In the Director's Spotlight we are proud to present our interview with Big Apple Film Festival alumni and award winner Emilie Bunnell. After completing her B.A. in Broadcast Journalism at the University of Alabama in 2007, Emilie moved to New York City to pursue her career in television. She joined Gigantic! Productions in 2012 as a Production Coordinator. Emilie has worked on several series including Secretly Pregnant, Washington Heights, and Thieves, Inc. In her current role as Director of Development, Emilie helps create new programming for Gigantic! Productions. Emilie's directorial debut, "BEAN", premiered at the Woodstock Film Festival, and had its New York City premiere at the Big Apple Film Festival, where it was awarded Best Feature Documentary. https://www.gigantic.tv/bean
1. What inspired you to pursue a career in documentary film?
Since I was young, I have always been drawn to people and hearing their stories. I think it is a natural part of who I am, so finding my way into a storytelling profession just felt right. I like that documentaries allow for length to tell an in-depth story layered with information and emotion. Docs let you go inside and explore a world that you don't always get to experience or get glimpses of people you may not come across in everyday life. For me, documentary film allows me to see and experience that which I cannot and challenges my world view. I wanted to work in documentary film to be able to do the same for someone else. I wanted to continue to bring to light stories that highlight humanity, educate on pressing issues, and allow anyone to see the larger world from their seat at home.
2. What inspired you to make the feature documentary BEAN?
Lori and Alana. I saw their viral video the day after they posted it and was immediately moved in a lot of ways. In the video, Alana, who suffers from lupus and has been on the kidney registry for years, finds out that Lori is a donor match and is volunteering to donate her kidney to help Alana. There is so much pure emotion in their video. Alana is truly, deeply touched, and Lori is motivated simply by altruism. After watching it, I wanted to know more of their story, so I reached out and began talking to them. Finding out Alana's medical struggles, which made her chances of a match much harder to find, coupled with the lack of people on the registry and everything that lead to this moment, amplified the story for me. I was inspired by Lori and Alana, their relationship, and the potential hope that this surgery presented them.
3. What are some of the challenges you face when directing and producing a documentary film?
A big challenge faced by doc makers is funding. I was extremely fortunate to have the backing of Gigantic! Productions, which allowed me to make BEAN. Funding, I think, is probably one of the hardest parts of making films.
The other biggest challenge is trust from the people in your film. BEAN was my first time directing an independent documentary, so I couldn't rely on a long resume of credits. I've worked in the industry on great projects before and had a portfolio to share, but getting the access I needed to tell the complete story required a lot of faith from everyone involved in the film. Understandably, it takes work to get the level of trust you need to have people open up their homes and lives to you.
Telling this story, we also faced the challenges of surgery. Nothing is ever guaranteed in surgery, in particular with an organ transplant. There was the very real chance that the Alana's body would reject Lori's kidney. Or that one of them would become sick and not be able to go through with the surgery. There were a lot of variables that could not be controlled, so I had to plan for the story to go in several directions and follow what unfolded. With this type of documentary, everything is playing out in real time, so there was no certain end in sight which adds to some of the challenges in production.
4. What future projects are you currently planning to direct and/or produce?
There are so many I'd like to direct and produce! I really savored the festival experience with BEAN and have only really started to buckle down and plan for the next project. I'm not sure what exactly it will be. I tend to be drawn to human stories, especially those impacting women. So I don't know what will be next, but hopefully it will be filled with as many amazing women as BEAN is.
5. Which films directed by women do you feel are most important and influential in our society today?
Every movie by a woman! I think its important that all women's voices be heard and celebrated. I love that there is really an emphasis now on who has directed a film and women are being called out for their great work. I'm a big fan of Kathryn Bigelow, Jane Campion, Ava DuVernay, and Julie Taymor. I am a little behind this year, but have my queue ready and am so excited to watch Patty Jenkin's "Wonder Woman" and Dee Rees' "Mudbound" during a holiday break.
6. What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers? And, what advice would you give to yourself 10 years ago?
I would tell aspiring filmmakers and Emilie of 10 years ago -- hold onto the dream, stick with it, and it will work out. Ten years ago, I was in a good production job, but not one that was an obvious next step to making documentaries. I felt a little adrift. I took a few daring leaps, and then this year, was able to direct and produce my first doc. I've come to really appreciate that there is more than one way to get to the job you want. Even the jobs I had that didn't feel like they related to this job, really impacted me as a director and producer. Every job allowed me to gain skills that are necessary for this role. So don't underestimate what you can get from a job. Use everything as an opportunity to learn, stay true to your dream, and take leaps when needed.