”All the technology in the world isn’t going to make up for not having a single idea. If you’ve got strong, differentiated ideas that have currency to them , it doesn’t matter what gear you use.” Harvey Benge (photographer)
I’m indebted to Magdalene Laas, director & filmmaker, for that quote. It seemed to me an appropriate accompaniment to the wonderful news that the stunning feature documentary This Way of Life won two of the major awards at the Qantas NZ Film & Televison Awards last night. The profound and moving film, which has just undergone qualifying screenings for the Oscars, was made over four years by the dedicated husband and wife team of Tom and Sumner Burstyn.
Tom picked up Best Director for a documentary, and Sumner (who produced) picked up Best Documentary. All in all a victory for the little people. This very humble project was financed through Tom and Sumner mortgaging their own house, and involved a comparatively low-tech exercise with one 2K camera and no sound guy. It grew out of a personal relationship with the Karena family, who are the subjects of the doco. It was very human in scale, and makes it onto screen as a powerfully poignant examination of what values drive our lives.
Tom was cinematographer on The Insatiable Moon, and brought to the venture his philosophy of Frugal Filmmaking. This is an approach to filmmaking which values story and performance over equipment. Tom persuaded us that it was possible to shoot a feature film with humble cameras and miniscule lighting gear, and he was right. Mind you, it was only his genius in making dramatic use of natural light which made the pictures sing.
Tom and Sumner are filmmakers who bring a whole new approach to the art of storytelling – it’s wonderful to have their work once again recognised for the triumph that it is.