“Where Are We Without Truth?”: Errol Morris on Why Doc Moviemakers Should See Themselves as Journalists

“Where Are We Without Truth?”: Errol Morris on Why Doc Moviemakers Should See Themselves as Journalists

Directing

MM: I want to shift our focus now, to the technical aspects of The B-Side. You chose not to use your Interrotron device for this film. Was that decision made in part based on what you described earlier—to convey, from a new angle, the physical sense of “being there” during the artistic process?

EM: The Interrotron is a tool—a very useful tool. In addition to I don’t know how many films, I’ve used it in many commercials. Of course, it’s not something that really depends on film vs. digital media. It works just as well for both. But it is just one tool in a whole arsenal of tools that I have, and occasionally I choose not to use it.

MM: Was your personal relationship with Elsa the primary reason for choosing not to use it this time around? Or were there practical reasons as well?

EM: I would say practical reasons. Because of the fact that I’ve used it so much, it was curiosity on my part, about whether I’d become too dependent on it, or whether it had been limiting, stylistically speaking. It came to be expected as something I would choose to use rather than not use. You reach a point where you say, “Well, let’s try something different altogether,” which is what I did. I used multiple cameras in my Netflix series, and I decided to use multiple cameras with Elsa as well, and to use a device called the Revolution, which allowed me to operate one of the cameras and to interview her at the same time. I thought it’d be interesting to be close, actually physically close, to Elsa while I was doing this. The films I’ve made with the Interrotron, they involve a booth in a separate location. We’re not visually connected, although we’re connected through interconnected teleprompters. So I like the idea of physically being there, engaging Elsa. Even though you don’t have that same kind of eye contact that you have with the Interrotron, you have the physical contact of just filming in the same room. I like the idea of being able to physically operate the camera… many things about it.

Dorfman peers into a drawer containing some of her life’s work in a scene from The B-Side

MM: You and Elsa reflect on the perishability of photography in this film quite a bit. Do you mourn the gradual decline of film as much as you do the disappearance of Polaroid that’s explored in The B-Side?

EM: There are important differences between still photography and film photography. I’ve never felt that I am prevented from making art because of changing technology. Quite the contrary, I think changing technology has been, if anything, a benefit to what I do, particularly with respect to film editing. I have edited many of my most recent films. As much as I like shooting on negative or positive on film stock, you can still create amazing images shooting with digital cameras.

Elsa’s in a different situation, really. I can’t do the same things that I used to do, but I can invent new ways of doing them. To me, the experience of going to Elsa’s studio, having your picture taken, and having a relationship with Elsa as a person and as a photographer, is impossible for me to separate from Polaroid. Standing and watching the image develop after it’s been taken and seeing her putting it up on a wall… it’s a whole process. And once you lose that technology, a lot of it vanishes. So I would say that she is much more directly affected by the changes in the last 20 years than I am.

MM: You said recently, when asked about what prompted you to make The B-Side, that you’re a man of mostly unmade films. Talk about how you see this elusive thing, “the unfinished film,” from both the perspective of an artist and a storyteller.

EM: Well, in every movie—at least every movie I’ve ever made—you have an idea of what the movie is going to be, how it’s going to work, how you’re going to shoot it, how you’re going to edit it. I mean, the question of “What is it about? Why am I even making it? Why does it interest me?” Filmmaking is hard, and no one should think otherwise. It’s a frightening process, and a very difficult one, of trying to put together a feature-length film or, say, a series of six hours. Daunting would be a way to describe it. Often, some of my best ideas, I can’t raise the money for them, or I get the money for something else, and so they have to be put on a back burner, so it could be tens of years before I get back to them. It seems an inevitable hazard of doing this kind of work. I’m trying to encourage myself to work faster and to do more, leave less behind. And the Elsa film, The B-Side, is really a product of this kind of thinking, you know, “I can talk about this forever. Get it done. Just make it.”

MM: Are there any ingredients that some unmade films have more than others that make them candidates to be next in line in your moviemaking queue?

EM: It’s pretty simple: What makes something a candidate to be next in line is the willingness of someone to pay for it. MM

The B-Side continues its expanded theatrical release in Portland October 12, 2017, and in Denver November 15, 2017, and is now available on iTunes, Amazon Video, Google Play, and Vimeo, courtesy of Neon Films.

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