Saturday, December 13, 2008

AIFF - Jan Louter Workshop

I liked "The Last Days of Shismaref" very much. The photography was stunning. The last scene - the all white screen and then two people walk off into the distance was a piece of visual art all in itself. The scenes with the families were real. I haven't been to Shishmaref, but I've spent a few days in Wales. Clearly Jan had gained the trust of the people in the film - not an easy thing to do. The Alaska Native villagers I've met are very open, trusting, and sharing. They have often given to Outsiders who didn't understand that giving was a two way process.

And I've written here in the past about the problems of Outside journalists trying to tell the stories of Alaskan Native villagers. So I had a lot of questions. I had a sense from the film what the answers would be, but I wanted to hear it from Louten himself. I was concerned when he said after the showing last week, that when he first read about Shishmaref, he knew there was a story there. And that Shishmaref was a metaphor for global warming.

The idea of him having "the story" before going to Shishmaref leaves the door open for him to use Shishmaref and its people to tell Jan Louten's story and not Shishmaref's story. To a certain extent, when he began today to say that he scripts his documentaries very carefully before he shoots, that concern wasn't mollified. But overall, what he said and the film itself, suggests to me that he did listen carefully to the people of Shishmaref. He said he took the film to Shishmaref and showed it to the people and told them if there was anything that they felt should be out, he would listen to their arguments. That they had nothing they wanted cut was reassuring.

He talked today about making documentaries almost like making a fictional feature - he does lots of research and then scripts it all carefully. He gave an example of a film he did on American writer, John Fante. He didn't want talking heads, so he had a person he was interviewing drive the car while he talked. This way he could get Los Angeles into the film. And they drove to the cemetary where Fante was buried. This way he could let the audience know Fante was dead without actually saying it. He simply showed the grave stone.

Here are some unedited clips from today's workshop. The film will be shown again tomorrow (Sunday) evening at the Bear Tooth at 5:30, for people who have not seen it.


  1. Coyote last night was great despite the dreadful opening scene. Never a dull moment in it!
    I am looking on Steve's blog today, hoping that he videoed the Q and A after, as I couldn't stay for that and wondered how they knew all that about border traffic! I certainly was enlightened and educated! Dianne

  2. Sorry Dianne, we were at the museum watching the Wrecking Crew. But I did talk briefly with the director today. But he didn't go into that too much. If I see him later tonight I'll ask.

  3. Steve - Thank you very much for the fine work you've done blogging AIFF 2008. Amazing, the time you have put into it!...
    I did not attend the fest at all, but was able to stay connected just the same, thanks to you...
    No doubt, there were several good films as friends have shared their personal reviews. The community is richer as a result. Guess that is the bottom line, eh. Viva la Indepent film!


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