Tag: documentary

Humanitarian Day 2019 and the 7 Best Films to Watch

As World Humanitarian Day 2019 approaches on August 19th, we can take a look at some of the impactful films and documentaries. 

This is a day to tribute those who risk their lives, and those who have lost their lives in humanitarian services. This includes Natural disasters, conflict, political instability, that leave many people in need. Incredibly, many filmmakers have taken up the challenge of sharing these harsh circumstances on camera for all of us to see, and hopefully encourage this generation to help as well.

1. Most Shocking Second a Day Video (2015)

Originally posted to YouTube by SavetheChildren in 2014, This little 1:33 minute video most certainly did shock the audience. Taking up the trend of filming 1 second everyday, This video follows a young girl who has her life fulling turned in one year by war. Bombing and homelessness, She starts out with a normal life by Celebrating her birthday, playing hide and seek. And then, within seconds, we see how fast life can change. An extremely well done and effective little video.

Directed by: Martin Stirling

2. A Day in the Life: Welcome to Za’atari

Created and posted by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency on youtube in 2013, Through 15 episodes  these short docs follow the life of Syrian refugees pouring into this refugee camp. We follow their struggles including finding food and water, and how they have created homes and connections, and see how they have rebuilt their lives. Because there is kind people out there, these aid workers helping to create liveable environments with the refugees hope to restore hope 

Directed by: The UN Refugee Agency

3. The Foreign Aid Paradox


With a passion for helping others and creating films that spoke voices an audience would listen to, Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing together created the ’The Foreign Aid Paradox’. This documentary covers the U.S funds foreign aid, and how much that 1% being spent effects both the U.S. As a result, we also see how it affects Haiti’s agricultural system.

WeTheEconomy, where this doc is shared, is also home to many more impactful documentaries that are great to take a look at.

Directed by: Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing

4. The Stoning of Soraya M.

Cyrus Nowrasteh’s film, ’The Stoning of Soraya M. will tear your heart strings. It begins with Sahebjam, driving through an Iranian village, Kuhpayeh. Suddenly, his car breaks down. While in the village he comes across a Lady called Zahra, who holds a story of a tragic loved one who’s marriage does not end ideally. This film shines light on the cruelty, unkindness and gender violence, that take place in parts of the world, and problems that are completely ignored by everyday society. As a result It brings importance to these crimes, and takes you away from your everyday life to see inside others situations. This film attended the 2008 Toronto International Film Festival and continues to break the hearts of audiences worldwide. It also allows viewers to see what the reality is for girls in these parts of the world. However, it is quite violent, and viewer discretion is advised. 

Directed By: Cyrus Nowrasteh

5. The Land of the Enlightened


Shot over the course of 7 years, director Pieter-Jan De Pue created this documentary that follows a gang of Afghan children. However, these children happen to uncover and sell explosives to other children. Ripped from childhood, these boys battle what is left of Afghanistan after the war, and choose to create gangs, control trade routes, commit what we would see as crimes. Somehow, they find the rubbish left behind as a sort of ‘playground’.

Directed by: Pieter-Jan De Pue

6. Hotel Rwanda

On a very regular day in 1994, Paul Rusesabagina manages his hotel with his wife and children when their regular life turns to Chaos. Suddenly, the Hutu tribe attack Rwanda, committing mass genoside, and killing millions while the world turned a blind eye. This story revolves around Paul, who manages to shelter 500,000- 100,000 Tutsis(The tribe being killed off) in his hotel. However, Paul has hope to gain communication with the UN and find a way to safely keep his people alive. He attempts to save the lives of thousands. In conclusion, this movie is about heroism and survival, and taking the risks for what you know is right, and most importantly the perfect film for all humanitarians out there.

Directed by: Terry George

7. Schindler’s List

Steven Spielberg throws you back in time to the holocaust in this black and white film. During which we follow a German Businessman who becomes concerned with how the jews around him are being treated by the Nazis. In short, This man decides to save them from going to concentration camps, by hiring them in his factory. There, he tries to give them the best life he can.

Directed by: Steven Spielberg


Filed under: In Our OpinionTagged with: , , ,

Making the Leap: From Documentaries to Directing Dramatic Feature Films

Over the course of my career I’ve written, produced and directed dozens of hours of non-fiction content for broadcast and cable television and multiple feature length documentaries, several of which received theatrical release. Non-fiction was my specialty.

So, it was a pleasant surprise when in the spring of 2017 one of my non-fiction colleagues made me an offer to write and direct a dramatic feature film on famed Argentinian faith leader Luis Palau.

