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Authenticity, Emotionality, and Technology: Ondi Timoner on "We Live in Public"

By Indiewire | Indiewire August 26, 2009 at 1:04AM

EDITORS NOTE: This interview was originally published as part of indieWIRE's coverage of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. The film opens in theaters this Friday.
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EDITORS NOTE: This interview was originally published as part of indieWIRE's coverage of the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. The film opens in theaters this Friday.

Ondi Timoner's documentary "We Live in Public" won the Grand Jury Prize for documentary at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival - the second time Timoner claimed that honor after 2004's "DiG!" The film examines the work of internet pioneer Josh Harris, who has spent his life implementing his unique vision of the future, where technology and media dictate human social interaction and define our personal identity. Harris launched an art experiment called Quiet: We Live in Public. He created an artificial society in an underground bunker in the heart of New York City. More than 100 artists moved in and lived in pods under 24-hour surveillance in what was essentially a human terrarium. And Timoner caught it all on camera. "Public" opens in theaters this Friday, September 28th. Timoner talked to indieWIRE via e-mail upon the film's premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.

Please introduce yourself...

Ondi Timoner, just turned 36, live in Pasadena.
Made "The Nature of the Beast", 1994. "DIG!", 2004. "Join Us", 2007.
Now This: "We Live in Public", 2008.

What were the circumstances that lead you to become a filmmaker?

I played guitar and hoped to do that when i was around 15 years old. But I also planned to be the first woman president of the US, until I was a page in the Senate and realized how the political process happens and that I could not function effectively to make change from within it. I realized the camera was a bridge into worlds I could never otherwise enter, so once I picked it up at 19 years old, I never put it down. From toll booths and convenience stores to women's prisons, rock bands and record companies, cults and cult treatment centers, and the internet world and deep underground art world of Manhattan in the late 90's - the cameras have been my source of education, inspiration and my way of communicating and making change.

In this film, my subject is also obsessed with documentation so we have over 5000 hours of footage over this decade between my filming of him and his filming of him and his life. It is the biggest feat of editing I have taken on thus far in my career.

"DIG!" was 2000 hours plus and 7 years, this is 5000 hours plus and 10 by the time we release it - which will coincidentally be the 40th anniversary of the internet.
The timeliness of the film with regards to his predictions of our behavior in the face of technology and the advent of virtual interaction taking over the physical, which effect all of us as they more and more come true, made it imperative to push and finish this film now against all odds.
I have an amzing team that coalesced this year to help me complete the film.

How did you learn the "craft" of filmmaking?

I learned at a public access station in New Haven, Connecticut - I was at Yale which at the time didn't have production facilities. And I learned by doing it. Shooting and shooting and editing from shuttle to avid.

Please elaborate a bit on your approach to making "We Live in Public"...

The material dictated the approach, as usual. I can talk about this specifically on the phone if you are interested, but running out of time tonight!

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced in developing the project?

Investment during this economy was difficult to come by and we didn't want to pre-sell the film, but rather wanted to speak totally independently in the making of it.

What are some of your favorite films?

I love lots of films: "The Insider", "Don't Look Back", "The Celebration", and "Over the Edge" are lifelong favorites. Recently I liked "Milk" and "Frost/Nixon."

How do you define success as a filmmaker, and what are your personal goals as a filmmaker?

Success is having the resources to be able to let the film dictate how it should best be made so it can become a true piece of art and reflection of its subject matter from all aspects - top to bottom, and deep inside. My goal is to get a close to authenticity and the core of the emotionality of the story as possible while distilling it down to its most moving and exciting aspects so that the viewer never gets off the ride.

What are your future projects?

"The Perfect Moment" - a film about Robert Mapplethorpe. I am producing and directing, Eliza Dushku is producing, written by Bruce Goodrich. We hope to do this in 2009.

This article is related to: Documentary, Interviews, We Live in Public