Sean Dunne es un prolífico documentalista estadounidense que, en menos de diez años, ha realizado 9 cortos, 1 medio y 2 largometrajes. En la edición pasada de la Revista docuCaribe publicamos una reseña de Florida Man (2015), su trabajo más reciente, donde también hacemos una breve apreciación sobre el resto de su obra.
Justo esta semana pasada tuvimos la oportunidad de conversar con Dunne sobre la evolución de su particular acercamiento hacia el cine documental.
Jean: You had a live screening of Cam Girlz yesterday, right?
Sean: Yeah. We had one last night in Los Angeles and we have another one tonight in San Diego.
Jean: For the past 7 or so years your films are mainly shown and distributed through the Internet. It feels a little odd to think about them in a live setting.
Sean: Yes it does. It feels odd because, and I was saying this last night, “This is so weird!” For years I’ve been making films for the Internet and for an Internet audience and I still consider myself that. I don’t have dreams of being a big director with theatrical releases or anything like that. So yeah, it’s been really weird for me to kind of go and then sit with these people that are like you, that have known my work for so long but I don’t know who they are. I don’t usually show my films like this, it’s weird.
Jean: Especially when you realize that Cam Girlz, specifically, it’s about people on the Internet and about a very individual experience, both from the cam girls side and from the spectator’s side. Everyone is usually alone in front a computer screen, as opposed to the more communal viewing event that you had yesterday. How do you think the film plays differently in that live context?
Sean: It’s interesting because I think all the films I’ve made are different and I’ve been able to show each one of them in a public, you know in like a big theater, one time or another. And I feel this one plays better than most of them because I feel it’s the kind of thing where you almost need permission from an audience member to laugh at certain things. So, we were noticing bigger laughs and bigger emotions than I would have ever expected. We put that stuff in there for a purpose, and that stuff was there for a reason, but I just didn’t expect that kind of reaction.
Jean: You said that the audience sometimes feels that they need permission and that’s something, I think, is prevalent in most of your other films. The fact that you are documenting people who are on the outskirts of the mainstream suggests an element of distance; for lack of a better term. Maybe some people would think the films are making fun of the Other or, even if it’s obviously not your intention, some audiences would still use it as an excuse to do so. I think that characteristic it’s mostly present in Florida Man, your other 2015 release, which straddles the line. Yet, that’s precisely what I think makes it interesting.
Sean: What I’m trying to do, especially with Florida Man which is the most recent film I’ve made and probably the biggest reflection of where I’m headed moving forward, is depicting reality in a way that it actually happens. Even though I’m not making fun of “them” as a filmmaker, it’s depicting people in a way that says it’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to be there with these guys. These guys know they’re being funny, they’re natural storytellers and we’re just given them a platform. There’s really no other agenda besides that. With all these films I think that some people, maybe before they see them, tend to think it’s all black and white, like “it’s funny or it’s not”, “it’s poignant or it’s not” or “it works or it doesn’t”. But what I’m trying to do with all these projects is holding a mirror up to the audience. They’re meant for you to dig around with what your emotions are about this particular subject matter that we happen to be covering.
Jean: When you say that Florida Man is more like what you plan to do in the future, what do you mean by that?
Sean: I mean making films that aren’t necessarily about one thing, that aren’t issue driven films, that are more character driven. Films that are just digging around for something that has to do more with the human condition than righting wrongs, if that makes any sense. I think there’s a tendency in documentaries to have a very subject-based approach. To me, Florida Man isn’t about one thing. It’s about everything and nothing all at once. I really want to get looser with my filmmaking and just kind of allow us to take us places as opposed to us taking it places.
Jean: You talk about the current documentary norm that you think is too issue driven, or that that’s what a general audience maybe expects, but are there other documentaries right now, or that you’ve seen throughout your life, that are more in line with your vision of documentary film?
Sean: A lot people send me their stuff and it’s usually people that are in their early 20s. I’m 33 years old, though many who watch my stuff are in their teens and twenties. When they send me their work what I see is not necessarily the full fruition of it all happening, but I see the seed. I think these voices would emerge, but I think it’s from another generation, it’s not my generation. The people younger than me are looking at documentary way differently than I did then. When I got into documentary I had to decondition myself. I came up in a time when documentaries were very cookie-cutter and it was very much by the book. You didn’t break the rules. It wasn’t till I saw the films of Errol Morris, I guess, that I thought “Oh, documentaries could be cool, they could be about whatever”. I’m really committed to that, and I really want to take that and run with it. It’s a beautiful medium and it’s the people’s medium. Anybody nowadays is documentarian; they could take out their phone and capture human interaction. It’s a beautiful thing and more people should be doing it; those voices should be nurtured.
Jean: Did you study film?
