Award-winning documentary filmmaker Freida Lee Mock is currently in Indonesia to meet Indonesian filmmakers and film buffs in Java, Sumatra and Kalimantan for film workshops as part of a US Embassy cultural program, the American Film Showcase (AFS). Mock’s 2012 documentary “G Dog” is also being screened at the @america cultural center in Jakarta.Mock, who won an Academy Award for best documentary feature for her work “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision” in 1995, said it was terrific to see American films embraced by an international audience. She also said Indonesia had “a great generation of filmmakers who are sophisticated, technology-savvy and will make a difference.”
“We are just emphasizing the importance of story and character developments to make sure the audience responds to their works,” said Mock, who also won an Emmy award for producing “The Kennedy Center Honors.”
Mock said she was also impressed to find many Indonesians were determined to make a living by making films.
“There is a whole group that we met that are excited about doing films, as opposed to doing banking, let’s say,” she said. “They are self-motivated, asked great questions. It looks terrific for Indonesia.”
Before the screening of “G Dog” in Jakarta on Thursday, Mock said she was naturally drawn into documentary filmmaking because she found it very satisfying if the audience loved it. When she was little, she remembered seeing a CBS report on poverty, which shaped her sensitivity to social issues. Mock, 57, was 30 when she started making films, a craft she built and practiced in the field.
“I am drawn to stories about social issues, politics, history, but it still has to be able to tell a story right,” said Mock, who studied history and law at the University of California, Berkeley.
“You need to have a good character to tell that story, but the ones I choose, yes, they always have social, political, historical dimensions to them.”
“G Dog” is a term former gang members used for Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest in Los Angeles. The priest has been helping reformed LA gang members rebuild and redirect their lives. Anyone looking for a way out of gang life can go to G Dog, who provides them with job training, counseling and generally a sense of fatherhood.
“It’s [the documentary] really helping us understand that it is a community problem; these are not bad people, but they find themselves in bad circumstances, such as poverty and dysfunctional families,” Mock said.
Creating a documentary is Mock’s way of bringing social issues into the open for discussion, but she doesn’t want to come off as lecturing. Instead, she presents the issues through the characters, which is why they are such a important element of her work.
American documentary films have always been outspoken about civil rights and social justice. Mock said recent US documentaries were much improved from those of the past, and were not as lengthy as before. The US audience, she said, doesn’t have the patience for endless scenes. They also welcome new topics, such as environmental issues.
“I think art reflects what is going on in their community,” Mock said. “You see it in books, journalism, articles, you see it in films.”
For Mock, winning an award like the Oscars is a pleasant acknowledgement, but the strength of a documentary film is its ability to show the truth in a way that is engaging and exciting. Mock, who currently co-chairs the Director’s Guild of America Awards Documentary selection committee, also considers documentaries like “The Act of Killing” by Denmark-based US director Joshua Oppenheimer as powerful. “It’s an eye-opener and a bit frightening to me, and the story that has not been told,” she said.
Film fans and aspiring filmmakers mostly come to Mock with story ideas for a new film, but other times — like with “G Dog” — she comes up with her own ideas after doing a lot of reading. After finding inspiration, she proceeds to build a film crew and comes up with ways to finance the project.
Mock premiered her latest documentary, “Anita — Speaking Truth to Power,” at the Sundance Film Festival last month. “Anita,” which followed American lawyer Anita Hill as she levied sexual harassment suit accusations against then-US Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas in 1991, will get a theatrical release in eight cities in the United States. Freida Mock with Father Greg ‘G Dog’ Boyle, center. Photo courtesy of Chanlim Films, American Film Foundation, Sanders & Mock Prod. Mock with composer Pedro Bromfman. Photo courtesy of Chanlim Films, American Film Foundation, Sanders & Mock Productions