Discovering the Art of Documentary Filmmaking: A Conversation with Acclaimed Director James Redford for RESILIENCE
RESILIENCE: The Biology of Stress & The Science of Hope chronicles the promising beginnings of an international movement to prevent childhood trauma, treat Toxic Stress, and greatly improve the health of future generations. The film follows the birth of a new movement among paediatricians, therapists, educators and communities, who are using cutting-edge brain science to disrupt cycles of violence, addiction and disease.
The original research was controversial, but the findings revealed the most important public health findings of a generation. RESILIENCE is a one-hour documentary that delves into the science of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and the birth of a new movement to treat and prevent Toxic Stress. Now understood to be linked with a wide range of medical conditions from heart disease and cancer to substance abuse and depression, extremely stressful experiences in childhood can alter brain development and have lifelong effects on health and behaviour.
However, as experts and practitioners profiled in RESILIENCE are proving, what’s predictable is preventable. These physicians, educators, social workers and communities are daring to talk about the effects of divorce, abuse and neglect. And they’re using cutting edge science to help the next generation break the cycles of adversity and disease.
In our interview, The Fan Carpet's Marc Jason Ali spoke to James Redford about his career, on the eve of the Premiere of his new film Resilience: The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope and his advice for those embarking on a career in the industry...
If we go back to the beginning, was there a defining moment for you to get into the film industry?
Yeah, so I was in graduate school getting a degree in literature and I realised I didn’t like it (laughs).
I wanted to tell stories and not study them. And the question from there was “What kind of story do I want to tell?” and although I’d started out as a screenwriter and over time I produced my first documentary in the mid 90s, it was a very personal one, it was about organ donation and transplant and the beauty of how that all works, and that was relevant to me because I’m alive to today because of two transplants.
After that experience of both the transplant and making a documentary, I look back on it now and I realise the sort of cast the die for me in terms of what kind of stories I wanted to tell moving forward. So I think I’m on my 8 or 9th documentary at this point.
Yeah looking at your credits on IMDB it says seven, but obviously it not ones that are in production. So that feeds perfectly in my next question, what is it about Resilience that enticed you to get involved and is documentary film-making something that you want to do more of?
Yes this is my calling, this is what I do, it’s what I think about in the middle of the night, I love it. So yeah that’s me, I make documentary films.
So in 2012 I made a documentary called Big Picture that looked and all the myths and stereotypes surrounding dyslexia and how damaging they are to children who have it, how damaging they are and how unnecessary it is, and how to help children with dyslexia, which the current research shows that one in 15 or one in 20 kids on planet Earth have it and yet we don’t really understand how to better educate kids who have a certain learning profile.
So that film and its ability to be a helpful tool to people that where concerned with dealing with dyslexia, which was really rewarding for me and my partner on that film, a woman named Karen Pritzker, she’s a well known philanthropist in the States and has been long involved in supporting causes that are educational in social environments for children. So after that film, that was our first project together, we where sort of casting ideas what would be our next big idea and she had been following and looking at and sort of struck by the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study for a number of years and was really surprised how little known it was and we felt that it would be like planting our flag on the moon in a way and we could reach people with such important information that was completely unknown.
Did you ever take the ACE test?
Well I didn’t take it, but I’ve certainly thought about it. I have a low score myself.
I imagine so, it’s just a fascinating part of the film.
You know I think anybody that reads that test and looks at the question, it’s a moment of self reflection and you know for a number of people it can offer a perspective on what’s been hard or difficult in their lives, you know, an emotional thing or a physical thing and anything that allows us to understand who we are better and why we are and who we are is just good, it’s good for everybody particularly for both caretakers and those trying to ensure their kids grow up happy and healthy despite their challenging situations, it’s really important for them to understand.
One of the aspects that I really enjoyed with the film was your use of animation to chop things up. Was that a conscious decision?
Oh yes. You know, so let me think about this. A number of the films I’ve done including the one I’m doing right now are heavy in science and technology, and I love the challenge of how do you keep this from being boring, how do you present this information without having people’s eyes gloss over? And each film, you know, I’ve take a different tactic to that question, but for this one making this science relatable and working in metaphor and you know visual metaphors where really important to me and immediately graspable.
So I worked in effect, spending hours and hours combing the internet for animation styles and when I saw these two artists work together I immediately knew they where the ones and later found out they where in London (laughs) but we were able to get all of our work done online, it’s such a gift these days you can work that way, they’re brilliant.
So obviously this is a documentary, but do you have any preferred genres and favourite films?
I think by and large my local art house cinema where I live usually has documentaries and foreign films, so I usually just go down there because I know that there program is going to be at the very least interesting, so those are my preferences.
Are there any other aspects of the film industry that you would like to pursue?
I think it’s important to understand that some people think “oh no this is alarming and terrible news and people now have to wonder it’s hard enough to have child and now have to wonder if it’s going to make me sick” and that’s understandable.
But really, more important to that is the fact that there is so much that we can do to reduce the risk of that stress from having a toll on health and as you saw in the movie a caring adult relationship, teacher or mentor or a family member that isn’t your mother or father, there’s just so many ways you can engage and support children and we all know that that’s good, now we can look at it and its just biologically necessary you know, chronic stress control and neurotoxins as common as lead or mercury or arsenic. So to really know that there’s just that much more reason to be curious and understanding and caring about kids who are in bad situations.