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Filmmaker Spotlight: Interview with Jean-Philippe Tremblay of Shadows of Liberty

This week's filmmaker spotlight is on Director/Writer and Producer Jean-Philippe Tremblay of Shadows Of Liberty. Tremblay's film was selected to be part of the NewFilmmakers Los Angeles screenings at Sunset Gower Studios this month. Learn about the film, his inspirations, goals and current projects.

Tell us a little bit about your project and how long you’ve been working on it. 

Shadows Of Liberty is dedicated to journalists, heroes of our time, who give their lives and freedoms for our information, the pillar of our society. Presenting the voices that are not heard or given a platform is what Shadows of Liberty is about. This film attempts to inspire change and accountability by championing the idea of an independent media where truth and integrity are the norm, and not the exception.

The project started six years ago with the independent organizations DocFactory and The Bertha Foundation.We were untimely inspired a book written by one of America’s greatest journalist, Ben Bagdkian. In the 1950’s Bagdikian was one of the first to report about the civil rights movement on a national level, in 1970 he became editor of the Washington Post and published Dan Ellsberg’s Pentagon Paper’s revealing US government corruption around the Vietnam war, and in 1984 he wrote the book that inspired this film, ‘The New Media Monopoly’, describing how five conglomerate corporation own and control most of the information in the US.

In the film, we tell the stories of award winning journalists who are confronted by government and corporations because they are offending these power by revealing their corrupt practices. These journalists are trying to do their job, to hold power accountable while the government and corporate powers retaliate by steamrolling over these journalists and try to take them out of the picture all together.

Tracing the history of how these conglomerates came to behold such enormous power and monopolize information is threaded throughout the film.

The research for Shadows Of Liberty began in 2007 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) said they would ask the American people across the United States what they thought about media ownership and media diversity in their cities, towns, and communities.

Following every media ownership hearing throughout the country and witnessing Americans speak about their own media system, is how this film began.

It took five intense years to make the film and the film began touring international film festivals including in 2012 Toronto’s HotDocs, the Sheffield Doc/Fest, the International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam, and was nominated for THE MOST VALUABLE DOCUMENTARY FILM OF THE YEAR at the CINEMA FOR PEACE awards,, last February 2013 Berlin, Germany. The nomination was alongside the documentary films nominated for best documentary film of year for the 2013 Oscars, that was a great honour. The film is enjoying a Canadian theatrical release, it’s getting many favorable reviews, and it finally premiered last week in the United States kicking off the National Conference for Media Reform. The film can also be streamed for free for two weeks on KCETLink TV. We are very proud to finally screen the film it in the Unites States and to be featured at the NewFilmmakers Los Angeles event.

Is there anyone you'd like to thank for helping out with this film?

This film could not have been made without the support of DocFactory and The Bertha Foundation. We are forever thankful to the journalists who’s stories and experiences have inspired this film like Ben Bagdikian and all those who follow in his legacy. I want to thank all the contributors in the film who inspire and represent invaluable work, courage, and dedication for true information holding power accountable. I want to thank the entire team, Dan Cantagalo whom I worked very closely with, also the rest of are our team; Gergers Sall, Tandis Jenhudson, Arthur Jafa, William Robinson, John Akomfrah, everyone at Molinaire, and everyone at Capture, and the many other great people who contributed and helped make this film a reality, they are too many to name and have included all of them in our film credits. Last but not least, the film would also have been impossible to make without the help and support of our families, friends, and mentors whose love and advice were a source of inspiration throughout.

How does it feel to have your film part of the NewFilmmakers Screening at Sunset Gower Studios?

It’s a great honor to be part of the NewFilmmakers Screening at Sunset Gower Studios and to be presenting independent films in Hollywood California. I applaud this fantastic project by NewFilmmakers L.A., I’m a huge fan. It hasn’t been easy to get Shadows Of Liberty screened and presented here in the United States. This kind of film and story is incredibly difficult to get seen and presented in this country. So whenever a great event such as this one opens their arms and invites the film and provides a unique platform for audiences not only to see the film but to also hold a discussion about it, it’s very special, I’m extremely thankful and I consider it an absolute privilege. It means everything to independent films like ours and to first time filmmakers.

What inspires you?

