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Chronicle of a Filmmaker

马克·哈里斯纪录片名人工作坊 央视网 2012年07月19日 11:04 A-A+ 二维码
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by Mark Harris 

 

I began making documentaries in the 60s, a time of turbulent social and political upheaval in America. The United States was fighting an unpopular war in Vietnam, which was dividing our country.  We were also fighting a war on poverty at home and trying to come to terms with some of the inequities and injustices in our society.  Blacks were battling for voting and civil rights, farmworkers were striking to unionize, women were demanding equal pay, and college students were staging massive protests to demand changes in higher education.  The invention of the birth control pill was also fomenting a sexual revolution in America. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll, as well as the war in Vietnam, were transforming our country.

 

My early films document some of this social revolution.  My first important documentary, Huelga!, is a record of the first year of the Delano grape strike led by Cesar Chavez, a successful effort to organize mainly Mexican-American farm laborers in California.  My next film was The Redwoods, a short documentary made for the Sierra Club to promote the establishment of a Redwoods National Park.  The film, which won an Oscar for Best Short Documentary, was one of the earliest films of the new environmental movement.  My next film, The Foreigners, looked at student activists working in the Peace Corps trying to improve the lives of the poor in Latin America and discovering that American foreign policy was one of the biggest obstacles to meaningful social change.

 

In the 70s I came to Los Angeles to try to make fiction films about some of these same issues, but by then conditions in America had begun to change, and Hollywood was indifferent if not hostile to the kinds of films I hoped to make.  I retreated to journalism and started writing children’s books and teaching.  I made a few more films in the next two decades, notably The Homefront, a look at the social and political changes that World II brought about in this country, but I did not return fulltime to filmmaking until the 90s.  My interest at this point was, and remains to a great extent, in historical subjects. I made a trilogy of feature films about the impact of the Holocaust on European Jews.  Two of these films, The Long Way Home and Into the Arms of Strangers: Stories of the Kindertransport, won Academy Awards for Best Feature Documentaries.  The third, A Dream No More, was never released.   The Long Way Home examines the three-year-period between the liberation of the concentration camps and the founding of the state of Israel.  Into the Arms of Strangers explores the impact of the Kindertransport, a British rescue operation which saved 10,000 Jewish children from Germany, Austria, andCzechoslovakia in the nine months prior to the start of World War II.  A Dream No More looks at Israel 50 years after its establishment to try to assess its accomplishments and the challenges that it still faces.  Unfortunately, the film was seen as too critical of Israel by its funders and was shelved.

 

I continue to make documentaries about subjects in which I have a strong interest or passionate belief.   Some I write, some I direct, others I produce, or executive produce. One I wrote for HBO, Unchained Memories:  Readings From the Slave Narratives,  was nominated for an Emmy for writing for nonfiction television.  My experience making films about the Holocaust led me to produce Darfur Now, a film about the contemporary humanitarian crisis in Sudan that many have labeled genocide.  Working with victims of the Holocaust sensitized me to the appalling treatment of prisoners of war in our detention centers, which led me to write the recent Doctors of the Dark Side, a documentary about the role of doctors and psychologists in torture in America’s military prisons.  My experience of making The Foreigners in South America was one of the reasons I signed on as executive producer of Living in Emergency:  Stories of Doctors Without Borders, a powerful film directed by Mark Hopkins which was shortlisted for an Academy Award two years ago. I also executive produced Spirit of the Marathon, a film about long distance running. A sequel is in the works.

 

Many of my films deal with the intersection of the personal and the political and explore the impact of the past on our present day behavior.  For the same reason I have long been interested in how childhood shapes our values and actions as adults, which is one of the reasons I am currently leading a team of filmmakers who are creating a comprehensive, video-intensive website about autism, which we hope to launch in 2013.

 

My next feature documentary, which I will write and direct, is about the United Nations. The Last Best Hope will look at both its beginnings after World War II and the challenges it faces today.

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