Category Archives: Documentary Filmmaker

Producer Melina Tupa helps change lives stories in Frontline’s ‘Rape on the Night Shift’

Melina Tupa is more than a filmmaker, she takes her role and knows how many people she can affect with her work. She adds the responsibility of being a journalist, telling harsh and real stories that need to be told, and she shares them with the world. Her commitment to her craft is outstanding, and her talent is unparalleled.

With experience in both producing and journalism, Tupa has emerged as a formidable documentary filmmaker. Last year, her film The Search captivated audiences and critics alike, a trend she is well familiar with throughout her established career. Her work with networks like Turner Broadcasting and Nonstop TV have seen similar success. These accolades, however, are not important when she is doing what she loves.

“I wanted to be a producer to be involved in all the aspects of the film. It is the only position where you can connect with all the other team members of a production. I always liked working with diverse groups and being a producer meant I could learn other skills from other production areas fairly easy. It is also a position where you can have a real impact on the final product. The producer is the thread that unifies and solidifies all the pieces of a documentary,” said Tupa.

Bernardo Ruiz, a Director and fellow Producer, worked alongside Tupa on the feature documentary The Gatherers, which has been funded by the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the Sundance Documentary Institute. Ruiz was astounded by her talent, and is now looking at having her co-produce his upcoming feature documentary about California’s Napa Valley.

“Melina is an experienced and dedicated production staffer and researcher. She has an excellent reputation, having studied with some of the top documentary filmmakers in the business and I have gladly recommended her to other producers seeking top documentary talent. Not only does Melina have top tier formal training in journalism and documentary production, but she is also an experienced independent producer. Her ability to work on multiple fronts is a major asset to a production as are her language abilities, as she speaks, writes and can conduct research in at least three languages: English, Spanish and Portuguese,” said Ruiz.

Tupa’s investigate reporting and producing talent was evident once again with her work on the critically-acclaimed film Rape on the Night Shift. The chilling documentary looks into allegations of sexual abuse of immigrant women working in the janitorial industry and how companies handle the problem.

“These women who worked at the janitorial service to support their families had been raped and the perpetrators had gotten away with it. It was very important that their stories were widely known and that there could be structural changes in the janitorial service so these atrocious acts would never happen again,” said Tupa.

With her trilingual abilities aiding her, Tupa was approached by a producer on the film to come on board the project, knowing that speaking Spanish was key. Most of the main characters and interviewees on this story spoke in Spanish and it was crucial that whoever came on board could understand them. Tupa also assisted in pre-editing interviews, transcribing, and translating interviews, and assisting on overall production tasks. As documentary units are usually small, every person’s contributions are key to the success of a project, and every task is essential. Tupa’s work was no exception.

“I always wanted to work for the Investigative Reporting Program since it’s one of the most important journalism centers in the United States and the world. When I found they were working on this project in particular I knew I wanted to be part of the team,” Tupa described.

Many of the victims were undocumented immigrants, and they thought they had no rights because of this. However, once the documentary aired, the powerful story not only helped changed the lives of the victims that were interviewed, but the lives of thousands, as California law was changed to protect janitors like them from sexual violence and abuse on the job. The bill was inspired by the documentary, and Tupa could not be prouder of the part she played in impacting the lives of so many women.

“This was a very important story to tell. There were a lot of women suffering and these women never had an outlet to tell their stories before. So, I knew this documentary was going to be important and, in fact, after it aired it led to change in policy in the janitorial service,” said Tupa

The film premiered on June 23, 2015. It aired on PBS Frontline. You can also watch Rape on the Night Shift here.

 

Photo by Vanessa Arango Garcia

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Film Director Claudio DiFede’s Date with Cinema Fate

The movie business is fraught with ambition, cynicism and expedience—qualities diametrically opposed to producer-director Claudio DiFede’s gentle, artistic nature. The Canadian-born DiFede, who is equally at home working in television and motion pictures, betrays a gentle, individualistic aesthetic that is a refreshing divergence from hard driving commercially-fixated attitude which so frequently saps the creativity from mainstream Hollywood projects.

