Transitions in Storytelling

Recently on a chilly Friday in New York, a group of acclaimed photographers were brought together to discuss their journey to becoming documentary filmmakers. The panel discussion was programmed by the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program (DFP) as part of the inaugural Doc NYC Festival. Inspired in part by the DFP partnership with the Open Society Institute and its longtime commitment to both photography and documentary film, the conversation, moderated by DFP Senior Consultant Bruni Burres, Academy Award winner Zana Briski, Mary Ann Smothers Bruni, and Pulitzer Prize winner David Turnley discussed their transition from still image to moving image storytelling.

This intimate and engaging dialogue began with David Turnley discussing how and why at 17 years of age he chose to pick up a camera and document the daily racism unfolding in his small hometown in Michigan. Flash forward 25 years and David shared with us a stunning sequence from his soon-to-be completed observational documentary about the angry and painful fallout in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, following the brutal racist attack on a young Mexican father.

Zana Briski shared her 'aha' moment, which came when she was 10 years old and discovered that her 13-year-old cousin was developing 'an entire other world' in the darkroom he set up in his parent's basement. Since then, she hasn't been able to go anywhere without her camera. After devoting eight years of her life filming (Academy Award-winning Born into Brothels) and teaching photography to children living in Calcutta's red light district, Zana has recently turned her lens back to nature. For the past three years she has been traveling the globe and creating an intimate portrait of the praying mantis.

Mary Ann Bruni, an accomplished journalist, came to photography in mid-career and somewhat by accident (or pure necessity). Mary Ann needed some contemporary images to contextualize the unfolding story she was writing. So she wandered into a local flea market, bought a camera, and now doesn't tell any story without pictures.

Interview and Q and A

David, Zana, and Mary Ann actively engaged the audience and inspired many would-be, could-be visual storytellers. They also encouraged and elicited enormous respect from each other. It was a wonderful Friday afternoon lunch break at this year's DOC NYC.

Lead photo: