Blog by: Jethro Waters
What inspired you come up with the idea for the film?
The lead producer on the film, David Raymond, contacted me about Burk Uzzle’s story. After doing a quick search on his name, I realized I’d been marveling at his photography my whole life, I had just never paid close attention to the name. We all know and love his photography, Burk’s archive spans 65 + years, and much of his work is very recognizable iconic photography. Meeting him in person for the first time, I realized within the first 15 minutes that not only is he a master photographer, he is also one of the most intriguing subjects any filmmaker could ask for -still making incredible work at the age of 80.
Why did you want to tell this story?
There is such a range of timely and relevant messages within Burk’s life and sensibilities: equality, civil rights, social justice, honoring the humanity in everyone, artistic sacrifice, the perils of modern civilization, and so many other themes that he so eloquently shares throughout the film. For me, his life and legacy represent so much of what is needed in our ever-fracturing society today.
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
I was born in Austin, Texas and my family relocated to rural North Carolina when I was 11. I started taking photographs not long after that, and along with music, it quickly became one of my biggest passions. The years I spent as a young person photographing the south in 35mm have forever influenced my filmmaking. Burk Uzzle is originally from North Carolina and so he both relate to the South, its conflicting identities, eccentricities, all the good and the bad, in the very same ways. And our shared passion for the medium of photography, the art world, biscuits, grits, and red-eye gravy, and so many other similarities made it seem like meeting a long lost brother, rather than the subject of a film.
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
I felt as though, even from the start, the relevance of what we were doing was very important, from a social and political standpoint – given that Burk has been so involved in Civil Rights and social justice since the 1960s. We began production in September of 2016. Very quickly the socio-political climate in the U.S. changed dramatically and we realized that now, more than ever, Burk’s story is a very important one to tell.
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during production?
I think that everyone who has been deeply involved in this film has been courageous on a lot of levels. It’s a very atypical film, we took a lot of risks, and I’m honored to have worked with such a great set of individuals.
Were there any risks that you faced during production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
Other than the occasional stop at a Dairy Queen on our road trip across the U.S., I think the risks were rather minimal for this production. That being said, near the end of filming a cross-country trip, Burk and I spent the last few days filming in Zion, Utah. I decided it would be a good idea to get on the roof rack of Burk’s van and get some flying shots as Burk drove through the national park. Burk literally strapped me to the roof of the van with ratchet straps, and we drove the entire circuit of Zion National Park like that.
What influenced the visual style of the film?
A big influence was the reality that I was filming one of my all-time visual heroes, a legendary photographer, and that messing this up visually just wasn’t an option.
What risks did you take to tell your story?
I wanted to film F/11 and Be There in a way that did justice to Burk and his work. While I do really love by-the-numbers documentaries, and I’ve watched a lot, in my own films I typically try and stay far away from talking heads and linear storytelling, whenever possible. The wonderful thing about Burk is that his career has been all about taking risks – so we were perfectly aligned in the fact that this was not going to be a typical portrait documentary of an artist. I believe I took a lot of risks with the musical score, the patience needed to show the photographic process on screen, tackling themes both very lighthearted and very dark, race, inequality, war, death, fine art, and so forth.
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screenwriting or film producing?
You need talented people that you can trust to help you. And those people must always be willing to go the extra mile in a moments notice.
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