The qualities that make a great documentary film are often difficult to describe and impossible to truly comprehend. How is it that real life can be captured, manipulated, and presented in a way that can be touching, scary, funny, exciting, heart-breaking? And, perhaps even more perplexing, how is it possible that some filmmakers can repeat the feat, making compelling and emotionally resounding films whenever they step up to the camera?
Yet there are filmmakers like the Maysles Brothers, Robert Flaherty, D.A. Pennebaker, Dziga Vertov, Robert Frank, Frederick Wiseman, and Werner Herzog who use their cinematic eye to persistently make beautiful movies. They see the world in a special way, they are able to take the raw materials of life and construct narratives of painstaking brilliance where other people would simply see the passage of time. That is what makes a great documentary film.
Our upcoming guest, Robert Greene, has that uncanny ability of a great documentarian to find beauty in unlikely places. When I first met Greene, I had already had the pleasure of seeing his major feature, KATI WITH AN I. The film, about a young girl on the brink of maturing into adulthood, is one of the most staggering works on the subject ever made. It was also shot over three days, in bedrooms, cars, and ugly motel rooms.
I said to him, “You are either a genius or you’re very lucky.” But the more I talked to him and learned of his style, and saw his next feature and short, I discovered that it was much more the former.
KATI is a compassionate portrait of a southern girl perching over the border of her youth. She is days away from graduating high school, and with that event her life will change forever; there’s a vast future in front of her, and one that is much more frightening than it is promising.
Although very much rooted in the culture of impoverished, semi-rural Alabama and the unique situation of this girl, the film hits notes of our universal struggle with change and uncertainty. In that way, her story is one that will melt your heart.
This is very much due to the skill of director Robert Greene (with credit also going to his cinematographer, Sean Price Williams), who seems to have a preternatural ability to find moments of exquisite rawness and open identity, even within a community of people who are afraid to show who they really are. To see his works are to see his subjects as they cannot see themselves - and it is both a marvel and a privilege to do so.
We’ll be hosting Robert Greene for the Austin premiere of KATI WITH AN I on August 14th at 7pm at the Ritz.
He’ll also be visiting us to show his newest film, FAKE IT SO REAL, the following two days. He is a talented director, and his q&a’s will surely be insightful. Do not miss these very rare and precious films.