Claudio’s aesthetic, part vulnerable hesitancy, part determined auteur, part pop culture guerilla is showcased in his unusual, career defining documentary film “Calling Spielberg.” The story is one of fateful twists and human foibles that reflects the film maker’s distinct, creative philosophy.

The origins of “Calling Spielberg” goes back to the early 1990’s, when the 22 year old Claudio was barnstorming through Tinsel Town, tuxed up and cheeky enough to finagle his way into the People’ Choice Awards ceremony at Sony Studios. This was a star-studded, formal affair with tight security which the charming film maker easily bypassed. Backstage following the presentations, Claudio came to face to face with his greatest idol, the legendary director Steven Spielberg.

“It was a once in a lifetime thing—by chance if you will!” Claudio said. Like my whole life had lead up to that moment in time. It was crazy! Spielberg had just accepted the People’s Choice Special Tribute award and I found myself, backstage, just walking right beside him. It was one of those things I’d always thought of, ‘what would you say to Spielberg if you met him?’ Well, it happened, it took a lot of chutzpha but I introduced myself and I told the biggest Director in Hollywood: ‘Take it to the bank,’ I told him. ‘You and I are going to work together one day. For a split second I thought ‘WTF did I just say to him?’ He smiled, asked my name again and replied ‘Sure kid, why not?’”

Emboldened, Claudio repeated the feat weeks later, but at even higher profile affair: the post-Academy Awards Governor’s Ball at Shrine Auditorium, a big night for Spielberg whose “Schindler’s List” had just won seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director.

“It happened again a few weeks later, after the Oscars,” Claudio said.  This time I found my chance, I hugged him and face to face I told him that I can only imagine what it must be like to create such an incredible, moving film as Schindler’s List. He replied ‘Thank you,’ and told me it had taken a lot out of him. I then asked, ‘So, when can I call you?'”

DiFede today would not elaborate much more on the conversation or on his reply “I don’t want to give out too much on the film,” he said. “But let’s just say; it was encouraging.”

“I drove home that evening, roof down and I remember I couldn’t contain my emotions any longer. So I let out the loudest scream!” Claudio said. ‘The fact he remembered my name from our first meeting—it was a feeling I cannot describe. We all have dreams and this was mine. It was nothing short of a crazy euphoria.”

Was it just a lark, a childhood fantasy that had unexpectedly played out? Time passed. Claudio moved along with his life, fell in love, married, and started a family.

“I never called the man,” he said. “I had the chance, and I never did. I was asking myself that question. Then It occurred to me, I must be the only human being that never called Steven Spielberg when he asked someone to. What if? What if I did call? I was thinking there must be a lot of people in my situation that have left behind many of opportunities maybe even regrets and dreams left behind. We all once had aspirations, dreams – did I miss my opportunity?  there was one way to find out.20 years later, and that was to make ‘Calling Spielberg.’”

“When I first started working with Claudio I didn’t really have any formal training in filmmaking,” Mike T. King, editor at Big Coat Productions, said. “I jumped at the opportunity. Claudio’s attitude was infectious, which got me excited to hop onboard. The amount of time and effort he has poured into ‘Calling Spielberg’ is incredible, inspiring even. It is his passion project.”

Still in post-production, Calling Spielberg promises to be a fascinating examination of the human condition. Unorthodox and compelling, equal parts documentary, philosophical seeking, self-examination and show business truth-telling, it’s a rich, multifaceted achievement.

“Things happen for a reason, and we simply cannot give up on our dreams,” Claudio said. “I have matured and what my goals were in my 20’s compared to what they are now are very different. My goal now is to truly be who I am, living out my life doing what makes me happy. Honestly, I consider being a dad, fatherhood, as my greatest achievement.“

But Claudio’s romance with film remains profound. “Professionally, I was involved in Canada’s first reality TV show, and that was a great experience,” he said. “And being part of the American Film Institute, just being immersed with such talents from all walks of life was wonderful. To collaborate with my AFI fellows was a cherished experience. I am passionate about storytelling, through television or the big screen, either way its storytelling.”

