In this episode of The Archive Project, Barbara Kopple opens by talking about being grateful that documentaries are moving into the mainstream, with audiences appreciating these “real-life, nonfiction films.” She then tells about her journey to becoming a filmmaker, which started while she was studying political science in college and, instead of writing a paper, decided to make a short film showcasing people who’d had lobotomies. “My professor was outraged,” she said. “I got a D….but I was hooked.” Kopple goes on to discuss her process making several films, including Winter Soldier, Harlan County, USA, American Dream, Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike Tyson, Century of Women, Wild Man Blues, and My Generation. She emphasizes her desire to portray people in truthful ways—to delve deeper than the headlines and expose her audiences to new perspectives that they would never see otherwise.
Barbara Kopple is a two-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker. A director and producer of narrative films and documentaries, her most recent project is the documentary Running from Crazy, which examines the personal journey of writer, model and actress Mariel Hemingway, the granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, as she strives for a greater understanding of her complex family history. Barbara has received several awards, including the Human Rights Watch Film Festival Irene Diamond Award, National Society of Film Critics Award, the SilverDocs/Charles Guggenheim Award, the White House Project’s EPIC Award, the International Documentary Association Career Achievement Award, and the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize. In 2010, Kopple received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from American University. She is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Director’s Guild of America, New York Women in Film and Television, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, and actively participates in organizations that address social issues and support independent filmmaking.
I had parents who did, and still do, everything they could for me and gave me a real sense of self so I could take risks. And I decided that I really wanted to do films that were so far from what I understood and what I knew to sort of bring me closer and make me able to communicate.”
“What was the most important thing for me, really, was to go beyond the headlines, and go beyond the tabloids, and really find out who this kid is, and what he’s about, in a way that nobody else could. And something that I really like to do is to look under a blanket where you’re not supposed to see, and pull things out, and that’s what I tried to do in the Mike Tyson piece.”