I knew of Luis Palau because I had been working for several years to secure the rights to direct a documentary on Billy Graham, and from my research I knew Luis was Billy’s Spanish language interpreter in Central and Latin America beginning in the1960s.  He was even later called the ‘Latin American Billy Graham’. Since then Luis has built a worldwide ministry and has preached to tens of millions of people in 75 countries.

While I’ve written all of my documentaries, I don’t by trade write feature dramas. And though many of my documentary films have extensive dramatic reenactments, the chance to direct a feature length drama was an exciting opportunity.

Writing a Feature Drama

My method in writing and directing documentaries is to outline a basic three-act structure, shoot all my interviews and b-roll, gather all the archival material, and then write the script. With a dramatic feature, it is obviously the opposite. The script comes first, is the blueprint for the film, and will influence the choices to be made by the director. To put it another way, my style of directing documentaries was to carve out a film from materials I shot or archived, and continuously sculpt it as new material came in. With my feature drama PALAU, I was shooting the script I wrote.

For my research on the script I read Palau’s autobiography and a dozen other books written by or about him.  I also interviewed Luis at length. Eighty-three at the time, he was inquisitive, clear-eyed and brilliant in his knowledge of a multitude of subjects, a man of deeply sincere faith and very engaging.

I felt it was important to show Luis’ childhood and his early days learning to preach in the streets of his small town in Argentina, his time at seminary school in the United States where he meets his wife Pat, and his breakthrough speech as an evangelist in Bogotá, Colombia, in 1966, a time of intense political turmoil. That story arc offered many dramatic opportunities.

I had four months to write my script, and once my outline was approved by the Palau organization, I went to work. Luis Palau’s many books and videos helped me create his character and inspired the dialogue and plot points.  

The Magic of Casting

Knoblock directing Gaston Pauls

After the Palau team approved my script, the challenge was how to shoot a period piece set in Argentina and Colombia in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s on a budget and in two languages. I traveled to Argentina several times to scout locations and cast the movie.

In Buenos Aires, we cast 10-year-old Agustin Amoedo as young Luis, known as ‘Luisito’. This was Agustin’s first film, and I knew the instant he began to read for us during a casting call that he would be perfect. He had a naturalness and innocence that was exactly what we were looking for.

Early in the film Luisito learns of his father’s (Fabián Carrasco) unexpected death from pneumonia, and Agustin was able to convey a nuanced sense of loss and unease about his future. The prosperous Palau family construction business will be ruined by a former associate of Luis’ father, putting Luisito, his mother (Alexia Moyano) and little sister Martha, (Lola Toledo), into financial peril.

We cast the popular Argentinian television actor Santiago Achaga as Luis Palau, age 22, when he finally acts on his father’s advice and begins to preach in the streets.

The acclaimed Argentine actor Gastón Pauls plays Luis Palau in his late thirties.

We had limited rehearsal time, but did have a table read with the principle cast, which helped all of us to get to know one another and establish trust.

Argentine casting director Norma Angeleri filled in the rest of our South American cast, including Denise Yañez and Manuel Ramos. Michel Noher was also cast.

In the states we cast Alexandra Bard (The Meanest Man in Texas) as Luis’ wife Pat Palau, Daniel Roebuck (Lost, The Fugitive), Scott Reeves (Nashville), Richard Shelton (My Week With Marilyn), Jim Gleason (Ozark), Jason McDonald (Miracle Workers) and singer and actor Darren Dowler as Billy Graham.

Filming a Two-Hour Movie in 17 Days

Knoblock, far left, directs outdoor scene

In pre-production calls over Skype, our South American crew raised legitimate doubts whether we could shoot a two-hour movie in 17 total days, 14 of them in Argentina. But together with Argentinian Unit Executive Producer Guido Goldberg and Production Supervisor Raimundo Bassano, and my first AD Celina Eslava, we had a chance of pulling it off.

I had storyboarded the entire movie, and we had location photos that I took on numerous scouts that helped me pre-block each scene.

For our interiors, we shot in a church in Buenos Aires and in a massive four-story Victorian mansion called Los Olivos, built in the late 19th century, filled with antiques.  

We needed to find a location for our exteriors that was mostly free from modern touches, and we found it in San Antonio de Areco, a beautiful Spanish colonial town two hours north of Buenos Aires.

I had previously sent my DP Dan Rubottom ‘look books’ on the look I was after. We both love great cinematographers, and mentioned most often the work of Roger Deakins, Emmanuel Lubezki, and Bruno Delbonnel.

We shot with two cameras, an Arri Alexa XT and an Alexa Mini. I shot nearly every dialogue scene with both cameras, which really helped us stay on schedule. We used Cooke prime lenses, and an Angenieux Optimo 24-290 zoom, which also allowed us to move quickly.   

When I wasn’t using the B Camera for a dialogue scene, I would send them out to get landscapes and atmospheric shots. Having directed so many documentaries in many budget ranges over the years, I’ve learned not to let a second camera go to waste.