Sean: Yeah, but I didn’t do anything hands on. I studied film history and criticism so I never learned anything hands on in college. I just watched a lot of films and wrote about them. I specialized in feminist film theory. I graduated in 2003 and I’m actually grateful. That was right at the time that it was obvious that film would become obsolete, so all the hands on tools that I could have learned would have soon become useless. I came up in a time that was kind of the wild west of filmmaking and what I’m trying to do is run with that. What I came out of college with wasn’t necessarily any kind of technical experience, but I learned the language of cinema. It’s taken me 10 years and I feel I’m really starting putting that into practice. These films are all an exercise; they’re all just me trying things. I’m going to be doing this for a long time and I’m going to be making many films over the course of my career. We’re hopefully not being too precious about any visual project and more having it be a reflection, a representation of what we’re thinking about artistically at that point.
Jean: Do you think that in the future it would still be mainly documentaries for you?
Sean: Yeah. I’m not using documentary as a means to get into the scripted world or into narrative films. I mean, not that I’m avoiding those projects but I am a documentarian first and foremost. This is what I’m devoting my life to and I think it’s the most beautiful medium of art known to man, to be able to point a camera at each other and help spread understanding and acceptance. I just don’t know that there’s a higher purpose I could serve here, so I’m going to really stick to documentary for now.
Jean: When you go out in the field, to put it in a common term, how do you think about the role of yourself as a character in the films?
Sean: That’s a very astute question. I appreciate you for asking me that because I do have a role in the films and any filmmaker that says he or she doesn’t is not really making films, they’re just doing things. My role varies in each one. For example, Florida Man and Cam Girlz are great companion pieces because you can see two ends of the spectrum of what I’m thinking about.
Cam Girlz was something that, from the minute we thought of it, was obvious that I shouldn’t be a part of it or I shouldn’t be as big a part of it. My part in the whole thing is going to be creating the cohesive artistic thread that takes us through it, but not hearing my voice and not interjecting my opinions or anything like that. I really really wanted and needed Cam Girlz to come off like it was in the voice of the women. I think that was the most appropriate thing to do and I think they deserved that.
Something like Florida Man I’m very literally all over that place. I’m physically in it in the background, there was no hiding and you hear me interject the questions. That was the one where we took a way looser approach and we thought that not only I’m in the film, Sean the director, but we’re all in it. The sound guy was going to be in the movie, Isaac our cameraman was going to be in the movie, Cass the producer is going to be in the movie. That film is meant to allow the audience this glimpse into the world and the landscape that is Florida, but it’s also meant to peel back the curtain a little about what we do and shed some light on the filmmaking and artistic process behind the whole thing and the absurdity of it all. That really was something I wanted to come across in that film, the realities and the absurdities of making documentaries with very little agenda. When I am in the films, and when I am a bigger part of the films, it’s all a little bit of more of the glimpse of the host that’s taking you on this journey. That’s all I think of it as.
Jean: And do you think of it as an author? I mean, the auteur theory is usually applied only to fictions but I think a documentary is always very personal.
Sean: It absolutely is and, you know, in a lot of ways more than a narrative film. When I’m out doing a documentary the people are reacting to me, so whatever I’m putting into the universe I’m getting back to me in a lot of ways.
Documentaries and documentarians should be given more credit for their authorship. More than any other medium, it’s reflecting the director because you’re only going to get out of your subjects what you’re putting out there in the universe. I know that sounds kind of a hippie thing to say but it’s true.
Jean: Do you consider your general approach to filmmaking to be somewhat hippie, as you said now?
Sean: It’s funny because me being a punk rocker is what drove me to getting into this, and the attitude towards this that I have, but since I’ve doing this and since I started connecting to people through this medium I have become a hippie. Also I’ve started meditating and taking psychedelic mushrooms. Those things have helped me open up creatively and spiritually. A lot of growth in the past two and a half years, so if you want to call me a hippie that’s cool.
Jean: While you’re talking about how you were more punk rocker at the beginning of your career and how now you may have a more hippie minded approach, I’m thinking of how your earlier movies were more character profiles and your most recent works aren’t about any one particular person but more about places or larger themes and feelings. How do you feel that evolution went, from the character driven pieces like The Archive (2008) or The Bowler (2010) to these more communal films that you’re doing now?
Sean: I think what happened, what you’ve seen and what you’re still seeing, is me learning. Those were very approachable films for the resources and skills I had at the time. I learned from those experiences and the things that I’ve became interested in getting across in my documentaries started to expand as my skills expanded. I think the Juggalo film really helped because that was a psychedelic experience in itself. Being at the “Gathering of the Juggalos” and approaching that as if there’s no main character, like they all together are the main character, was a unique challenge for us at the time but now it’s little bit like a hallmark of my work. The reason for it is that I wanted to do these beautiful mosaics of segments of society and not necessarily get the viewer hung up on just the individual, that they wouldn’t think this a is just a person that they could compartmentalize and write off.