Claudio’s commitment and emotional involvement with storytelling is a compelling, legitimate creative force, one that is certain to soon reach a wide international audience.

“Claudio is a talented director and pays a great attention to detail,” composer Mark Dunnet said. “He never gives up until he gets that perfect shot or performance”.

Director Ben Bhatia builds a strong stomach and strong story for Channel 5’s Benidorm ER

Some may hear about Ben Bhatia’s most recent experience in Spain and assume he was a doctor. He wasn’t out soaking up the sun. He spent most of his time in the hospital, seeing the injured and ill. But he wasn’t there as a medical professional. He was there to tell their stories.

Bhatia was the director/producer on Channel 5’s hospital documentary series Benidorm ER. The show is based at the busy hospital Clinica Benidorm in Spain and shows real-life British vacationers that have been admitted to the emergency room due to an illness or an accident. Each episode follows patients from the hospital admission right through to being released. To add some additional color, Bhatia also filmed some follow-up stories that would show what the vacationers would do next to enjoy their last days in the sun.

Benidorm ER was an interesting show to work on. Being based in the Spanish holiday resort of Benidorm in one of its busiest emergency rooms, I got to see the other side of a holiday that most holidaymakers would prefer not to see,” said Bhatia. “It was a real honor.”

Bhatia was recommended to work on the show after working with another producer/director Georgina Kiedrowski, who worked with him on the BBC Three documentary series, Sun, Sex and Suspicious Parents. She thought that he would be an asset to the team after working on other similar projects.

“We needed a director with experience of working with sensitive and emotional contributors as well as somebody who could hit the ground running due to the tight turnaround of the show,” said Kiedrowski, the senior producer/director for Blakeway North Productions. “Ben really exceeded Blakeway North’s expectations and it was soon apparent that he was a real asset to the production. As a director, Ben is very hard working and is extremely creative. His storytelling and directing skills are impressive and his ability to think on his feet are skills that are hard to find in this industry. The fact that he is multi-skilled in being able to shoot, produce, direct and still stay companionate is a real talent.”

Apart from working with the hospital staff and patients, Bhatia mostly worked with a small crew of six people. This worked very well to cause minimum disruption and allowed normal practice to continue at the hospital. This made it easier to maintain access to the hospital. It is a big thing for a hospital to allow access to film crews, so keeping everybody happy, including staff and patients is paramount.

“This show was challenging as it was literally a case of seeking permission from the patient as soon as they walked through the door. A story which isn’t followed from the moment it starts isn’t as interesting. To watch a patient’s character develop over the period of their hospital stay is intriguing,” explained Bhatia.

Benidorm is a very popular holiday destination for the British, despite the cultural clash between the Spaniards and the Brits. Bhatia says he loved seeing how British people adapt to the Spanish culture.

“The warm personalities of the staff in this real working hospital was a delight to watch as they reassured the distressed, and sometimes in agony, holidaymakers,” described Bhatia. “To follow a story of someone first entering the hospital, watching their recovery to seeing them leaving with a smile on their face was a real pleasure.”

There was one thing Bhatia learned from the project, however, that he wasn’t expecting.

“How to have a strong stomach,” he said. “I had to film some major operations in the emergency operating room. This was something entirely new for me and after doing it, I realised I am not as squeamish as I thought!”

Brazilian Director of Photography Makes International Impact Across Australia

Photo5_Kauss
Brazilian Director of Photography Samar Kauss embodies a humanitarian sensibility within her superlative filmmaking endeavors.

