I began my career directing, writing and editing documentary films, a storytelling format that I really love. Topics are turned into stories by finding just the right people to reveal an emotional, human experience. That’s when a narrative story begins to emerge. As a filmmaker, I’ve often found that ordinary people become extraordinary subjects for documentaries, but sometimes you have to dig a little deeper… like the time I was sent by Disney to a ranch in Montana to do a documentary about a woman rancher who also hosted a classical music camp. Music under the stars of Montana – sounds right down Disney Lane. But after digging deeper, I discovered that the rancher, a tough, weather-beaten widow running this cattle ranch alone, was also the great, great, great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson – and she was the absolute embodiment of Emerson’s “Self-Reliance.” Ordinary became extraordinary. My documentary films have taken me inside some big subjects – global politics (Inside the Cold War with Sir David Frost); nuclear disarmament (Counterpoint); the power of digital-technology (Welcome to the Future) – but I’ve told these stories through a human lens, making big stories accessible to audiences by focusing on the human impact of the subject. A common theme running through many of my films has been empowerment but in addition to strong themes, I focus on the power of visual imagery – this goes back to my studies in film and scriptwriting at Northwestern, where I focused on “visual literacy.” Sometimes an image – a photo, a painting, a picture – tells the whole story, and the audience gets to share in the power of that image. If I’ve done my job as a director, the story, the characters, the look, the music, the voices, the timing – all combine to cause a visceral impact on the audience. That’s the goal every time.
~Bruce D. Johnson
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