People, art, culture, travels, all sorts of things inspire me, I go through phases. The last non-filmmaking job I had was 18 years ago, I was working at a Hotel in Canada where the great photographer Yousuf Karsh use to live, I befriended him and spoke to him almost every day for a year. That was an incredibly inspiring experience that keeps inspiring me today. It was during that time that I made up my mind about going around the world filming and documenting with my camera. I’ve done that experience a number of times, on my own, with my camera. I’ve travelled to Asia for one entire year, to South America for eight months, South Asia for two months, I went across Canada and filmed that too. That’s how I see filmmaking and that’s what inspires me. It’s about getting out there with your camera. I saw our Shadows Of Liberty project from a similar perspective, I was going to travel across the United States and learn about the media monopoly by speaking to people, journalists, media owners, academics, and experience US media for myself. The only difference from my earlier experiences was that I had a bigger budget, other people, and more equipment then my usual shoestring budgets would allow for.

Who are your influences and who do you admire?

I’ve always loved the older generation of filmmakers from Québec such as Michel Brault, Claude Jutra, and Pierre Perrault, these are filmmakers that Jean Luc Goddard credited for inventing Cinema Verité. Other Canadian filmmakers such as Peter Wintonick, Mark Akbar, also inspire me; they have also made doc films about US power and media. The very first time that I saw really beautiful, different, and captivating films was with the early works of Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmish, and Warner Herzog, I was amazed, they were amazing and inspiring discoveries for me, they really took filmmaking to a different level. There are so many known and unknown people that I admire and that have influenced me in some way, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

What lessons have you learned from the industry so far?

We have to have good teachers, mentors, people who are dedicated to their craft, to their creativity, people who are willing to share with new generations, you need ideas and ways of getting things done, methods of working out problems, working as a team, understanding people and subjects, communicating, and knowing that each journey is like jumping off a cliff, and that somewhere down the road you’ll hopefully land on your feet. The only way to land on your feet is to have determination, show great dedication to your craft and the people involved and to see the project all the way through.

If you could collaborate with anybody, who would it be?

I’d love to collaborate with some of the same people I collaborated with to make Shadows Of Liberty; we had a great team both in front and behind the camera. I’d also like to collaborate with others who gave me a chance in the industry in the past. I like to work with a mixture of different people, some which have a wealth of experience and mixing those with others who are relatively new. A nice mix of backgrounds always makes things more interesting and offers new opportunities. I’d also like to collaborate with young people and children.

What is the toughest experience you've ever had to overcome?

I survived a plane crash in Bolivia 10 years ago. It was a small jet-engine plane, a Cessna aircraft. I was on a journey during another one of my world travels with my camera. I suffered third degree burns on all on my limbs and face, my nervous system was severely shaken, and I don’t remember much at all for the two weeks that followed the crash. I made the best of my situation at the time and got back to trying to live a normal life fairly quick. I consider myself extremely lucky to have survived and gone through those times, and to have no real serious physical or mental consequences from the experience. Now with 10 years of retrospect I look back and realize that this was still a very tough experience for many reasons, perhaps the toughest I’ve ever had to face. I didn’t realize that at the time. That kind of experience is a shock not only to your system but to life itself when in one fraction of a second your entire life, as you know it, flashes before your very eyes and completely changes it in an instant, you can’t move, you’re bed ridden, your brain doesn’t work right. These are tough experiences that many of us if not most of us have to face at one time or another.

What is the best piece of advice someone has given to you?

When I left with my camera for my yearlong travels in South East Asia 1996 to document the world, Yousuf Karsh and his wife gave a going away gift, a beautiful classic black umbrella. Since the weather  in South Est Asia was going to be extremely hot temperatures, their advice was that I should protect myself from the scorching sunrays using the umbrella. That was great advice.

What advice would you give to new filmmakers starting out in the industry?

Understand what it is you want to do, start at the bottom if you have to, and work your way towards your goals, this may take some time but you will get there eventually. Patience is key. Learn from those with experience and connect to the filmmaking culture in your local community. Appreciate all the different people you work with and learn the many facets of filmmaking. Creatively, always trust your instinct, always be well prepared, always do lots of homework. Learn the eternal rules of the trade for ensuring accuracy, speed, and safety. Eat good food.

Where can we expect to see you next?

I’m heading back to Montreal Canada and then London England. I will do keep participating in more screenings of Shadows Of Liberty all over. I will begin new research for the next projects I want to do.

Let our readers know where they can find more information about you and your projects.

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About the Author

Formerly an editor at Demand Media, writer at Citysearch, The Examiner and proofreader at The Los Angeles Daily News, Christy Buena decided to start Disarray Magazine because she missed writing what she wanted. From hiring writers, to contacting publicists and making assignments, Christy is responsible for the editorial strategy of Disarray Magazine. Get to know the team of talented contributors.
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