 

The highly successful and prolific Director of Photography, Samar Kauss, is a Brazilian creative force who has made far reaching cultural change within the Australian Department of Health. Kauss, known for her work as a longtime editor for several of Brazil’s most popular television shows on the leading network TV Globo, has helped the Australian government lead the charge in documenting and spreading awareness on the plights of aboriginal tribes across Australia. The government-funded 2013 documentary, Big Day Out, in which Kauss performed as the Director of Photography for, aimed to raise awareness to the health issues and concerns of seclusion that the Wadeye community undergo almost 5 months out of every year. Kauss worked tirelessly to capture shots of the Wadeye and their home, in an attempt to unobtrusively capture the everyday life of a tribe member. Kauss has proven herself as an international humanitarian, as she has helped the Australian government in their strives to create a positive cultural impact through their documentaries, on which she at times found herself immersed in a community entirely different than her home back in Brazil.

Kauss was also approached again by the Australian Department of Education to create the Young Achievers Program documentary. She worked closely with the Australian government as their Director of Photography for the documentary, attempting to determine through extensive interviews whether or not the average Australian student received adequate resources to reach their academic goals. As the Director of Photography, Kauss was crucial in documenting the students in a way that empowered the argument of the filmmakers while expertly capturing the ongoing concerns surrounding the future of public education across Australia’s public school system.

Photo2_Kauss

Few filmmakers can easily make such graceful and critical strides on key social issues that Kauss has undoubtedly taken on throughout her career as a successful Editor and Director of Photography. Kauss’ history as a Director of Photography for some of the most culturally and socially impactful documentaries that the country has to offer speaks volumes to her abilities as a filmmaker of genuine impact and marks her as a key Brazilian creative force to watch.

Producer Wows Audiences Across Cultures

Producer Min Dai shot by  Jan Cain
                                                                  Producer Min Dai shot by Jan Cain

In today’s global economy, cultural exchange is a valuable tool to possess. So has been the experience of producer Min Dai, who will attest that running productions in both China and the United States has greatly developed her ability to work in varying cultural conditions.

Throughout the last 10 years, Min has been in charge of the production process for countless film, television, and musical projects in both China and the US.

In addition to her work in editing and production, Min has extensive experience in writing, directing, visual effects, sound and cinematography. With such rich, far-reaching expertise in these areas, one can safely say that Min fully knows the ins and outs of the filmmaking process.

Her knowledge about the production process began long before she was able to contribute. As a child, Min learned what it took to run a successful production company from her mother. As a teenager, Min began writing, producing, and directing her own films, as well as those for independent filmmakers.

As a young adult, she began her professional career with the China International Television Corporation. During her time there, Min was put in charge of the production for several television series, including Mission for Peace and King of Silk, which starred major Chinese actors such as Ma Yili and Zhang Guangbei.

While in China, Min also served as executive producer for the King’s Film Company as well as the WIN China Group, where she spearheaded the production and editing processes for many films and commercials.

Min began to collaborate on projects in the United States upon partnering with Jackie Subeck of Footprint Worldwide, a company that works closely with Chinese productions. While working with Footprint, Min led live production for Linkin Park and 30 Seconds to Mars for the Chinese portion of their international tours.

It was not long after these experiences that Min brought her talent to the United States. During her time in the US, Min has focused on film, which she describes as her favorite type of production.

While Min has produced many dramatic films, including Eat a Hot Dumpling Slowly, Device, Icebox, Meeting Gary and 4 Latas, she has also thrived as a producer of documentary films.

“At times,” Min said, “I find documentaries have a much stronger social impact, [and are] sometimes more intense than a thriller.”

Two of these documentaries that were of particular social impact were A Trip to Tibet and You and Me.

A Trip to Tibet followed a group of teachers from Beijing who volunteered to help in a Tibetan school. During their time there, they found that the conditions were far worse than they had imagined, calling attention to the current struggle in Tibet and the country’s need for support.

You and Me offered a somber glimpse into “the dark side of elderly care taking” in the Washington region. The film showed how many senior citizens are abandoned and treated poorly, and highlighted the Washington County Home, which takes in many elderly lacking resources and access to care.

