“The film world is challenging for anyone,” said Kavery Kaul, director, and producer for Riverfilms, “and I was an Indian-American woman who wanted to tell stories that others might not tell.”
An award-winning documentary filmmaker, Kavery Kaul pushed cultural boundaries from a very young age. She combines her diverse cultural background with an innate ability to capture raw human connections to tell meaningful stories through film.
In this episode of #Storyteller, we dive deep into the methodical processes that Kaul goes through to craft these incredibly impactful stories. Her insights and outlook on human experiences offer valuable learnings for any storyteller.
On the process when starting a new documentary:
“My work starts with an idea, which I take time to develop before I start shooting. A lot of time. I spend time with the people who will be in the film just chatting or going where they like to go, or drinking tea with them. I want to wander around the location where I’ll be shooting to see it at different times of the day.
I might do some research or talk to some experts on the subject I’m touching on, but more than anything, I do a lot of listening and observing, and making note of the details and the texture of people’s lives. I need all of that to add shape to my story; to add form to content.”
On if her storytelling changed over time with the evolution of media and the desire for immediate information:
“A great story is a great story. It takes you into the lives of characters who are engaging; whose experiences have resonance for viewers who may never have met them or know anything about them.
I look for character-driven stories. My film Long Way From Home was made 15 years ago, and it was shown recently. Sadly, the issues are still relevant, but beyond that, I think viewers are drawn to the girls. They’re a human experience. Not necessarily the immediacy of information.
Because it’s the human experience that makes us question our world, or see it in another way. My filmmaking style calls for intimacy, and that intimacy, that need for intimacy, being drawn to that intimacy. That’s not going to change for any of us over time.”
On the process of making a great story:
“You have to be comfortable with the unknown. You have to enjoy the process of thinking things through, but then going with the flow. I start with an idea, and then a film has to tell a story. That means it has to take the viewer on a journey from one place to another. You start at one point and you follow the twists and turns that take you to the end.
The journey format provides a narrative engine. When I’m shooting, I like to follow a number of visual and thematic threads. Some of them grow, some get dropped, and some get interwoven.
It’s a challenge in a documentary. I’ll be honest about that because you have to balance the story you set out to tell with what may or may not happen along the way. You have to be alert constantly. The camera person and the sound recordist may be carrying heavy equipment, but the director carries the weight of the story.”
On where storytellers go wrong:
“The most important thing is to follow your own vision. You need to stay true to yourself, and to what you’re trying to say. And then if you make a mistake, at least it’s your own mistake and not because you listened to someone who led you astray.
And that’s what I would advise. Not to seek too much input...Listen to everyone, but follow only the advice that works for your vision.”
On what you hope to see in the future of storytelling:
“I hope to see massive cultural change, and openness to different stories and different storytellers, and a big shift in how people look at people who don’t look like them.”
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