Opens in Theaters and Launches Globally on Netflix on October 20th
Film Courage: Ladies, I’ve heard you both use the term “Fresh Eyes” and I am wondering what that means in relation to documentary filmmaking and how important that is?
Heidi Ewing: Well, we try to always make our films with fresh eyes. If we can’t get fresh eyes on a film, then we probably won’t make it. Which means that we want to take on subjects that are deeply interesting to us, that we are fascinated by, that we don’t feel like we know everything about. It starts with a really deep curiosity. And we have to go in just asking questions, not with an agenda. So that is what we mean by fresh eyes. Just sort of a brand new perspective where we are listening to what you have to say. We’re not taking any position or judging necessarily. We just want to hear what a character has to say or what a story is. So that is what we mean by fresh eyes.
Film Courage: I was thinking that it relates to your need for feedback on a rough cut or something? So no…it means more as it pertains to you both. Fresh eyes in terms of your curiosity not how someone receiving your rough cut?
Rachel Grady: Oh yes…of course. Well, we do want fresh eyes on that, too. Because you do lose perspective when you are editing. So yes, we like other people’s fresh eyes on our work (to give us feedback). But what Heidi is describing is also you could call it beginner’s mind which is when you have no idea when someone’s answer is going to be. And you should always kind of be in that place. If you already know what people are going to say, you are going to get sick of it. You are going to peter out on the subject matter. So that’s why you want to have the beginner’s mind. If you can maintain it for awhile, you’re going to enjoy making this film. You are going to be curious enough to keep the momentum going.
Film Courage: Going back to curiosity, which is more crucial [to documentary filmmaking], a reluctant topic or maybe not a fully developed subject (for whatever reason)? Or the reverse, a fascinating person but a topic that is more vague and a little bit too broad.
Heidi Ewing: Well, we don’t make films about topics. We are very careful not to come up with a topic and then try to back into it. But it’s important to have subject matter that is rich and has depth, that could be full of surprises and twists and turns but it doesn’t matter if you have an in-depth topic if you don’t have amazing characters to take you on the journey. So really, we look for both. We look for a subject matter that hasn’t been picked over so many times that people think that they know that much about it. You also need these great storytellers, which is part of our casting process is to find those who can articulate a journey or can change over a course of a film and can bring a subject matter to life.
Rachel Grady: I think it would be almost a Venn diagram actually when you put it that way. Which is, if there are both, you make a movie about it, and it’s hard to have both. It’s unusual which is why we make a film every couple of years or so because they don’t come along every minute.
Film Courage: How far into a process with a film do you know if the subject is working? I know you talked about (Heidi) with The Boys of Baraka that you had one subject which seemed more reluctant, but that person was so fascinating that you really wanted to keep up with him.
Heidi Ewing: Yeah…and it was a mistake [laughs].
Film Courage: Okay and I’m sure it was a painful mistake because you probably really wanted that person in the film?
Heidi Ewing: Very much. Dewon…the one that got away. We have learned over a long career that a reluctant subjects are no subjects at all. A reluctant subject only exists in your mind. He or she will never participate or allow you the access that we need in order to make a satisfying film. So we detect very early on by doing test shoots and allowing people to say “Listen, let’s come into your house. Let’s shoot a little bit and see how it feels for both of us.” Because how reluctant or a subject that’s too shy or camera shy or too self-conscious probably won’t get over that and so you have to move on. It can be very, very painful and we don’t really make that mistake too much anymore.
On this film [ONE OF US], we did film several people before we settled on our our final three and one was a reluctant subject that we spent too many days on maybe thinking that he might come around, but he did not, so you keep making those stumbles. Hopefully you spend less and less time on the reluctant subject every film.
Film Courage: Well the three interviews [subjects] that you have [in ONE OF US] for lack of a better word, subjects. Luzer, Ari and Etty and each one of their stories are so amazing.
I want to know, did your Angel investor broach the idea for approaching Footsteps [the non-profit in the documentary] or…
Rachel Grady: No, it wasn’t.
Heidi Ewing: How did you know about the angel investor?
Film Courage: You did a TIFF interview. It was on stage and you talked about…
Heidi Ewing: Oh, yeah… it’s great. You’re very observant. Sorry.
Film Courage: Oh…yeah sorry. It’s one of my faults, too. [Laughs].
Rachel Grady: You know, we were already working on it and that’s another sign that we really want to do something which is when we just start working on something with no funding whatsoever and use all of our own resources and usually when we do that, it works out Once and awhile we’ve had some duds. But typically if we’re as excited enough that we have a subject, a character, and some passion, it happens. And we have a fairly good record with that. And in this case we had just started fishing around and trying to figure out what our story was and casting a bit. And a wonderful woman, Regina Scully gave us our seed money.
Film Courage: So what was the impetus for the idea? You both live in New York City or on the outskirts. Did you see members of the Hasidic community walking around and you were both so intrigued by them? (Watch the video interview on Youtube here).
In their new documentary ONE OF US, acclaimed observational filmmakers Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady (JESUS CAMP, DETROPIA) take a deep and moving look at the lives of three individuals who have chosen to leave the hugely insular world of Hasidic Judaism. The film follows Etty, a mother of seven, as she decides to leave a violent marriage and divorce her husband; Ari, a teenager on the verge of manhood who is struggling with addiction and the effects of childhood abuse; and Luzer, an actor who, despite having found success in the secular world, still wrestles with his decision eight years earlier to leave the Hasidic community. Produced over three years, ONE OF US offers unique and intimate access to the lives of all three as they deal not only with questions of their beliefs but also with the consequences of leaving the only community they have ever known. With their trademark sensitivity and keen interest in the nature of faith, Ewing and Grady chronicle these journeys towards personal freedom that comes at a very high cost.
Watch ONE OF US exclusively on Netflix beginning 10/20/17: