Down River, A Case Study
Film Name: DOWNRIVER
Genre: Short Documentary
Date: April 2020
Director: Flynn Donovan
Producer: Flynn Donovan
Cinematographer: Flynn Donovan
Production Company: Fancy Fox
Financing: Kindness of friends
World Premiere: Global Non-Violent Film Festival
Awards: Best Editing’ at the Global Nonviolent Film Festival, plus 3 semifinalists, 1 finalist, 8 award winners, 2 selected.
I have a background in fine art (painting). I worked as a film editor until I was hired as an assistant camera on a 3-month shoot to South America. I fell in with a group of Swedish filmmakers and hired on as a freelance cinematographer. This alliance proved extremely rewarding. I worked extensively on industrial, ethnographic, and fundraising films. This spanned a 30 year period.
indieactivity: What is your film about?
Flynn Donovan (FD): The title of my short documentary is DOWN RIVER. I already had an extensive background in documentary filmmaking. It is a form I am most comfortable with. I shoot a high ratio of material so as not to have any regrets in the editing room.
I CHOSE to produce this film because of my interest in the working man. I have made several short docs on this very same subject; one on a quarry worker in southern Peru and another short doc on coffee workers shot in Puerto Rico.
Tell us about your personal experience making the film?
Flynn Donovan (FD): When I am working with the camera (because of extensive experience) I move quietly, respectfully, never interrupting the flow of the action before me. I am able to instill confidence and trust.
What is the source of the idea for the film?
FD: With several directors, I have logged approximately 5 years filming in jungles and on rivers. It is always the vegetation and the river that is most prominent and of course the wildlife. One of the things that most impressed me was the river and what it meant to the people; both for travel and for fishing. I think way back then I felt there was something magical going on that I wanted to capture somehow.
FD: I have this nugget, this idea. I need a river, a big river and I need men going out days (sometimes weeks) on end to load their fishing boats. What worried me was the little money I had to work with. I needed more money. There was always the unforeseen. I’d be filming on the water. What if we capsized? I would be doing this alone. Not that I was scared to be alone but sometimes it would be nice to have someone watch my back. So easy to get robbed. Lose the chance to make something.
Document Amazon fishermen fishing. Once I arrived at my destination (Pucallpa, Peru) I allowed a few days to get my bearings. I hung out on the river. My camera remained hidden in my backpack. Then one day while ambling on the waterfront I happened to see many men carrying large ice blocks and loading them one by one onto long wooden workboats. Of course, this spurred my interest and I approached a group of fishermen to ask them what the ice was for. They explained that it was used to preserve the fish that they hauled into their boats.
In the actual filming, the motherload of the material was shot over a period of a week. Then there were cutaways, many of them to help in the editing.
FD: The scene I was most concerned about was the moment when the fishermen hauled the 2-ton catch into the boat. This worried me because I was the only one shooting and I desperately needed another cameraman to cover what I couldn’t cover. It seems my prayers were answered when another longboat pulled up. I quickly asked the boat owner if he would guide his boat so that I could get better cover shots. He gracefully helped me out. Fortunately, I am fluent in Spanish. We then returned to where the 5 men were busy hauling the purse net.
How did you achieve the look of the film?
FD: I am used to working fast and under extreme conditions. In the case of DOWN RIVER, there was very little room to work and the boat was extremely slippery. Much of the time I was just this side of being off balance. My experience and the good camera did the rest.
What do you still struggle with as an independent filmmaker?
FD: Like so many of us, passing the hat around gets old very fast. I loathe asking for money and I’m not very good at it. It took me over a year to raise enough money for DOWN RIVER. I know I can’t go back to those generous souls to ask for more.
What is your major strength as a filmmaker?
FD: I am a good listener. I am very observant and people don’t feel threatened by me. I move easily and quietly in crowds. My eye for composition is very good.
What do you think audiences will take away from watching Down River?
FD: I believe my films have a certain signature. All of them draw the audience in. The subjects and people I choose to be in front of the camera often are the invisible ones, the ones that too often don’t get a pat on the back. I am very drawn to these people. I admire their hard work, I try to dignify their lives by showing others.
What project do you have in the works?
FD: A short dramatic screenplay titled SEA LILLIES. I want to try my hand at directing actors.
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