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by Lauren Wissot
Taking place on a Saturday afternoon in the lobby of The Durham Hotel, “Framing the Conversation: Stanley Nelson” was the final panel discussion in a series of A&E IndieFilms Speakeasy chats at this year’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. (Though the festival itself is an arm of the Center for Documentary Studies at the prestigious Duke University, these always informative, free-to-the-public, laidback talks have been the 22-year-old Full Frame’s secret weapon for close to a decade.) In town to interview Nelson, the down-to-earth founder of Firelight Media, a recipient of both the MacArthur “Genius Grant” and a National Humanities Medal from President Obama, and a filmmaker whose over three-decade career now includes his latest for PBS’s “American Masters” series Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, was Nancy Buirski, herself an award-winning filmmaker (The Loving Story, The Rape of Recy Taylor) and the founder of Full Frame.
Buirski - Miles - Davis - Birth - Cool
Buirski began by noting that Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool seemed to mark a departure from the rest of Nelson’s oeuvre as it doesn’t deal explicitly with social justice and the African-American experience. Which also prompted her to wonder, “Are you an activist filmmaker?” Nelson shook his head, responding that he’s a filmmaker first, an activist second. Then he added that he’s never really thought of himself as an activist (just a filmmaker “interested in certain things”). “If I were I’d have done a lot better job,” he laughed. He reminded Buirski that the filmmaking process is often long and difficult, which is why he only takes on projects that are important to him. Two Dollars and A Dream, his first doc, took seven years to make. The second, The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords, another seven years. Those two films accounted for a huge chunk of his life, spanning a...
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Measuring his life out one teaspoon at a time.