Film Courage: Going back to curiosity, which is more crucial [to you as filmmakers]? An interesting topic but a reluctant or not so fully developed subject (for whatever reason)? Or the reverse, a fascinating person but a topic that is more vague and little bit too broad?
Heidi Ewing: Well, we don’t make films about topics. We’re 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 it could be full of surprises and twists and turns, but it doesn’t matter if you have that 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 subject matter that hasn’t been picked over so many times that people think that they know that much about it. And you also need these great storytellers, which is part of our casting process, to find those who can articulate a journey or can change over the course of a film and 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, we 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 the process of the film do you know if the subject working? I know Heidi you’d talked previously about with [their film] The Boys of Baraka that you had one subject that seemed more reluctant but that person appeared so fascinating that you really wanted to keep up with it [the filming].
Heidi Ewing: Yeah…it was a mistake.
Film Courage: Okay…and I’m sure that was a painful mistake because I’m sure you really wanted that person in the film?
Heidi Ewing: Very much, Dewon. The one the got away.
We have learned over a long career that 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 and see how it feels for both of us?” Because a reluctant or a subject that is too shy or camera shy or too self-conscious probably won’t get over that and so you have to move on. And it can be very, very painful and we don’t really make that mistake too much anymore.
On this film [ONE OF US documentary] we did film several people before we settled on our final three and one was a reluctant subject that we spent a couple, 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.
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: