June 18, 2014 | Category: Blog | Author:

Storytelling in pictures — filmmaker Adele Horne

This week on the blog, a guest post from Adele Horne, whose films have screened internationally and recently won top prizes at the Chicago Underground Film Festival and the Images Festival. Her film The Tailenders was broadcast nationally on P.O.V. and won the “Truer than Fiction” prize in Film Independent’s Spirit Awards. She is a faculty member at California Institute of the Arts. Adele’s methods of uncovering stories may be instructive for social-change storytellers of all sorts. 

As a documentary filmmaker, I select stories that I think can function as powerful cinema, which means that they have a visual or dramatic component that I get excited about filming. I find it good practice to imagine how I might tell a story only with images or only with sound; doing this can help me identify what’s compelling about it. These sorts of formal experiments can help a storyteller of any kind get to the heart of the story.

Often the biggest challenge is the complexity of the ideas and information I come across in my research: how to shape it into a film? I tend to work in a mode called the “essay film.” (Agnes Varda’s film The Gleaners and I is one of my favorite examples of an essay film. I have written about the form of the essay film on POV’s blog.) Essay films explore where an idea or question leads, bringing the viewer along on a journey of discovery. Sometimes that journey can be more interesting than any story made with a predetermined outcome.

Sometimes it can be tough to identify something interesting in a story because the subjects are reluctant to talk. I am interested in a growing movement of filmmakers who combine documentary and fictional elements in their films, by inviting subject to perform and make up stories. This allows for deeper truths to emerge—not just actions of daily life, but the workings of the imagination, dreamlife, psychology, or subconscious. I worked in this way on my film And Again, organizing and filming a theater workshop that invited local people who live in the economically depressed region around Playas, New Mexico, to tell the story of their town. I was struck by how much more sadness and anger came out in the theater workshop than I had heard in the dozens of hours of interviews I had previously recorded.