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Documentary lovers must apply pressure

Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

Lots of Sundance Film Festival-goers say that the documentaries are the best-quality films shown during the festival.

But, after Sundance, the films largely disappear, leaving most Americans without the chance to see them.

Panelists at a Thursday discussion about war documentaries said that people interested in the films must pressure the broadcasters and the advertisers to show the movies.

But they did not seem confident that documentaries will replace sitcoms on prime-time television and said that the Internet and college campuses are smart spots to show documentaries instead.

The discussion, held at Sundance’s Filmmaker Lodge on Main Street, drew more than 100 people to listen to filmmakers describe their projects and discuss the difficulties they encountered.

The filmmakers said the alternatives to the big movie houses, such as college campuses, are good choices because people want to see the movies.

"My experience is they’re hungry for them," said Patricia Foulkrod, who directed "The Ground Truth: After the Killing Ends," a documentary about soldiers who return home after serving in a battle zone.

Foulkrod said a 30-minute version of her documentary sold before the 2004 presidential election and veterans organizations put the clip on their Web site.

She said she receives requests from campuses to show documentaries. Foulkrod, though, acknowledged that, since lots of documentaries are not moneymakers, the filmmakers have a more difficult time.

"There’s nothing wonderful about it," she said about the financial struggles.

Briton Rex Bloomstein, who directed "KZ," about the effects of a former Nazi concentration camp on the residents of an Austrian city, said the United Kingdom has a tradition of documentaries and the style "still flourishes" but that it is not easy to make documentaries.

Audience members agreed that the pressure must be exerted to show documentaries more widely. They suggested a campaign against television networks and that a Web site should be created for the cause.

The panelists shared stories about making their documentaries and provided their opinions of the subjects.

Foulkrod said regular Americans cannot understand the devastation that is felt by some returning soldiers after they are "dehumanized" during boot camp.

"We now train people to shoot as an automatic reflex," she said, adding that she wanted to documentary to explore the "consciousness of killing."

She said she received donations from individuals to make the movie and, once, a man wired her $25,000 for the film. She said the wire transfer was not the norm.

"I began to feel like a drug dealer," she said.

James Longley, who made the documentary "Iraq in Fragments," said there were times he was concerned with his safety and the safety of people in the film, which was shot in Iraq.

Bloomstein said the concentration camp in his film is a "haunting place" and the people in the community had different ideas about how the site should be memorialized.

Heidi Specogna, the director of "The Short Life of Jose Antonio Gutierrez," a film about an immigrant who was the first American killed in the Iraqi war, said the death was in newspapers for a few days and then people lost interest. She said she wanted to delve into the death of the soldier because he was an immigrant from Guatemala.

But, with the nature of the subjects, there seemed to be the unlikelihood of widespread audiences. Foulkrod’s "Ground Truth," she said, could be distributed on cable but not on the networks.

"I never expected the film would meet with broadcast standards," she said.


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