DOCUMENTARY FILMS: 7 TIPS FOR SUCCESS
At Moondance International Film Festival, we look for documentary films that entertain, inform, inspire, encourage and educate. We believe that films can contribute to a healthier society, and that films should encourage the active involvement of audiences to connect and act collectively to address global challenges. Moondance screens doc films that are innovative, distinctive, compelling, educational, engaging, and relevant to varied audiences, and which encourage active participation.
Our film programs are always well rounded, entertaining, and enlightening, highlighting diverse cultures, opinions, and stories. We welcome individual expression and are committed to presenting diverse points of view. Moondance aims to entertain, increase awareness, provide multiple viewpoints, address complex social issues, provide forums for deliberation, and strengthen ties between a large variety of international audiences.
Some thoughts for doc filmmakers from a film festival director who selects which films are selected for screening at the festival:
- Go easy on the “talking heads” interviews! Please, please, please shoot the interviewee(s) in various situations, not just sitting straight on to the camera and talking, talking, talking. Take them outside, in their homes or workplaces, interacting with others, and with different reactions and emotions evident. Show, don’t just tell. Film is, of course, a visual medium, and needs great visuals to make it successful. Do a lot of voice-overs with varied images of the subject matter at hand. People relate to, and remember more of, what they’ve seen, than what they’ve heard.
- Get a good, friendly, persuasive interviewer, especially if you’re the cinematographer. Allow yourself or the interviewer to have a part in the film. When you or the interviewer ask the interviewee a question, or comment on/respond to what they’ve said, consider getting in the frame! The interviewer should be considered as a secondary, but vital, element in the film, since the audience will also identify with the interviewer, and relate to him or her, as well as to the person or persons being interviewed.
- After the shoot, remember to set a mic in the same empty room(s) or outside area(s) for an hour, and capture soft ambient sounds to lay in to the film during post. Wind blowing, car horns, footsteps walking by, vehicles going past, birds chirping, airplanes flying overhead, a dog barking, a phone ringing, and so on. A dull, silent, unchanging aural atmosphere is deadly and “feels” stuffy, airless, lifeless, claustrophobic, and unreal, even if there’s an underlying musical film score.
- Add an appropriate and memorable music score! Think of your short or feature doc film as if it were a narrative film.
- Film editing should be invisible, and must transition and flow easily and logically from scene to scene.
- Lighting and sound should be of the same quality and tone, throughout the film, as much as is possible.
- Start late and end early! Edit your doc film to be as short as possible, while still getting the salient point or points across. Don’t duplicate scenes and responses from interviewees. We get it, already! Move along. Use only the very best filmed segments to tell your story.
Peaceable Kingdom, directed by Jenny Stein
Some of our most popular recent doc films screened at Moondance were on such unique & varied subjects of Lyme disease, free-diving with killer whales, traditional reindeer herding in Finland, the mistreatment & saving of farm animals, breast cancer recovery, 9/11 conspiracy, saving the rainforests, traditional arts in China, the Gulf War, and crop circles in the UK, for just a few examples. Each film, and all doc films selected over the years have had a story; a clear beginning, middle and end, as well as a protagonist and antagonist(s), much as good screenplays and narrative films must have, to be successful.