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IDFA International Documentary Festival Amsterdam

The 23rd edition of the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA), the world's largest and most prestigious film event devoted exclusively to non-fiction film and media, will run from 17 - 28 November in the city of Amsterdam.


Interview With Alan Berliner---Part Two

Wednesday, November 29----Alan Berliner, the American documentarian who is the Special Guest of the International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam (IDFA), will be giving a Master Class on his approach to filmmaking today. In honor of Berliner's presence in Amsterdam, here is part two of an Interview conducted last week by Online Festival Dailies Editor Sandy Mandelberger with the man himself.

Sandy Mandelberger (SM): In your newest film WIDE AWAKE, which is screening at IDFA, you deal very directly with your issues with sleep. Can I ask, since you went through the catharsis of the movie, how has it effected your sleeping habits? Are you a better sleeper as a result of making this movie?

Alan Berliner (AB): I’ll never be a great sleeper….not even a good sleeper. I am a changed sleeper, a more informed sleeper. I now know some of the things that I was doing wrong. Now that the pressure of making the film is over, I need to return to my normal life, which involves picking up my son from school and other things that require that I be wide awake. I maybe know a little too much on the subject. When I’m not sleeping, I can analyze why in my head. But of course that doesn’t help me fall asleep either. Knowledge can be power but sometimes it is just more information in your head.

SM: Your films are so personal and involve so much from your life. After such a draining experience, how do you sustain your momentum and keep interested in embarking on new film projects?

AB: Every time I finish the film, I’ve had the good fortune of having many opportunities around the world to show it. It’s become a part of the way that I represent myself and how I grow. The films have become a vehicle for my growth, both as a filmmaker and a human being. I feel very much that I am a citizen of the world. I love the risk-taking in my films…in fact, I take more risks in my films than I do in my real life. I love screening the film for audiences all over, and really talking about it and hearing their reactions to it. It’s become so much a part of my process. I can’t imagine committing the time and energy to making something that just stays hidden. Just because you finish the film doesn’t necessarily mean that you understand the work…that comes after dialoguing about it with other people and absorbing the different reactions from audiences. For me that is part of the process that intuitively leads me to the next project.

SM: So, where are you right now in terms of thinking about new projects? Or have you run out of topics with which to be obsessed?

AB: Well, there’s always something to be obsessive about, right? It’s an unlimited well. It’s now been a year since WIDE AWAKE was first shown at Sundance and I’ve had the chance to show the film around the world since then and really get to a deep understanding of it. After a year of dealing with the film intensely, I need to consciously slip back into my normal life, the life of my family, and immerse again into normal life. I’m a very monogamous filmmaker…one film at a time. I’ve never been able to juggle projects at different stages at the same time. I need to feel grounded again before I dive into a new project, since every film is such an involving journey. But now it’s definitely time to start thinking about the next project.

SM: So, what are you thinking about for your next film?

AB: I’m very interested in the subject of memory. I would say that it keeps coming up again and again in my thoughts. It’s still unformed and rather unfocused, but I’ve been thinking about the notion that memory is the glue of our lives. Memory has already been a theme in my work already, but I feel ready to tackle it in a more direct way in the next film, put it out front as a topic rather than as an underlying theme. It is still unformed and since my films are so involving, I have to find both the need and the fascination to make the film….and I feel that coming up for me now.

SM: One reads a lot about this being a golden age for documentary film, with increased visibility and larger audiences. Do you agree that this is a great time to be in the documentary world?

AB: I definitely do agree because I actually get a chance to see it myself. Not only at film festivals, where there are large audiences interested in coming to the films, but also at the university level, where I interact with young filmmakers. There now are specific classes given in documentary film, and there are no film students who aren’t somehow exposed to the documentary in their courses. There are documentary film festivals in almost every country in the world, which is a new thing. Obviously, there are more documentary films in theaters around the world. They’re more woven into the popular culture than they have ever been in my lifetime. That obviously makes it easier to get the films made and also generate interest in seeing them once they are completed. It's definitely a good time to be a documentary filmmaker and I'm going to continue to work and hopefully grow with each new project.


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