Ciara Lacey: Adam Bhala Lough Suggests I Fall in Love

Ciara Lacy is a Native Hawaiian filmmaker who attended the 2012 Sundance Institute NativeLab with her feature documentary project "Out of State." Below she recalls her experience interacting with Lab Advisor and Sundance alum Adam Bhala Lough.

I was sitting across from Adam Bhala Lough.

Adam Bhala Lough. As in the director of The Carter. THE CARTER. One of the few documentaries to make my fancy film-critic friend OBSESS. To make me obsess, too. And here I was getting advice from him on my final day at Sundance Institute’s 2012 NativeLab. Do I pinch myself? No, I shut up and take lots of notes.

Adam gave advice about things like loglines (“irony is good”) and central themes (“keep it universal”). It was good stuff. Familiar stuff. Stuff you know about, but like hearing again and again. It was stuff I was perfectly comfortable with—until he said something that blew my mind:

Show LOVE to your subject.
Have a real connection, from the HEART.

It sounded kind of hippie at first. Something new-agey. LOVE my subject. My documentary, Out of State, focuses on the disenfranchised, the lost, the hardened: long-term prisoners cloistered in Arizona, far away from their home in Hawaii. I knew I could identify with them. Treat them with dignity. These prisoners are fellow native Hawaiians. They are my people…but did I have to actually LOVE them?

I needed convincing.

Adam told me what Albert Maysles—hello, forefather of American documentary filmmaking!—had told him:

  • Every documentary is an adventure, a discovery.
  • Make the audience friends with the people on the screen.
  • Get close. Get close.
  • Fall in love with your characters.

That's when it all clicked. When the full impact of the NativeLab hit me. I couldn’t possibly expect a subject to open up in an emotionally honest and vulnerable way if I wasn’t willing to go there, too. Adam was right. The only way to make a documentary is through true human connection. It is LOVE.

So, when I film Out of State, I'll have the cameras and the boom mic and the releases and everything else. But I'm not going to force soundbites from my subjects nor only look to film what I expect of them. I'm going to love them, let them feel safe enough to be honest. And maybe, just maybe I’ll be one step closer to having an audience fall in love with them, too.

Learn more about NativeLab Fellow Ciara Lacy via

Lead photo: