Laura Gabbert on filmmaking and the current state of documentaries

Laura Gabbert on filmmaking and the current state of documentaries

In our last conversation, Laura Gabbert revealed the inspiration around Sunset Story. We now continue the conversation asking Laura to reflect on filmmaking, documentaries and her next projects.

Do you have any advice for female filmmakers breaking into the industry or in the early stages of their careers?
I don't really know that it would just be for female filmmakers, but I think it’s really important to just get as much experience as you can, and if you’re fired up about an idea, to try to make something. When I meet young filmmakers, I'm a little surprised by the fact that many of them haven't seen very many documentaries, or they've only seen documentaries made in the last five years. I think it's important to understand the history of documentary filmmaking so young filmmakers should watch a lot of films, but making a film is the best way to learn.

What are your thoughts on the current state of documentaries, and what do you expect to see moving forward?
Gosh, that’s a good question. There’s a big movement for social-issue documentaries in the last fifteen years, ten years especially, and as much as I think they are great, I sometimes worry that those films are preaching to the choir. That their audiences already believe what the film is putting out there, and it doesn’t change a lot of minds. I do think social issue documentaries can be very useful in getting audiences engaged in a movement or cause. I tend to be drawn to documentaries that are more character-driven, so you get pulled in with characters, and then the social or political issues emerge through the characters. And I think there are great, great, great social-issue docs out there. You know, I made an environmental film called No Impact Man, which is certainly a social issue film on its surface, but is really a film about the compromises people make in marriage. On the other hand, if you look at where we are today— the daily threats to the First Amendment—I think that independent documentary filmmakers have a responsibility to go tell those stories that the general news media aren't reporting. One of the things I like to see is that there are more and more platforms for short documentaries and feature-length documentaries, and there seems to be much more of a hunger for it. I do think there’s a growing appetite for non-fiction work, and we see a lot more non-fiction series out there that are beautifully done, which is really exciting.

You mentioned the role documentary filmmakers play in telling stories that the mainstream media doesn't cover. Do you say that with any particular issues in mind?
A documentary filmmaker has the luxury of going deeper into a subject or character(s). Right now, I'm working on a couple of short films about immigration, and they deal with current events and our current situation, but we're approaching the subject quite differently than how ABC News or CNN would report on Immigration. 

Do you have any other new projects in the works?
I'm working on a short documentary for Field of Vision right now about the border in San Ysidro, California between San Diego and Tijuana. And I’m working on developing a non-fiction series based on my documentary City of Gold, as well. Through the lens of food and restaurants, we tell Immigration stories, and show how these communities become part of the rich fabric of our cities. I'm also working on another non-fiction series about the history of women's leadership in American politics.

Thanks, Laura.

City of Gold is streaming on Hulu, and available on Amazon, and iTunes. Sean Steinberg is a graduate of the University of Miami (Class of 2015). He now lives in Los Angeles where he's pursuing a career in screenwriting and journalism. As a political reporter for WhoWhatWhy, he covers issues concerning voting rights and election integrity. When he's not taking himself too seriously, he's making an idiot of himself on stage testing the waters of stand-up comedy.