Filmmaker in Focus: A Life in Waves, Kim Dotcom, and Mission Control: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo

The month of August brings several new SXSW Film Festival Alumni documentary releases to wider audiences, including the riveting true stories of a female music pioneer, an expose on the Internet’s “most wanted” man, and a paean to a group of people vital to the success of the Apollo mission. Check out the directors’ inspirations and aspirations for these remarkable nonfiction films.

A Life in Waves

Brett Whitcomb is an award-winning filmmaker from Houston, TX. His credits include, The Rock-afire Explosion, GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, and County Fair, Texas. Most recently, Brett served as producer on Peter Berg‘s 10-part docu-series, QB1: Beyond the Lights.

Q: Tell us a little about your film?

BW: A Life in Waves explores the life and innovations of composer and electronic music pioneer, Suzanne Ciani. The film is a journey into Suzanne’s mind, offering a feminine glimpse into the often-complicated worlds of composition, electronic music, and advertising.

Q: What motivated you to tell this story?

BW: We were initially inspired by Suzanne’s music. Her album “Seven Waves,” in particular, is an electronic album like no other. Once we discovered her early innovations with modular synthesizers, and the hundreds of sound effects she created for commercials and films throughout the 80s, a wave of nostalgia hit us. Here were these commercials we’d seen many times throughout our childhood, yet we had no knowledge of the woman behind the sounds. It’s like she infiltrated popular culture with her synthesizers, long before most people knew a thing about electronic music.

Q: What do you want the audience to take away from this film?

DE:We want audiences to be inspired by Suzanne’s journey and by her spirit. She pioneered and excelled in an art form that is consistently male-dominated, and turned her art into a career without compromises.

Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web

Annie Goldson, PhD, ONZM, is an award-winning Kiwi documentary filmmaker whose feature-length documentaries – including Punitive Damage, Georgie Girl, An Island Calling, and Brother Number One – often examine political and human rights issues through exploring personal stories. Goldson’s films have screened worldwide, garnering multiple awards.

Q: Tell us a little about your film?

AG: Five years, Kim Dotcom, the notorious ‘mega-pirate’ and founder of MegaUpload, was arrested in a high-profile militarized police raid in Aotearoa, New Zealand. The raid was conducted jointly with the FBI following an indictment issued by the US Department of Justice. Since then, Dotcom and his fellow coders have been stuck in Aotearoa facing extradition to the US where they could face up to 80 years in prison.

But after his arrest, rather than hiring PR experts and disappearing from sight, Dotcom doubled down, generating a thicket of court cases, starting political parties, throwing raves, cutting albums, re-launching websites, holding the Moment of Truth (with Edward Snowden and Julian Assange) – and promoting his ‘conspiracy’ that the US and NZ Governments have ganged up against him at the behest of powerful lobby groups, aka Hollywood and the film and media industries. Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web traces Dotcom’s personal story from being a teenage hacker from the wrong side of the tracks to a multi-millionaire and the “most wanted man online”. But at the same time, the film addresses a series of issues that exceed the Dotcom case – how we consume media, entertainment and knowledge in the digital age; privacy and surveillance; and national sovereignty.

Q: What motivated you to tell this story?

AG: We saw the film as an opportunity to tell a rollicking good story about a colourful figure, one that has left a rich trail of archives behind him. It is hard to explain to those outside Aotearoa New Zealand the impact Dotcom has had on this small group of islands, nestled in the South Pacific. But the story is also able to raise issues that are important to us all. I have puzzled over the issue of infringement and copyright and having the Piracy King marooned in this country gave me a good opportunity to explore the heat and fever behind the ‘copyright wars’.

Q: What do you want the audience to take away from this film?

AG: Entertainment and brainfood.

MissionControl: The Unsung Heroes of Apollo

David Fairhead has been working in film and television since 1984. He’s edited numerous award-winning films that have been distributed worldwide. In 2015, Fairhead edited The Last Man on the Moon, which had its North American premiere at the SXSW Film Festival. The film follows Apollo astronaut Eugene Cernan.

Q: Tell us a little about your film?

DF: At the heart of the Apollo space program was the team in Mission Control. They came from the farms, smokestack towns, and cities of post-war America. But from these humble beginnings came the extraordinary team who helped put a man on the moon.

Q: What motivated you to tell this story?

DF: As a film editor, I have cut a number of films about the Apollo program, but mostly from the viewpoint of the astronauts. This was an opportunity to tell the story from a different angle with a different cast of characters.

Q: What do you want the audience to take away from this film?

DE:That ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things, especially when they work as a team.

All of these documentaries are currently available to watch, A Life in Waves is in theaters, Kim Dotcom is playing On Demand, and Mission Control is streaming on Netflix.

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