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Meet the 2014 Tribeca Filmmakers #20: The City of Stockton Gets a Second Chance in Kevin Gordon’s ‘True Son’

Meet the 2014 Tribeca Filmmakers #20: The City of Stockton Gets a Second Chance in Kevin Gordon's 'True Son'

It’s a rare thing to see a town rise from the ground up, especially at the hands of a 22 year-old politician, as seen in Kevin Gordon’s documentary “True Son.” With infamously troubled Stockton, CA in danger of bankruptcy and ruin, Gordon tries to document both the attempted gentrification of the community while trying desperately to get inside the mind of the young man who might save it. 

Tell us about yourself. I’m not one of those filmmakers who was born with a camera in his hands. I came to film after college when I discovered the power of image and storytelling to shift culture. I was drawn to documentary specifically as an invitation to go places I normally wouldn’t go and meet people I wouldn’t otherwise meet. Along the way, I became seduced by its artistic potential and am excited by the current movement to push the boundaries of non-fiction cinema.

What was you biggest challenge in completing this project? Michael, our main character, was totally on board with us filming every aspect of his life, but was not as ready to open up about his inner life: his doubts, fears, or difficult childhood memories. In part, this was the product of his personality – confident, optimistic, and always forward-looking – and in part it was a product of running in a political campaign where showing vulnerability can be a liability. I connected with him, reasoned with him, cajoled him, took him to locations from his childhood that might bring back memories, but in the end the biggest aid was time. Once the campaign was over and the results were in, he felt more comfortable sharing the details we needed to tell his story.

What do you have in the works? I’m working on a hybrid project about a new lucha libre or Mexican-style professional wrestling league in California that we are dubbing the first Mexploitation documentary. I’m also directing my first music video and have a few other projects in development.

What camera did you shoot on? I shot on the Panasonic AC160 which is basically a successor to the fabled HPX170/HVX200 camera line. Though we easily could have shot this film on any one of the new, sexy large-sensor cameras, I deliberately did not want the film to have a slick look. I went with a small-sensor, run-and-gun camera because I wanted the film to feel scrappy and underdog just like the campaign. Shallow depth of focus can make subjects look heroic but I wanted to keep our main character grounded and human and let the viewers draw their own conclusions about him.

Did you go to film school? If so, which one? After working in film for a few years, I did decide to go to film school. I went to the Stanford Documentary Film Program which is one of the few MFAs exclusively dedicated to non-fiction film. They place a heavy emphasis on aesthetics and theory which is exactly what I was looking for. I ultimately met the producers of this film there which is how I became connected with this project.

What films have inspired you? “Pour la Suite du Monde” always stick out in my mind. It’s an early 1960s verité film by Michel Brault and the National Film Board of Canada that was beautifully shot, had a filmmaker-constructed premise, and was light years ahead of its time. Anyone who thinks we are completely re-inventing the documentary form today should revisit that film. Italian Neorealism should also be required viewing for doc filmmakers.

Indiewire invited Tribeca 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. Go HERE to read all the entries.

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