinfeld (The US vs. John Lennon). Moderator Thom Powers began by asking the panel about challenges making their films. “Our biggest obstacle was called ‘Yoko’”, said Scheinfeld (right). He mentioned that it’s hard to get someone to trust you while you are looking at their life, but said he refuses to do unauthorized films. Eventually, Yoko Ono gave her full support to the project.

Both Scheinfeld and Schnack directed films about iconic, deceased musicians, but each film is markedly different. Scheinfeld conducted many interviews with friends of Lennon while Schnack opted for a single source narrative, using only the voice of Kurt Cobain and no footage of him.

The panel was insightful and lively. At one point the filmmakers themselves took over, engaging in a frank discussion about how representing a celebrity on screen relates to their fans, who Fiennes described as the engine of their subjects' celebrity. Schnack said the key is to make the film you want to make because you can’t please everyone. Bernstein, a supervising producer for HBO Documentary Films, said when looking at a project that has a celebrity attached to it, it is good on one hand because you have a built-in press machine for the project. However, she said it is essential that the celebrity is involved out of passion and not simply there to sell their image.

Many of the topics discussed dealt with the fine-line decisions you make regarding celebrity in film, but the panel discussed general filmmaking issues as well, such as interviewing techniques. Addressing the crowd, Scheinfeld said you should never go into an interview with a list of questions. Fiennes on the other hand does not like to do interviews, but prefers to just show the subject doing what they do. "I don't want them to PR me," said Fiennes.

This was the inaugural year for the Doc Talk series, sponsored by HBO Documentary Films. Considering the quality of the panels and the vast interest from fans and industry alike, it looks like the series could become an annual feature at TIFF.
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