Min recently worked with InterMix Productions on another documentary, entitled Wake Up With Me, which is currently in post-production. The film features a group of people living in New York, and attempted to answer the question: does social media help people connect, or does it prevent them from doing so?

As she has continued to demonstrate her abilities in the US, Min has developed relationships with high-ranking figures in the entertainment industry. One such example is Carl Gilliard, whom Min met during the filming of Meeting Gary.

Gilliard is not only known for his role as an actor in more than 70 films, including Inception, Coach Carter, and the television series 24, but he is also the founder of the Gilliard Media Group. Min is currently working with the Gilliard Media Group on several upcoming projects.

Min’s dedication to making the best decisions in the production process is evident, as she has had a tremendous role as producer of countless critically acclaimed films, television series’, commercials, and events to which she has lent her talent; and she shows no signs of stopping.

 

 

 

Film Editor Marta Bonet de Gispert Connoisseurs the Perfect Cut

Marta Bonet de Gispert
                                                  Film Editor Marta Bonet de Gispert

Hailing from a family of lawyers, Barcelona native Marta Bonet de Gispert left law school to pursue her creative passions in the film world, a move that has delighted international audiences and filmmakers alike.

Marta Bonet de Gispert went on to attend the prestigious School of Cinema and Audiovisual de Catalunya (ESCAC). About switching professions, Bonet de Gispert recalls, “I started my law degree following my family’s tradition in law. But after a few years, I felt unfulfilled. I had to face my mistake and find a better path. Even though I knew it was a difficult industry, I chose film school. Something inside me told me it was the right thing to do.”

Now an award-winning film editor, it is clear that Bonet de Gispert made the right choice. Her exceptional talent and painstaking attention to detail is apparent in every frame of every film that she’s done so far. Her extensive international resume includes the films Soldados (Soldiers), Padre Modelo (Role Model Father), Devil May Call, as well as many others. She was also the editor on the television shows Latino Dub and Califorma.

It may seem like quite a drastic change to switch from law school to film school, but in truth, both professions require a person who possesses a strong eye for details and an immense understanding of the technical intricacies of their craft. Even more critical in each though, is a person’s ability to use that perceptiveness and knowledge to adapt to a client’s needs—something Bonet de Gispert has accomplished, proven by the sheer number of awards her films have won over the years.

Temporada 92-93 (Season 92-93), one of Bonet de Gispert’s first credits as editor, was a resounding success at international film festivals. Set in Spain where for many fútbol is a religion, Temporada 92-93 tells the comedic story of two inseparable friends united in their love for soccer. One is celebrating his child’s birthday as both split their attention between the festivities and a historic soccer match playing over the radio.

“We had to be careful in selecting the takes we would use,” explains Bonet de Gispert. “Also, as in all comedy, finding the right rhythm was essential. Jokes don’t work well if they’re not on the right pace.”

Winning a staggering 44 festival awards, Temporada 92-93 was incredibly well received by judges and critics alike. Among the honors was the Best Editing Award from the Film Festival Terrassa, an incredible achievement for Bonet de Gispert, whose career had only just begun.

It is the editor’s job to thoroughly understand the director’s vision, to see the story as the director imagines it. Then, with that understanding, the editor uses the footage to turn an intangible idea, concept or even a feeling, into the story that unfolds before us.

Able to seamlessly shift from one genre to another, Bonet de Gispert’s work shows that a great editor doesn’t rely on a film’s subject so much as they rely on the vision of the filmmaker.

In Devil May Call, Bonet de Gispert’s ability to convey that vision was once again put to the test, and once again she surpassed everyone’s expectations with flying colors. What had once been just a nightmarish idea, Bonet de Gispert transformed into a physical manifestation of sheer, unadulterated horror.

