Using Documentaries to Raise Questions About Society

Mar 1, 2017

Producer Joanna Natasegara and Director Von Einseidel Orlando of The White Helmets at the Oscar's

The Oscars on Sunday recognized documentaries about immigrants and refugees, including the documentary short winner “The White Helmets.” And at this years Sundance Film Festival, a panel of filmmakers discussed how their art is used to encourage social inquiry.

“We don’t believe in anything but building borders between people and compassion," Joanna Natasegar said. "That’s what our films do and what we speak to," said Joanna Natasegar, one of the producers of the film, The White Helmets - a documentary film about Syrian rescue workers fighting to help individuals out of the war zone.

"The White Helmet’s show that even a person with no agency can dig with their hands to save one life and that means everything to them," Natasegar said. "We support those kinds of values.” 

Other documentary filmmakers held a panel discussion during the recent Sundance Film Festival in Park City, to discuss ways their films supports social inquiry.

Filmmaker Caveh Zahedi agreed with Natasegar that making films can give voice to segments of society that are often unheard. 

“Stories are at the heart of ideologies and of beliefs," Zahedi said. "We think through stories. Everything is how the stories told and the conclusions we draw. Whenever I have a fight with my wife it’s always because I have a story about what she’s doing that is not the story that creates peace. And usually there is another way to think about what happened where I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m Sorry, you poor thing.’”

Producing films that explores how the well-being of our bodies, said filmmaker Erica Fae, can help us discover new things about ourselves and the world around us. Her's is an art of using the physical to share stories

“Speaking about the body at all becomes poignant," Fae said. "Relevant, political. And the work that I do with students is really wrapped all around the body.... The job of an actor is to essentially be a vehicle. And how does one prepare to the body and the mind and the emotional fabric for content that is not our own.”

Panel discussions like this one are common during The Sundance Film Festival, a yearly event founded by actor Robert Redford to give independent and international filmmakers a way to premier and market their documentary, virtual reality, and non-traditional work.