Lynne Stopkewich has had a distinguished career in feature films, documentaries and TV. While it’s clear that she’s deeply immersed herself in the issues that surround this project, what has most impressed me about her work is its powerful and distinct visual style. Easy-going and thoughtful, she spoke with me over the phone from her home in Vancouver.
What’s your approach to working on this project?
Part of what I’ve been trying to do with this project is to really get the viewer inside the experience of the individual who’s being portrayed. I think it’s interesting to use cinematic language to challenge and widen the viewer’s experience of an individual’s personal story – that’s really my goal with this project.
How did you apply that approach to the film about Mr. MadDogg?
MadDogg is known to be a talented trap-liner (someone who collects recyclable cans for the refund) and initially I thought it could be interesting to strap a camera to him when he made his rounds. It might give a sense of how he sees the world and how the world sees him by virtue of the fact that it would, in effect, put the viewer in his body.
But that’s not what we see. How come?
I also wanted to show him in his community so we filmed him making brunch – which was only supposed to be a small part of the film. But the night we were going to film him trap-lining, he was quite sick and couldn’t go out. So I asked him if he would be willing to do an audio interview and that’s how the film ended up being a voiceover of his thoughts coupled with his work in the kitchen.
Even though the camera isn’t attached to him, we feel like we’re with MadDogg, not watching him. How did you accomplish this?
It’s in the nature of this project that you have to be really flexible and roll with things as they come. In this case, MadDogg didn’t want us to reveal his identity on camera so we avoided his face. But I think that constraint, in a way, helps viewers identify with him more easily because you really end up focussing on what he’s saying and doing.
Does MadDogg like the film?
I’m happy to say that MadDogg is pleased with the film. I think he liked the fact that it shows that things are never black and white in anyone’s life. For my part, I wanted to convey a feeling of the man – his sense of humour and his insight and poetic way with words. I hope that comes through.
What are your thoughts about the role the filmmaking process plays in the lives of the participants?
I’m very cautious around the documentary process because for me it has to be a positive experience for the participants and it’s very hard to control that. It’s been a long time since I worked in documentary format largely because it’s very daunting and it’s a huge responsibility. You don’t know how the participants are going to feel about the finished film now, or five years from now when their lives may be very different.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
It’s ironic that this documentary project is living online because many of the people in the At Home program don’t go online frequently. Most don’t have computers or wireless in their homes or rooms – it’s too expensive. And there are usually line-ups at publicly accessed computers, etc. So towards the end of the project, I’m hoping to screen all the films for the Participants because it may be the only way they’ll get a chance to see them.
Stopkewich’s acclaimed 1996 feature film debut, Kissed, firmly established her as a leading voice in Canadian film. She has since gone on to direct episodes of the L Word, Da Vinci’s Inquest and This Is Wonderland. Her 2001 documentary Lilith on Top chronicled the final year of Sarah McLachlan’s Lilith Fair concert tour.
When researching this project, Lynne was inspired by the work of Elliot Rausch. Here are links to some of his films.
Last Minutes with Oden http://vimeo.com/34926986
My Yia Yia http://vimeo.com/14194367
This Kingdom http://vimeo.com/17174656
Five Hours with Woody http://vimeo.com/14047489