Not for the faint of heart, Devil May Call is centered on Sam, an operator for a phone counseling hotline. Sam, played by award-winning actress Corri English (Planes: Fire & Rescue, Holliston) is training her replacement on the night shift; but when one of her regular callers, who happens to be a serial killer, hears that she’s quitting, he cuts off power to the building and traps Sam and the other employees inside. Devil May Call was filmed in Los Angeles and debuted at the 2013 Marches du Film event in Cannes, a dream for many filmmakers.

Bonet de Gispert also recently finished the films El Otro Lado and Gored. El Otro Lado, or The Other Side, is one of three films premiering as part of the Summer Of Shorts event, featuring films from three Spanish filmmakers bringing their work to American audiences. El Otro Lado is about a lawyer who finds himself losing his sense of morality as he goes from laundering money for the cartels to an even darker path. An even greater testament to the fact that she chose the right path by embarking on a career in film, Bonet de Gispert also directed El Otro Lado in addition to working as the editor. Produced by renowned production company La Panda, the film is scheduled to premiere in the U.S. this summer.

Gored, is a documentary about, fittingly, the bullfighter that holds the record for being the most gored in Spanish history. In a fascinating approach to a subject that hasn’t seen much coverage since Hemingway, the film follows Antonio Barrera as he grapples with the decision of a lifetime: whether to leave the ring and join his family while he’s ahead, or to commit himself to a glorious death against his lifelong adversary. The film will debut later this month at the Tribeca Film Festival where it has been chosen as an Official Selection, and is set to screen at several more festivals over the course of 2015.

Documentary Filmmaker Liliya Anisimova!

Director and TV Journalist Liliya Anisimova
         Director and TV Journalist Liliya Anisimova

Liliya Anisomova is a driven journalist who has always known what she wanted. As a young girl she would climb inside the cardboard box turned TV set, created by her grandparents, and drift away into her fantasy. For years she would play pretend, imagining herself as a news anchor; but she wouldn’t have to pretend much longer, as her ambition would soon make her dream a reality.

Even though she had been freelancing since the age of 13 it wasn’t until age 16 that Liliya kicked her goals into overdrive. Not one to wait around for things to come to her, Liliya moved from her hometown of Volgograd, Russia to Moscow to become a TV Journalist. Her forward thinking and direct approach has lead her to many opportunities. When she felt like she wasn’t getting the experience she needed she didn’t sit around feeling sorry for herself, she got up and did something about it.

When Liliya, a self confessed travel junkie, stumbled across the Russian Travel Guide one afternoon it was love at first site. After contacting RTG TV, she was a part of the team in less than 24 hours. Through her role at RTG, she was lucky enough to work with a range of talented directors, which planted the seed for her next move.

She says, “The more I was watching experienced directors working on documentaries for Russian Travel Guide the more I wanted to try it myself. I learned a lot while working there, but I knew it was time I did it myself.”

Watching directors work their magic sparked something within Liliya. She wanted to share her vision and help others share their stories; and, ever since she began her directing journey, she has continued to produce compelling documentaries.

She moved to New York soon after where she began directing her first documentary, Magic of the Underground. The film details the life of Steve, a generous New York Subway magician who not only got people to notice him, but also brought laughter to his audience. As this was her first documentary, Liliya learned a lot about the relationship between a director and their subject– something that would serve as an important lesson for all of her future film projects.

About working with Steve, Liliya explains, “He let me into his life. Sometimes it was even overwhelming, as he would call me in the middle of the night crying and complaining about depression, or other personal problems.”

Liliya’s more recent film Love is the Highest Law, which was released at the end of 2014, is just as touching, but this time she chose to take on the politically charged and controversial topic of gay rights in Russia. As an Official Selection of the Queer Film Festival, Liliya’s film screened at the University of Oregon where she was invited to talk about gay rights and her experience making the film.

Something that comes across in all of Liliya’s work is her incessant bravery. She is not afraid to be honest, share tough stories and speak up for what she believes in, characteristics that make all of her projects as informative as they are groundbreaking.