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Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers #21: Katy Chevigny and Ross Kauffman Take Us to the Frontline in U.S. Documentary 'E-TEAM'

Indiewire By Indiewire | Indiewire January 15, 2014 at 10:00AM

Ross and Katy are both documentary film directors with over 15 years experience, and have both premiered films in documentary competition at past Sundance Film Festivals. Kauffman co-directed the 2004 documentary "Born Into Brothels," which won an Emmy and other awards, playing at over 50 film festivals around the world. His short film "Wait For Me" premiered at the New York Film Festival as the centerpiece alongside Clint Eastwood's "The Changeling." Chevigny co-directed "Deadline" which premiered at Sundance in 2004, and was later acquired and broadcast by NBC. Chevigny also directed "Election Day" which premiered at SXSW and was broadcast on POV in 2008.
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"E-Team."
"E-Team."

Ross Kauffman and Katy Chevigny are both documentary film directors with over 15 years experience, and have both premiered films in documentary competition at past Sundance Film Festivals. Kauffman co-directed the 2004 documentary "Born Into Brothels," which won an Emmy and other awards, playing at over 50 film festivals around the world. His short film "Wait For Me" premiered at the New York Film Festival as the centerpiece alongside Clint Eastwood's "The Changeling." Chevigny co-directed "Deadline" which premiered at Sundance in 2004, and was later acquired and broadcast by NBC. Chevigny also directed "Election Day" which premiered at SXSW and was broadcast on POV in 2008.

What it's about: "Dramatic and crucial, 'E-TEAM' follows the intense and courageous work of four intrepid investigators on the front lines of identifying international human rights abuses."

What's it's really about: "E-TEAM is a character-driven film about four fascinating members of Human Rights Watch’s Emergencies Team as they take on the dangerous and complex work of exposing human rights abuses. The film takes us behind the scenes and around the world with Anna Neistat (a fiery Russian), her husband Ole Solvang (a calm, cool and collected Norwegian), Fred Abrahams (a nice Jewish kid from Brooklyn), and Peter Bouckaert (a Belgian national living in Geneva). Peter was once profiled in Rolling Stone magazine and dubbed 'the James Bond of human rights investigators.' These characters are the stuff of fiction. So, following them for two and half years was quite a ride. We were the first film crew ever to be granted total access to their work and home life, and we follow our characters from their homes to the chaotic scenes that resulted from civil wars abroad: Fred and Peter investigating mass murder in Libya just after the fall of Tripoli and the death of Qaddafi, and Anna and Ole as they investigate government abuses perpetrated in Syria as the civil war escalates and violence surges around them.

"Another thing about this film: all four of our main characters and both of the directors had babies during the course of making this film! So there was a lot of multi-tasking on all fronts during these past eventful four years."


Biggest challenges: "Hopping on planes at a moment's notice to enter conflict zones around the world. The logistics surrounding the timing and access for filming in locations such as Syria and Libya side-by-side with E-Team members was exhausting. Usually, the members of the E-Team themselves are informed of an impending mission with short notice. Once they decided to go on a mission, we would usually have 24-48 hours before we had to be on a plane, ready to film in various war zones. We were basically on call 24 hours a day for over two years. We could only have a one-person crew while filming in conflict zones and the key was to have as small a footprint as possible so we wouldn't get in the way of their work. Filming in conflict areas is difficult, but getting into them can be just as tricky. At times we had to smuggle ourselves into a country with the team members. And we had to evaluate the safety of everyone involved as well as how well each mission might serve the larger story of the film. It was a costly and complicated process."

Any films inspire you? "You name it. Films like 'Redbeard,' '2001,' 'Fog of War,' 'Gimme Shelter.'  Filmmakers like Kurosawa, Maysles, David Lean, Kathryn Bigelow, Herzog, Morris, Fellini, etc. But we are also amazed by the crop of new doc filmmakers and films like 'Cutie and the Boxer' and 'Searching for Sugar Man.' We’re both inspired by lots of films, both fictional and documentary. We particularly love character-driven films, again both doc and fiction, and films in which you get a 'behind-the-scenes' look at unusual jobs and lives."

Cameras used: "Most of the film was shot with the Sony EX-1and the Canon 5D, and a few other formats mixed in for good measure."

Did you crowdfund? "We did not crowdfund for this film, not for any particular reason. We’ve crowdfunded for past projects and it generally involves an enormous amount of sweat. But I'm sure we will be out there again on Kickstarter or Indiegogo in no time."

Hopes for Sundance audience take-away: "We have no pre-set agenda with this film, other than our hope that audiences find themselves engaged in ways they haven’t been before, by seeing our characters grapple with their family and work life in unusual ways. For us it is all about intimacy; total access not just in terms of time spent, but the quality of the time spent. We immerse ourselves in the lives of our characters, living at their homes and working alongside them. We really get to know them and want our audience to have that same sense of intimacy with them. If we can get an audience to care about our characters, and in turn their life and work, then we have done our job."

What's next? "We have a few projects simmering on the back burner that we’re looking forward to tackling after 'E-TEAM' is fully launched into the world. Stay tuned."

Indiewire invited Sundance Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they're doing next. We'll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2014 festival. For profiles go HERE.

This article is related to: Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Film Festival, Meet the 2014 Sundance Filmmakers, E-TEAM