INTERVIEWS WITH THE TEAM
Standing Rock ignited a movement in 2016. As Indigenous Water Protector Ernesto Burbank explains in Necessity Part I, the movement there “started an awakening.” This awakening helped shape the complex questions and stories that unfold in this documentary. We are brought together through activism and a passion for making movies that matter; our hope is that “Necessity” inspires both thought and action. The Standing Rock movement lives on! Learn more about the film crew with an interview by Assistant Producer Jasmine Eppelsheimer.
Necessity Pt I is a film about activism and social change, and responsible political filmmaking requires careful consideration of storytelling methods. Jan, can you describe your directorial approach and what psychoanalysis contributes to your narrative techniques?
From refugees crossing borders, drag queens and hip-hop artists performing to cross-over audiences, therapists treating soldiers in war zones, abortion providers crossing picket lines, and to this new project on climate resistance, my films have focused on subjectivities that arise in liminal spaces and transition zones. These projects also require attunement to the politics of representation—and how even idealized images of marginalized people can be oppressive to the extent that they strip subjects of their full humanity.
As a documentary filmmaker, I rely on mainstream storytelling conventions in thinking about the arc of the narrative and devices for building tension and investments in the characters. But I also try to subvert consumerist forms of documentary spectatorship--what bell hooks terms “eating the other,” the privilege of the culturally dominant to enjoy images of exoticized others. Working with traditions of psychoanalytic film criticism and clinical theory, I try to understand how fantasies and defenses are mobilized through moving pictures. In making films on topics that make people anxious, for example, the recent projects on abortion and climate change, psychoanalysis provides helpful tools for thinking through some of the psychological dynamics in audience reception--of creating “holding places” in the film itself.
People are often mystified by the role of Producer, especially since there are many types of producers—an “executive producer” might control all financial aspects of a film, for instance, while a “field producer” coordinates the logistics of shooting on location. Some producers are more involved than others in the creative content of a project, or more involved in distribution than production.
Frann and Haunani, how did you get involved in this project, and how do you see your roles as Producer and Associate Producer, respectively?
I helped instigate this project by bringing together two old friends of mine--director Jan Haaken and Valve Turner Emily Johnston. I met Jan through shared activism 25 years ago, have consulted on many of her previous films, and continue to work with her on film reviews on Portland’s KBOO Community Radio. I introduced the film team to Emily Johnston, who is a writer, poet, and activist and, as one of the Valve Turners, was part of a four-state coordinated set of actions in which they instigated the shutdown of oil pipelines and waited to get arrested, with the hope of going to trial and using the necessity defense to raise awareness and shape legal practice.
As Producer, I’ve been involved in all phases of this production, from pre-production outreach and planning, through filming on location in Minnesota, into post-production editing and marketing. I provide creative feedback, suggestions, and critique, as well as logistical, communications, and fundraising support and coordination.
While some (mainstream, commercial) productions have a very hierarchical and rigid organizational structure, this independent and activist project— though strongly shaped by directorial vision—is also much more collaborative than many, moved by our shared interest in finding ways to address climate crisis and foreground indigenous voices.
[Associate Producer] Gwen sent me an email, we’d worked together previously. She mentioned toxic tar sand oil and I was pretty much sold. Years working in the area of global health and disaster resilience has crystallized my perspective on the climate crisis. Several of my cohorts went to Standing Rock to help protect critical water resources. Unable to join them at the time, I chose this film as my place of action, my own Standing Rock. Necessity is a story of people taking action, inspiring hope in the face of mounting despair. After seeing the film, I would like people to take with them 2 certainties. They can take action. And a hopeful future is plausible.
As associate producer, I provide grounded strategic work (fundraising, organization, communication), as well as contribute to the creative process, (pitch, graphics) by offering an indigenous worldview. Producing thus far has required an understanding of people and keeping an eye on the vision with a consistent focus to detail and pace. I see my role as one of support, anticipating and responding to rapidly changing priorities, with a welcoming attitude, dipping into a reservoir of life-acquired skills to get the job done.
Samantha, you’ve worked with Jan before on other projects and are now co-directing Necessity with her. What have your other films focused on and what do you enjoy most about collaborating on films with Jan? Being that you’re from North Dakota what does working on this project mean to you?
I’ve worked with Jan on three previous documentaries that also take up ethical questions and stigmatized groups working on the social margins. I have a deep personal interest to the Necessity” project, having grown up in North Dakota and near the region where the team filmed in Minnesota. After spending time at Standing Rock bringing firewood to activists camped there, I saw this film as an opportunity to support the ongoing story of Indigenous resistance in the Midwest.
Cinematography is an interesting mix of artistic skills and technical skills; what is it like to blend these skills in order to help shape the vision of someone’s story?
As director of photography for documentaries, my primary job is to witness and record the unfolding of a story. On location there is a near constant toggling between responding to events as they occur, working with the director to determine her story, envisioning what's needed to convey it, then bringing those visions into reality. When our team succeeds in this iterative process a story emerges that can be shared. It's this collaborative process -- both during the shoot and at the end when a strong and needed story reaches an audience -- that is so deeply gratifying and makes me want to do it all over again.