Interview with Long Nights Journey into Day filmmaker, Frances Reid
What generally inspires you as a documentary filmmaker?
I am inspired by Humanity at its best. I am inspired by people of good-will working with compassion, humor, and honesty to create justice and to bridge divides. These people do this with an understanding that there are no simple answers and that everything is usually more complex than we think which is what makes life and documentary filmmaking so interesting and daunting and maddening and wonderful.
When and how did you decide to undertake this project?
In 1997, after hearing stories of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, I was moved by what was happening there.
What were your goals in making Long Nights Journey into Day? What would you like a viewer to understand after seeing the film and what would you like to see happen with the film?
Our goals were to tell a story that was universal. We wanted to tell a story that people in the United States could relate to as well as people in South Africa or anywhere in the world. All of us have had the experience in some way of being wronged or of doing wrong to others. How do we cope with those experiences? We wanted to make a film that would spark viewers to think about and have conversations about how they face those issues in their own lives, in their families, in their communities, and in their nations.
What were some of the difficulties and challenges you experienced in making this film? When filming, how do you hold your emotions back when you see injustice or suffering?
We made seven trips to South Africa over a two year period. It was difficult to organize (long distance, ten time zones away) our shoots to be in South Africa for particular hearings, the schedules for which could change at the last second. We took several trips only to arrive and find that a hearing had been postponed for weeks. By far the biggest challenge was the emotional exhaustion of filming such wrenchingly painful stories. The entire country of South Africa was going through this experience. We at least had the luxury of returning home between shoots and being able to emotionally regroup. You know it's bad when coming home to fundraise feels relaxing!
Did your initial theories or feelings towards the subject change during filming? If so, how or in what ways? How do you incorporate (or ignore) those changes into the filmmaking experience?
We started this project knowing very little about the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. We just knew we were inspired by the stories we were hearing in the media here. It was not until we got to South Africa that we truly began to understand what the TRC was about and how it was viewed by many South Africans. As we talked with people we were not surprised to learn that many were angry about the idea of amnesty being given to those who had committed human rights violations, or about the fact that those who had been "fighting the good fight" against apartheid were also expected to come before the TRC if they had committed human rights violations. Many others completely accepted the idea of the TRC and just wanted to know what had happened to a loved one who had disappeared at the hands of the Apartheid security forces. As the story became increasingly complex, we incorporated those complexities into our filmmaking, while maintaining our initial vision of showing a nation and a people grappling with the heights and depths of their humanity.
What are you currently working on or what would you like to be working on?
Most recently we returned to South Africa for a month to teach a course on documentary filmmaking to anti-Apartheid activists and ex-combatants many of whom were in exile during the years of Apartheid. We are now searching for ways to integrate documentary film into the new South Africa. Course participants were eager to acquire video documenting skills in order to do visual history projects in their communities. One of the consequences of making Long Night's Journey into Day is the permanent sense of community we now feel with South Africa, so it has been wonderful have a way to continue our connection there.