ACT Film Festival panel discusses behind the scenes of documentary filmmaking

Julia Trowbridge

panel discussing
The panel of filmmakers, which consists of Aaron Burns, Matthew Shoychet, Andrew McConnell, Tahria Sheather and Irene Taylor Brodsky discuss the behind-the-scenes of documentary filmmaking. (Julia Trowbridge | Collegian)

Documentary enthusiasts gathered to hear from ACT Film Festival documentary creators at a panel Saturday.

The fourth annual ACT Human Rights Film Festival is happening from April 5 to April 13. On April 6 the festival presented a panel of individuals involved with this year’s documentaries. The panel was titled “Private Lives, Public Spaces: Intimacy and Community at Human Rights Film Festivals.”


The panelists consisted of Irene Brodsky Taylor and Tahria Sheather from “Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements,” Matthew Shoychet from “The Accountant of Auschwitz,” Andrew McConnell from “Gaza” and Aaron Burns from “Western Collections.” The panel was moderated by Colorado State University film professor Scott Diffrient.

The panel discussed their individual paths through documentary making, discussing everything from decision making to fundraising. When it comes to determining what to cut, all of the panelists agreed that it was a difficult process.

I find, though, hearing other people’s war stories, literal or figurative, it helps me understand I’m not the only person who wants to just go crawl under a rock someday.” – Irene Brodsky Taylor, director of “Moonlight Sonata: Deafness in Three Movements.”

Burns focuses on keeping to a narrative and looks to other directors and writers he enjoys for their tactics.

“I look up to the wisdom of the creators of ‘South Park,'” Burns said. “They’ve said when you’re constructing your story, and in a documentary, it’s hard because you have so many elements and so many different bins in your edit bay.”

A question Diffrient brought up was the issue of aestheticizing traumatic experiences, especially in light of the fact that the film festival was focused on human rights. While McConnell said shots need to look beautiful in order to gain traction around the world, Shoychet emphasized sensitivity. Sheather on the other hand focused on the emphasis of the emotion of the shot.

“Whether it’s beautiful or ugly, I think that image needs to evoke a mood and evoke an emotion in the viewer,” Sheather said. “I would almost say let’s not think about it as beautiful or ugly, what kind of mood is it creating for the viewer?”

The ACT human rights film festival schedule can be found at

The panel also got into a discussion about the importance of short films, and all agreed that although they are overlooked in their importance, they can be just as or even more powerful. Shoychet said short films allow the director to really focus in on a topic, while Burns said he enjoyed making short films because it’s easier to complete those projects.

When discussing fundraising and the motivations behind the creation of documentaries, Taylor said that although sometimes she needs to take a step away from filmmaking, it’s grassroots festivals like the ACT Film Festival that helps her regain the excitement of sharing people’s stories.

“What I find recharges me, actually, is being around other filmmakers at festivals,” Taylor said. “I actually don’t need to get away from the film making, I love being in that all the time … I find, though, hearing other people’s war stories, literal or figurative, it helps me understand I’m not the only person who wants to just go crawl under a rock someday.”

Julia Trowbridge can be reached at or on twitter @chapin_jules.