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netribution > features > interview with peter wintonick > page one
Peter Wintonick's, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media, was the most successful documentary in Canadian history. It has played in over 200 hundred cities around the world, won 22 awards in more than 50 international film festivals and has been translated into a dozen languages. His latest release is Cinema Verite: Defining the Moment, an exploration into the 60's - 70's movement that stripped documentary of its traditions and defined the concept of 'Direct Cinema', much of which have been carried through to today's medium. Nic spoke to Peter at the Cork Film Festival about his work, Noam Chomsky, reality TV and the Internet.

| by nic wistreich |
| photos by nic wistreich|
| in london |
How did the film on Noam Chomsky come about?
Just an obsession and the fact that nobody had ever made a film about him was enough. I'd gone to see him at a lecture a few years ago and had seen something like 1500 people there to see this guy and so I knew there was an audience. I'd also read some stuff when I was younger and I met him once and it sort of turned into an obsession. He became a vehicle for the art.

How did it feel to make a piece of media about someone who constantly attacks it?
Well it’s a bit of a contradiction, especially with someone who is so bashful and who doesn't want to be victimised by the media, in a way it made him de facto because you are under the lens, you are the star. It was really a significant shift in audience for him in that he now receives thousands of letters about his ideas on East Timor or Iraq..

Did you try to achieve a balance between your ideas and your subject who created those ideas?
No, I don't believe in balance and we tried to minimise his influence - it was really about the ideas. I really sort of related to him as a humanist and as a satirist and we had an affinity with the Canadian sense of humour outside the American sphere.

How easy was he to work with?
He was really open to his anarchistic position and that you couldn't censor this. We were pretty discreet as well although I got the impression that he tired of us appearing behind him around the world, when he got off the plane and all that. But I think he understood that we were pretty serious.

Would you say that a key part of documentary is presenting someone through a mass medium who would not normally receive that sort of exposure?
Well its hard to say how many people have tuned in in Canada, Cable companies have only around 5% of the market. The source of financing for a lot of documentarists are the strands, 85% of documentary filmmaking is done in a sort of formulaic serial. Only 15% are one-off specialities and only 1% are feature length, which are the kinds I like to make, though it's often a lot easier to work with TV people than against them. There are some good commissioning editors but most are pretty constrained, even the BBC's demographics are aimed at 17 year olds and tabloid TV reaches a higher level every week. We are largely left to our own devices but there is a new surge of short docs that gives room for digital documentaries. They are almost in real time so I think there will be this intermesh of virtual net time and documentary principles but it hasn't really been explored yet. There are some informational, documentary based web sites connecting people, information systems.

Do you use any yourself?
Yeah, we are sort of connected and I did develop a large virtual film festival site back in 1997, trying to be an internet community for independent filmmakers but it was a little ahead of its time. You need a big organisation behind you to finance the thing but I'm a filmmaker and I'd rather put the money into making obscure documentaries!

Do you think that because there is so little money left in documentary, it’s a medium that people only do because they love it?
For a lot of people it’s the opposite, its no different from other ego based media, motivations or aesthetics that they want to create. I'm sure that there are some seriously passionate fiction film makers out there, those rare people. When I took my sort of vow of poverty in the early 80's by turning away from fiction to documentary, it gave me a sense of control that allowed me to follow my passions down blind alleys as well as doing the more popular stuff. Defining your own terms is a really good way to define your passions. Before I came here I shot something on digital on my own so it's getting easier.

Was that the first time you'd shot on digital?
Well part of this one was shot on digital and then transferred onto 35mm.

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