It is a simple but effective premise. Who better to talk with documentary filmmakers in an informed, passionate way than an informed, passionate documentary filmmaker herself? That is the concept behind “Bring Your Own Documentary” (“BYOD”), the online show hosted by filmmaker Ondi Timoner and Vladimir Radovanov, an entertainment attorney and entrepreneur who has worked in several capacities in the film business.
Timoner is the only person to win the Sundance Grand Jury Prize twice, for her 2004 film “Dig!” and her 2009 film “We Live in Public,” (on which Radovanov served as executive producer) which seems even more prescient now than when it was released three years ago. Her filmmaking resume stretches back nearly two decades, and in addition to “Dig!” and “We Live in Public,” includes “Join Us” (2007) and “Cool It” (2010).
Launched last fall on TheLip.tv, “BYOD” combines the unique perspectives of Timoner and Radovanov as they discuss topics that are important to filmmakers and people who see documentaries as a way to view our world at large. The show focuses not just on the films and filmmakers themselves, but often delves into different areas of the business, such as legal issues and distribution. A wide variety of guests stop by “BYOD,” from first time filmmakers who are looking to make an impact on the world to veterans of the industry such as Werner Herzog.
Through their connections to the material and the filmmakers, Timoner and Radovanov make “BYOD” a unique viewing experience. Documentary filmmakers are often swept under the rug in comparison to their narrative counterparts when it comes to exposure. The show, however, does not just aim to promote a particular filmmaker’s latest venture; as Timoner puts it, they are “curators” of the form and are hoping to spark further discussions while “BYOD” brings to light the bodies of work of documentarians. The platform and format make “BYOD” unique as well; the show uses the Internet to reach out to filmmakers and followers of documentaries in a way that traditional TV does not.
Film Slate Magazine caught up with Timoner while she was at the Tribeca Film Festival and “BYOD” was shooting a special at the festival. While there was a constant swirl of activity around Timoner, it was clear that her passion in discussing “BYOD” and the way we view documentary films was at the forefront of her mind.
Film Slate Magazine: The first thing I would ask is what was the inspiration for ‘BYOD,’ and how did this project come about?
Ondi Timoner: I had been talking about doing a show about documentaries and their impact on pop culture for a couple of years now and I think my friend Vlad heard me talking about that and knew I was trying to put together a show…but it didn’t ultimately come together and we all just got distracted. And then he came to me, Vlad did, about around last October and he had been approached by Michael Lustig of TheLip.tv to do a show about documentaries and would I be interested in hosting it? And I said, ‘Well…if I could produce it too, because I have a lot of ideas for the content and the way it should be structured.’
So Michael was totally cool—is totally cool–and we had a great meeting, and he said, ‘Yeah, go for it.’ So we’ve been doing it ever since.
FSM: And it’s a pretty wide range of documentary filmmakers, from guys like Mark MacInnis (director of “Urban Roots,” a film about urban farming in Detroit—ed.), who was waiting tables to fund his movie to some of the heavyweights of the industry. Was that something you wanted to do from the beginning, was to find that range?
OT: Well, no not necessarily. I feel like we can see the world through documentaries, every aspect of it. And somebody like Mark, who was a first time filmmaker, made such a stellar debut film, about such an important subject matter, about something nobody knows… we didn’t know about urban farming before watching that film. I felt like it deserved its own episode.
We’re sort of curators; we’re almost like festival programmers, except we’re a show online. It’s important for me to get people like Les Blank, Werner Herzog, Frederick Wiseman, some of these legends, in the can, make sure that they’re archived, in a really in-depth, really good conversation. I think that’s going to be important for all of us in years to come. I think we’re doing a service in that way, and it’s really great to have people like Dan [Lindsay] and T.J. [Martin], a week after they’ve won the Oscar, coming out of nowhere with ‘Undefeated,’ having no idea that they’d ever even be at the Oscars, much less win. And then they’ve made this really poignant portrait of this football team.
Again, no matter whether you’re Les Blank, or Dan and T.J. or Mark, you’re making documentaries because there’s something in the real world that you’re ready to dedicate years of your life…You’ve got to have a lot of passion. It’s almost like joining a tribe. There’s a common thread…in the tenacity and spirit in documentary filmmakers. We make good subjects…because we actually become these stories.
FSM: Plus, it gives you a different setting to talk about it as well. As opposed to a discussion that could go off the tracks, it’s nice that you can sit down for an hour or whatever it is, and just discuss film and filmmaking and how important a documentary might be.
OT: Yeah. And Vlad brings the other perspective, which is the business side and the legal side, and also chimes in with some really good questions. He comes in with another perspective which I think is really important. And we’re good friends now for 20 years—his older sister is my best friend from college—we’re like family, and you can see that in the dynamic of the show too. I think everybody feels really comfortable and most people leave there saying that it’s one of the most fun and enjoyable interviews they’ve ever had in their lives.
The other thing that’s special about our show is we don’t just promote films that are coming out like your average show. I’ve been on the other side most of the time, and I show up to these shows and the host has been charged with asking questions in the next 10 minutes, because my movie is going to hit theaters or whatever. And they don’t know jack—they don’t know anything about my film necessarily, other than what they read in the press notes.
Some of those we do, some films we help to promote, we’ve brought people on the week their film is coming out. We’ll end the show with like five minutes of, ‘here’s a filmmaker and their film is in theaters Thursday,’ but mostly our show is really about stories and what is going on with that filmmaker.
FSM: Any final thoughts about ‘BYOD?’
OT: No, we’re just trucking along with ‘BYOD,’ we’re just getting ready to shoot the opening for our Tribeca special. We have a lot of exciting guests coming up. One special episode that we’ll be having will be covering Fair Use, which is extremely important for anybody making films today, and is a very controversial area of discussion because Fair Use is really important. We can’t tell stories without it.
So Michael Donaldson, the lawyer who actually broke Fair Use is going to be on the show and we’ll go through examples of how it was used effectively or not. So we’ll get into some of that, too. Not just filmmakers, but people that surround us that are important to us, who allow us to do what we do.
To watch episodes of ‘BYOD,’ click the link below: