Filmmaker Katherine Brooks embraces the unpredictability of life, and is not afraid to incorporate that philosophy into her work, whether it is in her features like “Loving Annabelle” and “Waking Madison,” or the multiple reality TV series (back when there was some honesty and integrity in the genre) on which she built her reputation like MTV’s “The Real World” or “The Osbournes.”
As reality TV has devolved into emotionally manipulating entertainment revolving around orange faced club hoppers and various not so amazing races, Brooks has turned her focus in the other direction. Her passion for documentaries, to delve into real storytelling, is not something she takes lightly.
She is currently filming “Face 2 Face,” a documentary which follows her on a journey across the U.S. as she tries to make real life connections with the first 50 people who agreed to meet her through Facebook. It is a sign of the times; Brooks had 5,000 Facebook friends but had not had a hug in more than a month. It seems that the human condition is now divided between who we know in real life, and whether that translates through the Internet.
Film Slate Magazine caught up with Brooks while she was on a three day break from filming. She was at her Louisiana home, gearing up for the second part of her trip, which will eventually end in Los Angeles, the city which was her destination when she left home as a teenager who dreamed of making her mark in the film industry.
Film Slate Magazine: When you came up with this idea, was it strictly the first person that said, yes, you were going to meet them, or was there some sort of plan that you had to formulate to make the documentary?
Katherine Brooks: When I came up with the idea, I just wrote in my status update on Facebook, I said the first 50 people who say yes, I’m coming to you and once I had the 50 people I just had Triple A formulate the most convenient route (chuckles).
FSM: Do you think that this will anger the Internet gods, trying to actually get some human interaction out of the Internet and Facebook?
KB: Well, I think what I’ve learned about it is that because a lot of people said to me at first, they’re like, you’re basically promoting not doing social media and having more human interaction. And I quickly said no, because if you think about it I’m using the Internet to connect more and that’s kind of been my whole message through it because you have people that are completely addicted to social media and use that as an outlet to connect, and I don’t think that’s healthy.
But I do believe you can use social media to enhance and make greater connections. So I’m kind of going at it with that approach. So I don’t think I’ll anger the Internet gods because I’m not putting a bad name on Facebook; I’m kind of saying hey this is a great opportunity to meet more people and have greater connection and not just have it as like you know an online social tool.
FSM: Well, I always thought that this was the original intent of a lot of these things, to help people communicate more and help people see other people face to face more, and then the opposite happened, so something like this may awaken in some people’s mind that you can use it in a healthy way, and like you said, to use it to communicate, but also use it to see people face to face.
KB: I think that we’ve come–and this is just what I’ve learned from my own experience of where I was before I started the journey–I think the reason I love documentaries is it’s so real and raw and personal. And I have found that I have a lot in common with these people that I’ve met; that I have become sort of very isolated from human contact and with utilizing my Facebook page as a substitution for connecting. And I think it was because I have become very afraid of other people and I don’t know if that is what’s going on in the world or the news, or what, but I was just having a hard time trusting people and I wasn’t putting myself out there to connect with people because I have fear, you know.
And it’s funny, I asked a week ago on my Facebook, I said who do you guys trust more: your pets or people? And out of all the responses–I think I probably had a hundred–only two people said humans. And I thought to myself that’s really sad because we’re the same species, we’re supposed to be there for each other and support each other and help each other but it seems like we’re all scared to connect deeply with one another because we’ve all been hurt. We’ve all been lied to, or people are two-faced or… So I think that hopefully this movie because what it’s doing to me is inspiring me. You know what? People aren’t that bad and there are people that you can share stuff with that aren’t going to hurt you, that are going to comfort you so it’s been a great experience. I’m hoping the movie will get people to want to go out and meet people more face to face.
FSM: When you started doing this, did you assume that people were representing themselves honestly or did you go into these things saying, they may or may not be who they say they are?
KB: Well, I did think that was a possibility, but I really went into it like this: I am a director, but part of me really wanted to be psychologist before I became a director, and I’m really intrigued by human behavior. And what I found interesting was that the people that I did meet that did seem to have a false representation of themselves on Facebook…I spend the whole day with these people, so when I met these people at first I was very thrown off but after talking to them and asking them questions and trying to get to the root of why would you do this, why would you misrepresent yourself, I learned about them and they really became vulnerable and shared with me why they are the way they are. I think that that can ultimately help other people that are kind of…because you create this image that’s different than who you are because you’re insecure and you don’t like who you are. And so the people that I’ve met that have done that have been completely honest about why, so maybe that will help other people that are stuck in that.
FSM: A lot of your narrative films deal with the human condition, the mental aspect of things as well, the differences between doing personal research on that order as opposed to going out and meeting real people, what have you found out in that regard?
KB: Well I think that in a documentary you’re living it and discovering it and capturing it, but when I do my narratives I’m researching, is sort of interviewing, and then capturing. It’s crazy, because it is my experience that the camera is through me in my experience but discovering these things in the moment which is very jolting emotionally. It’s a real rollercoaster where when you’re doing it narratively, it’s almost like a barrier; it’s safe, because it’s not real in many ways. You’re working with actors and you’ve already done your research and you have 75 people around you supporting your vision and here I am doing it with one other person shooting me and seeing all this stuff sort of bubble to the surface as I’m standing right there. It’s jolting, as an artist and as just a human being.
FSM: Do you ever see yourself going back to reality TV in any way?
KB: No, not unless…People already have already approached me and asked me if I would turn this into a reality show and the thing is, is that, when you were saying about spinning out of control, that’s what I find what happens in life and also what happened with reality TV is people latch onto something and they basically murder it. They spin it so out of control that they destroy it, because the authenticity and the beauty that goes into the concept of an idea or a product or a project when it becomes commercialized and it becomes about money we just destroy the nature of what it started out as.
So the only way that I would ever go back to reality is if it was 100% what I felt like reality was in the beginning, true documentary that was going for mainstream, because if you look at how film is set up, even if you look at the theaters, 98%, 99% of movies are narrative–they’re not documentaries. But people like Oprah Winfrey, who now has the O Network whose doing the documentary series–she is trying to do for documentaries what she did for her book club. And I think that documentaries are going to become the next wave, so if we can implement documentaries back into TV and make it like a documentary series then I would totally do it but it wouldn’t feel, I wouldn’t say it was a reality show, I would say it was more of a doc series. If you tell anyone on the street I’m working on a reality show, they’re going to automatically think like wigs being pulled out, girls gone wild, f–king housewives of New York, all that crap…
FSM: What are you looking forward to on the second half of your trip, or are the preconceived notions out the window now—if there were any before?
KB: If I reflect on the first half of the journey, the first 4,500 miles, everything has been so unexpected. Any ideas that I had that I thought would be, have proven me wrong, so I’m looking forward to, I’m actually looking forward to being in Los Angeles again, because I ran away from home when I was really young and went to Los Angeles with these big aspirations and dreams and ended up being homeless and just having a really tough time.
And now, I’m making the same road trip journey that I did when I was 16 years old, and I’m so different now and I’ve learned so much and I’m just really looking forward to how it’s going to feel making the journey and being able to capture that on film and just feeling what it feels like now to go back and experience it now that I’m sort of finally living my dreams since I struggled so hard to make them happen.