Amidst the fun and beauty of a Montana July, I was fortunate enough to spend two full weeks in a documentary filmmaking workshop presented by the Rocky Mountain School of Photography and the Big Sky Film Institute. The workshop featured two wonderful guest instructors, each accomplished in the world of documentary film. Meagan O’Hara, whose powerful 2014 film In Country about Vietnam War re-enactments has been screened at many festivals, including at the 2015 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival led the first week of the workshop. Then in the second week, Laura Green, whose film Disaster screened at the 2012 Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, came and led the group through the editing and post production process. Meagan and Laura are both graduates of the Documentary Film and Video Program at Stanford University, and both brought great experience and expertise to the workshop. Meagan focused on planning, and production. She taught the essentials of lighting, exposure, focus, audio, interviewing, and more. Laura brought her talents in editing and post production. Her time with the group enabled us to make difficult decisions about constructing film narrative, and produce a polished, presentable film. Each participant in the workshop produced their own short documentary, and at the end of the two weeks, all the films were screened at the Roxy Theater here in Missoula.

For my film, I decided to do a portrait of a local ceramic artist whose work I admire. Shalene Valenzuela is the Executive Director of the Clay Studio of Missoula, and a fascinating artist. Here’s my final film.

Having worked in feature film, I appreciate the simplicity of solo work. I have tried to embrace the limitations of time, equipment and crew for a style of working that is simple, quiet, and unobtrusive. It has enabled me to focus on people in ways that I find fascinating and intimate. Films like this may not have the polish of a full production, but they gain some authenticity from their simplicity and speed. This film started with a sit-down interview with Shalene in her office with an audio recorder, and one short visit to her ceramics studio the following day. Almost all the video footage is basically b-roll, edited with voice-over from the interview. Can’t get more simple than that. The interview and recording happened on a Wednesday and Thursday, followed immediately by editing, and the film was screened in the theater on Friday. There was no time or thought given to development, financing, location scouting, crew or any of the normal things that make filmmaking such a massive undertaking. I found the ease and elegance of that style of work refreshing and inspiring. Almost as much so as Shalene and her amazing work.