We had incredible period costumes from the acclaimed Facundo Veiras, impeccable production design from Lorena Llaneza, and hair and makeup from Clarisa Reynoso.

Other than my DP and his 1st assistant camera Brian Aichlmayr, the rest of the crew was Argentinian. Communication was never an issue. Argentina has many talented film and television workers and our crew was outstanding.

Back in the United States, Paul Mills and Zack Leffew composed the score.

It’s A Wrap

Because of the dedication of the cast and crew we able to shoot on time and on our two million-dollar budget.

Writing and directing PALAU was an incredible experience. Just before we started shooting in January 2018 in San Antonio de Areco, we learned that Luis was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. It made the whole team even more determined to bring the best they could to the inspiring story of Luis Palau.  

PALAU opens in theaters on April 4th, 2019, in the U.S., Central America and South America.

Filed under: Directing, Documentary, Filmmaking CareerTagged with: , , , ,

5 Post-Truth Films to Disentangle Your Reality

In mid-2016, a new term swept the journalistic world: ‘Fake News’.

Encouraged by Trump’s corrosive campaigning, the word has become synonymous with divisive politics and a distrust immanent in the modern world. But truth has long been a malleable concept; post-truth is the default. Here are five films that encompass this not-so-new geopolitical phenomenon:


1. Network

Sometimes considered the ultimate satire on mainstream newscasting, Network has earnt a fine vintage in the forty years since its original release. The plot follows a downcast newscaster who, after being informed of involuntary resignation due to low ratings, declares he will commit suicide live on air. The powers that be first aim to stop him, but a promised apology allows him a farewell broadcast.

Instead of any such apology, he breaks into the rant to end all rants. Ratings skyrocket; he’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. However authentic these feelings might seem initially, however, they are co-opted and diluted by the news station until they reach self-parody. Howard Beale’s wretched knell becomes another monetized arm of The Media’s monopoly on truth and dissemination. Anti-establishment becomes establishment.


2. F for Fake

Orson Welles has always had a strange relationship with truth. Even his face, instantly recognizable, is married with falsehood – in all of his films, he bears a false nose. While Citizen Kane might be his Fake News film, it is F For Fake in which truth is delivered a most fatal blow. Here, in a pseudo-documentary, Welles examines the art world, one infested with fakery and mimics. As it happens, the experts are not so expert – they cannot tell a genuine from a mockery.

But further, Welles questions, how much does authenticity matter? Can such a line between real and unreal be drawn in art? Should it? The War of the Worlds was popular culture’s first run-in with Fake News, at Orson’s own behest. His artform, cinema, works by magic and trickery. Editing is the art of misleading an audience, convincing them of an impossible continuity. Post-truth, perhaps, but a celebration more than a denigration.


3. Broadcast News

Sometimes considered Network-lite (or Anchorman 2-heavy), Broadcast News is a film so prescient as to border on dull. It follows the careers of three newscasters – one declining professional, one a young hothead, and the third a little between. What was revelatory or shocking then seems now almost quaint; this satire of informative news morphing into titillating entertainment has long since become reality.

In a climactic moment, we see a news broadcast in which the camera cuts to the young hothead weeping as he hears his interviewee tell of her experience with date rape. The twist: there was only one camera at that interview, meaning his crocodile tears must have been recorded after-the-fact. Oh, the mendacity!


4. Death in Venice

To reel things back a century, Death in Venice is Fake News in print. Visconti’s oblique adaptation of Thomas Mann’s 1912 novella follows a composer at the end of his life, wandering the streets of Venice as plague sweeps the city. Only, according to everyone in Venice, there is no plague. Everything is absolutely fine.

Finding something of a cruel parallel in the modern Venice (which is literally sinking into the ocean), Death in Venice considers closely the lie within and the lie without. The composer must face the truth of his work and sexuality, as apocalypse seems to encurl the world around him. Only with the absurd addendum that no one around seems to acknowledge the truly dire state they find themselves in. Relatable.


5. American Dharma

While 90 minutes with Steve Bannon (adoptive father of post-truth) might not seem an inviting prospect, to understand his mindset is to understand a good deal of the world today. Errol Morris does not couch his interview in political background so much as filmic. He examines Bannon’s favourite films, and finds within them the basis of his ideology.

Of course it would be from cinema, the most compelling unreality, that Bannon would take inspiration. Only instead of convincing everyone that Everything Is Fine, Bannon’s mission is the total opposite. He sees his dharma – his destiny – as to usher in a new era for the world, by any means. With any luck that’ll be Fake News too.

Filed under: Film History, Filmmaking, ScreenwritingTagged with: , , , , , , , , ,