Most filmmakers are encouraged to identify and pursue the target audience for their work. Veteran documentary maker David MacDougall cheerfully disregards that maxim.
“I don't believe in making films for a ‘target audience’ because I've seen from my own experience that many different kinds of people can respond to the same film if it is sufficiently rich in content and well enough made,” says MacDougall, who will present a screening of his work at the Australian Documentary Forum at AFTRS on September 18.
“We can't predict who will see our films, and the audiences for them are likely to shift over time as well.“
That unconventional approach has sustained a lengthy career for MacDougall, a Professor at ANU’s Research School of Humanities & the Arts, who won the London Royal Anthropological Institute’s Special Award for Lifetime Achievement this year.
The US-born MacDougall began his career in east Africa, filming cattle, camel and goat herders. His first film, To Live with Herds, won the Grand Prix “Venezia Genti” at the Venice Film Festival in 1972.
Often collaborating with his wife Judith MacDougall, he has made films in Uganda, Kenya, Europe, Australia and India, focusing on people in diverse situations and cultures.
At Ozdox he will screen and discuss two films. Ghandi’s Children follows 350 boys, orphans or those abandoned by their families, who live in Prayas Children's Home in New Delhi.
Delhi at 11 looks at four films by 11-year-old filmmakers which resulted from a video workshop conducted by MacDougall last year in a primary school in New Delhi as part of the Childhood and Modernity Project supported by the ANU and the Australian Research Council.
MacDougall has made several films with TV funding but also taps into foundation grants, fellowships, and funding for academic research. “These days, with digital video, it's possible to make films much more cheaply than when we were working in 16mm,” he says. “I can do it on a modest academic research budget. The last television co-production I made in 16mm probably cost 20 times what it costs me to make a film now.
“My practices have changed a lot as a result of digital video. I work alone much more, although Judith and I still make some films collaboratively. Working alone—shooting, taking the sound, and editing—brings you into a very different relationship with your subjects than working with even one other person. And the kinds of films that result show this difference. They tend to be more intimate, more personal, and they are likely to be more experimental and take more creative risks. At the same time, the filmmaker is more exposed, more vulnerable. “