23. Mo Scarpelli and Alexandria Bombach: Co-Directing One Vision / by Elaine Sheldon

Mo Scarpelli and Alexandria Bombach are documentary filmmakers and co-directors of award-winning film "Frame by Frame.” The documentary follows four Afghan photojournalists as they face the realities of building a free press in a country left to stand on its own after decades of war and rule under the oppressive Taliban regime. The film had its world premiere at SXSW 2015, has screened over 50 times, garnered several awards, was voted one of the Top 10 Audience Favorites at Hot Docs Film Festival, and is nominated for a Cinema Eye Honors Award for Spotlight Doc. Right now, Mo and Alexandria are knee-deep in an Academy Award campaign for the film. “Frame by Frame” is opening for a week-long run in New York on Nov 20 at the IFC Center.

Mo and Alexandria are extremely self-sufficient women and filmmakers-- both having worked alone on most of their film projects before this one. They both started their own film companies and both have carved out their own niches; Mo in the documentary and journalism world and Alexandria in the outdoor filmmaking world.

In this episode, we talk about how they came to the medium of film, reporting international stories, filming in Afghanistan, their dedication to stunning cinematography, earning the trust of your subjects, the responsibility and weight of releasing stories into the world, holding onto empathy, the perils of co-directing, how to reconnect with relationships after disconnecting to make a film, and how to maintain belonging and community when living out of a suitcase.


Name: Mo Scarpelli

Current Location: Portland, OR

Current Gig: Director & Producer at Rake Films

What are you listening to now? "I'm Here Now" by Motopony // Podcasts: SheDoes & On Being :)

What film/book/show/piece of media changed you? 

Zack Canepari & Drea Cooper's "California Is A Place" showed me how independent doc shorts for online were possible, and also that they could be quirky, stylized and emotionally resonant. This, along with MediaStorm's short multimedia pieces, opened my world to that wonderful blurry space between film + journalism on the web.

Jason Tippet's "Only The Young" showed me how cinematography in doc can rival that of narrative features, and tell a human story.

Sarah Polley's "Stories We Tell" showed me how a Director's manipulation can morph a simple situation into a riveting and revealing story.

Joan Didion's essays - her tone, her boldness, her levity - has always informed the way I look at the world.

George Orwell's essays also have been an influence for me since I first picked up "All Art is Propaganda." I don't know if I realized at the time that what drew--and continues to draw--me to essays is how they can be like cinema verite; meandering and observing and leaving so much up to the reader to interpret what the writer has experienced.
 

Who is your career role model? I have three. My mom, Joan Didion, Margaret Bourke-White. I should have a filmmaker on here, I know...I'm still learning the doc film world and have met a ton of people in the past couple years who deserve admiration. Hard to name just a few, so I'll stick with the oldies.  

What is a tool you can't live without? Black notepad + pen. I'm naked without it.

How do you drink/take your coffee/tea? With a splash of soy or almond milk 

RELATED LINKS:

 Alexandria (left) Mo (right)

Alexandria (left) Mo (right)

Both Mo and I get uncomfortable when shoots are too organized—or if people work with a union and they stop at a certain time—that would just blow our minds. I think we’re used to and thrive in chaotic environments.
— Alexandria Bombach

Name: Alexandria Bombach

Current Location: On The Road

Current Gig: Red Reel

What are you listening to now? Broken Social Scene, "Sweetest Kill"

What film/book/show/piece of media changed you? Too many to list. Right now it's the film "Bitter Lake" & the book "No god but God"

Who is your career role model? Ava DuVernay & Lucy Walker  

What is a tool you can't live without? YELP. I live on the road and never know the best spot for a quick bite or a place to set up and work - YELP hasn't failed me yet. 

How do you drink/take your coffee/tea? French Press coffee with honey

RELATED LINKS:


 Julianna Barwick

Julianna Barwick

CREDITS:

  • Produced by Elaine Sheldon & Sarah Ginsburg
  • Sound design by Billy Wirasnik
  • Illustration by Christine Cover

MUSIC BY: Julianna Barwick

ListenPurchaseConnect

Tracks featured in show: Vow, The Harbinger, Adventurer of the family, Vow (Diplo & Lunice remix), Prizewinning, Envelop, White Flag, One Half, Crystal Lake