This Q&A with Allan King provides a small measure of insight to the documentary filmmaker and his craft.
Can we trust documentary filmmakers to tell us the "truth"?
You can only judge what is true or not true based on your own experience of life. Documentary filmmaking is not about telling the truth, it is about exploring reality. All that you can expect is that which you experience, and that the film corresponds with your sense of actuality.
Who is the most important person you collaborate with on your process?
Each and every member of the team is important. I depend on the intuition of the cameraman to capture the actuality. I depend on the structural sense of the editor to best reflect what is actually on screen. I depend on the emotional expressiveness of the composer to echo the feelings of the film. Filmmaking is an intensely collaborative process and without the contributions of all the team members, a strong film could never be made.
What inspires you to tackle the subjects that you do? Dying, Memory Loss, Rebellion, Adolescence, etc?
Each and every film I have ever made, I have made in order to explore an aspect of the human condition about which I am ignorant. For example, as I became older I was aware that eventually I would die and it would be useful to explore what that experience was all about, which is why I made Dying at Grace. I also understood little or nothing about the experience of losing one's memory, thus I made Memory for Max, Claire, Ida and Company. As a young man I also realized I had experienced many emotional difficulties in growing up, so I made a film called Warrendale about troubled youngsters. I've been very privileged over a lifetime to be paid to explore those emotional issues which most perplex people.
What was it like filming Who Has Seen the Wind in Arcola, Saskatchewan?
With Who Has Seen the Wind I was fortunate to work with colleagues who were especially skilled in explaining face-to-face to each and every member of the community what our objective was and they were then able to mobilize the entire community to make their stores and facilities available for filming.
We also thanked the province of Saskatchewan for making Who Has Seen the Wind possible by inviting the then-premiere of the province, Alan Blakeny, to join me in the front seat on an old Model A Ford to the Arcola cinema carrying a sheath of wheat as a bouquet to the world premiere of the film. The event made the national news, drawing cross-country attention to the opening of the film and it was the most successful Canadian feature film of its year.
Have you had subjects ask you to cut something that they have said? How do you handle a situation like that?
Yes, I have had participants who have asked me to cut a line, and I reminded them of our agreement, and refused to cut it. For example, in Warrendale when one of the children didn't like what he said and I refused to cut it. I do this because to breach an agreement is to breech trust, and trust is essential to veracity in filmmaking.
Have you ever felt that the camera has gone too far or that you shouldn't be there filming?
The camera people who work with me always give a nod to the people they're filming to assure that they are comfortable with proceeding. This is important in maintaining the trust of the people you are filming and ensuring that it feels trustworthy to an audience.