Samantha Grant is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, journalist, and educator. In 2007, Sam was named a Carnegie/Knight fellow as part of the News 21 Initiative on the Future of Journalism and in 2011, Sam was a BAVC MediaMaker Fellow, where she began work on the robust transmedia companion project for A Fragile Trust. When she’s not shooting or producing independent documentaries, you can find her lecturing at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism and Stanford’s Knight Fellowship program. [Press materials]
A Fragile Trust will play at DOC NYC on November 16.
Women and Hollywood: Please give us your description of the film playing.
Samantha Grant: A Fragile Trust tells the story of Jayson Blair, a young guy who made some really bad decisions. Jayson happened to be working at the most important newspaper in the world when he made those bad decisions, and his actions had a tremendous impact, not only on his life, but on the lives of everyone around him and ultimately on journalism as a whole. The film takes a look at what happened, how it happened, and explores the way the media conveyed the scandal in their splashy, sensational, coverage.
WaH: What drew you to this story?
SG: I started working on this film when I was getting my Master’s degree in Journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. I already knew about the Blair affair from when it originally happened, but we also studied the story in “Law & Ethics,” since it is the single most egregious case of plagiarism in recent history. I was surprised to find that despite the massive amount of coverage that went on immediately following the story, there were still a lot of unanswered questions about what had actually happened. I decided to explore and hopefully answer some of those questions by making a documentary.
WaH: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?
SG: The biggest challenge, by far, was that nobody who was a part of the story really wanted to be in the film. This is the kind of scandal that nearly everybody involved would prefer to forget. That said, I also knew this was the kind of story that could engage a broad general audience in the important conversations about media literacy and ethics that we need to be having right now.
WaH: What advice do you have for other female directors?
SG: That’s a tough one, mainly because I try not to think of myself as “a female director.” I just try to think of myself as a director, which is plenty. The main difference between male and female directors is the ticking timeline of the kid factor. It does seem that in this profession, as in many others, your career is gaining momentum right around the time when you might like to start a family, and with the super-demanding lifestyle of a director, that can be tricky. I am lucky to have an amazing and supportive partner who has enabled me to follow my dreams and also be a mom. I have two beautiful girls, and while it’s often a really wild balancing act, I’m glad that they see me in a leadership role. I hope that despite my sometimes crazy schedule, they are benefitting from having a mom who can also create and lead.
WaH: Do you have any thoughts on what are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films?
SG: Directors are now expected to be super-involved in the rollout and release of their films in all parts of the market. There are so many more options than the old fashioned “all-rights deal.” This can be a challenge because it’s a lot of work and a lot of hours spent doing something that is not filmmaking, but it’s also a great opportunity to really sell your film because nobody knows your audience like you do, which means you are probably the most effective person at getting the film out there to the audience who will really appreciate it.
WaH: Name your favorite women directed film and why.
SG: My favorite recent documentary directed by a woman is Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley. It’s so artfully edited and wisely told, and I love the the way she pushes the boundaries of reality in the film with her mixed use of created and found footage. It’s a well crafted, beautiful, and universally appealing story of family and relationships and healing and love. I saw it twice in the theater.