Next Monday, June 3rd, 2013, Austin Film Festival and the Stateside Theatre presents a screening of ELEMENTAL. A 2012 Official Documentary Feature selection, ELEMENTAL follows three individuals, united by their deep connection with nature as they confront some of the most pressing ecological challenges of our time. Separated by continents, each flawed, postmodern hero stands on the front line — watching as their hopes for stemming the tide of environmental destruction fade in and out of view – part mirage, part miracle. We sat down with co-director Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee to discuss the film and the intricacies of documentary features. For more information about the screening, and for tickets, click here.
Austin Film Festival: You have three very distinct characters and storylines from all over the world, how did you find them?
Emmanuel Vaughan-Lee: We started out with a distinct set of criteria for the subjects we wanted to follow and feature. We wanted to follow subjects who had a deep personal connection to the natural world, were “outsiders” or “outliers” (as described by Malcolm Gladwell), were connected through their issues (water, climate change and energy), offered a diverse look at how people are trying to respond to the ecological crisis (technology, activism etc), and had a story we could follow over a year or two. We spent six months researching and meeting with potential subjects before settling on our three protagonists.
AFF: How much did you know going into this project, and what were you surprised to find?
EVL: Although we had done a lot of research – both about our subjects and the issues they were involved with – it really wasn’t until we spent a great deal of time with them that we started to really understand the worlds they live in. The issues that I had read about and thought I understood suddenly became more real, more alive. I guess I was surprised by how little I really knew until we’d experienced the issues through their eyes and gotten to see first hand how connected our subjects were to the issues that drive them in their lives and work.
AFF: Shooting a documentary always involves collecting far more film than you could ever use to catch the right moments. Was there anything you left out of the final edit of the film that you found to be really interesting? In the end, why did you cut it?
EVL: We shot a lot of footage for ELEMENTAL – close to 400 hours. I think we had enough footage to make three feature films. Because we had to edit together these three stories we had some tough choices to make about what to include and what to cut and had some great sequences / scenes that never made it to the film. Some of these were tender and intimate moments we captured with our subjects and their families. We included some of these in the film, but had to leave many out as they weren’t plot points and we needed to keep the story moving forward. Luckily these scenes have a new life as special features on our upcoming DVD release.
AFF: Many people have said the documentary films are more popular now than ever before. Do you think that’s true? Why or why not?
EVL: I think we are seeing more docs made than ever before. And because of the new digital platforms more people can find ways to watch docs. Those two facts alone are changing the game for doc filmmaking. I also think people are interested in real stories about what’s happening in our world today. Docs offer audiences a chance to experience people, places and issues in a quick and powerful way.
AFF: Our film competition is running right now, with a late deadline of July 15th. There are probably many doc and doc short filmmakers putting the final touches on their film right now. Any advice for them?
EVL: Visual storytelling, breath, sound and music. Use visual storytelling whenever you can. Film is a visual medium and when you don’t need to use verbal content don’t. Make sure you take the needed time to add space and breath into your film. No matter how great your film looks, or how powerful the story is, if it doesn’t sound good people won’t be able to watch it. I find that docs especially don’t pay enough attention to sound – both in production and post. Music is such a huge component to making your film work. That doesn’t mean you have to have lots of music, but choose it carefully and give it the weight it deserves. Don’t wait to the last minute to find the music you need and don’t get too attached to your temp music, as in most cases it will be too expensive to license!
Tickets for Elemental are on sale now here. AFF Members will receive the Paramount’s “Film Fan” discount at the box office. For questions, call 512-478-4795.