A Q&A with director Ric Esther Bienstock in advance of her Master Class on October 6, 2015. For tickets, click here.
1. Your films have covered every topic from ebola, the black market trade in human organs, sex trafficking, the business of porn and the magic of Penn and Teller. Do you find your topics or do they find you?
Every film I’ve done has come to me in a different way. I’ve been approached by producers to do some and others are just subjects that intrigued me or piqued my interest. I found Sex Slaves via Penn & Teller! If you want to know how, you’ll have to come to the class ☺
2. You’re perhaps best known for your investigative documentaries and your exploration of controversial issues. What draws you towards this genre?
I think many doc filmmakers are drawn to extreme worlds so it’s not that unusual. I’ve been asked this question many times but only recently did some real thinking about it. My parents were Holocaust survivors but I found it too emotionally difficult to do something about my parents or the Holocaust or anything personal. I always tackle topics that have no personal connection… except for the porn industry (just kidding!). But perhaps that’s why I’ve always been curious about the nature of evil. And when exploring issues like sex trafficking or corruption in the world of professional boxing, I discovered that evil often happens at the hands of very ordinary people. Not always, but often. At the same time a few of my films have had a very light touch, like Ms.Conceptions, The Money Shot, and of course, Penn & Teller. But many documentary makers tackle social issues and injustices and that, by definition, is going to veer off to the dark side.
3. Along with this, do you enjoy stirring up a bit of controversy?
Ha Ha. Who doesn’t like stirring up controversy? But I don’t think my work has been very controversial.
4. At the same time, how do you see documentaries and journalism working/not working together today?
At the risk of sounding obvious, the line between journalism and documentaries is really blurry. A journalist friend of mine was talking to me and said something like “ as a fellow journalist – blah, blah, blah” (I can’t remember the topic) and I immediately responded saying that I’m not a journalist, I’m a filmmaker. Well, he just turned to me and said, “whether you like it or not, you’re a journalist”. And I realized that there are no clear boundaries or definitions. When I have 85 minutes to spend on a topic, then I have more time to tell stories and let things unfold. If you are doing a 5 minute report on a topic, there’s simply no time to explore nuances. This is a complicated topic, so I look forward to unpacking it more with Sean and attendees during the Master Class.
For tickets to our Master Series Class with Ric Esther Bienstock, click here.
Read more about the DOC Institute’s Masters Series.