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To Work in Documentary

By Steven Bognar

Steven Bognar delivering his acceptance speech his and Julia Reichert's Tribute honor at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. Courtesy of Full Frame Documentary Film Festival.

Editor’s Note: Filmmakers/partners Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert have been racking up the career kudos over the past few months, starting in December, when Reichert received the IDA Career Achievement Award. April has been the coolest month for the duo, with the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival bestowing its annual Tribute to them with a retrospective of their work, and Hot Docs feting Reichert this week with the Outstanding Achievement Award. Accepting the Full Frame Tribute award, Bognar read the following:


To work in documentary is to feel a lack of confidence in your abilities,

to feel uncertainty that you know what you’re doing,

to feel doubt that you are making a worthy film,

to feel guilt that people, good people, have trusted you to tell their story,

to feel you’ve snuck into the party and pretty soon someone is going to come up to you and say, “Hey, what are you doing here?”


To work in documentary is to feel a constant anxiety about the moments you are missing, that you should be filming right now,

about the questions you forgot to ask,

about the camera angle and shots you didn’t think of,

about the loud refrigerator hum you didn’t even notice,

about the spare batteries you forgot,

about the dumb thing you said to the most important person you are following.


To work in documentary is to cut scenes from your film that you dearly love,

to cut people from your film whom you adore,

to second-guess every edit you make,

for weeks or months or years thereafter.


To work in documentary is to spend two years, or four, or seven, or nine years on one film, with the sneaking feeling that it would have been a better film if you had finished it three years earlier, and with the delusional hope that you’ll figure it out and get it done about eight months from now.


To work in documentary is to wonder,

Will a funder see in your rough cut what you saw in the idea?

Will a programmer feel the story you constructed the way you felt it,

when you were living it? 


To wonder, Will anyone ever like this film?

Will anyone ever even SEE this film?


And yet, are we not so incredibly fortunate to work in documentary?