IFH 469: Hemingway and the Art of the Documentary with Lynn Novick


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I am a huge fan of today’s guest. Since seeing one of her first documentaries, I was transfixed by her power of storytelling. Our guest is an Emmy and Peabody award-winning documentary filmmaker, Lynn Novick---a formidable and respected PBS documentary filmmaker with thirty-plus years of experience in the business. Her archival mini and docu-series documentaries bring historically true events to the big screen alongside her filmmaking partner, Ken Burns. You’ve most likely seen some of her landmark documentary films. The likes of Vietnam (2017), TV Mini-Series documentary The Civil War (1990), College Behind Bars (2019), eighteen hours mini-series, Baseball (2010), and many more. Just this year, the pair premiered their latest co-produced and co-directed three parts documentary on PBD---recapitulating the life, loves, and labors of Ernest Hemingway. The series explores the painstaking process through which Hemingway created some of the most important works of fiction in American letters. Novick is an experienced-learned documentary filmmaker. In the mid-1980s, she applied to film school but did not pursue that lane when she couldn’t find a documentary filmmaking-specific program. Instead, she sought out apprenticeships. Starting at the PBS station in New York City WNET, for six months. And then worked for Bill Moyers as an assistant producer on a series of projects, including her debut production in 1994 with Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, followed by A World of Ideas with Bill Moyers, etc. The Civil War is a comprehensive survey of the American Civil War. Novick’s decades-long collaboration with Ken Burns emerged in 1989 and has led to the co-production of a number of renowned docu-series. First, there was the highly acclaimed ‘The Civil War’ which traced the course of the U.S. Civil War from the abolitionist movement through all the major battles to the death of President Lincoln and the beginnings of Reconstruction. Her vast experience as a researcher comes in handy on these kinds of projects, she explains during our convo. She won an Emmy Award in 1994 for producing the Baseball documentary and won a Peabody Award in 1998 for her co-directing and co-producing of Frank Lloyd Wright's documentary. Baseball covers the history of the sport with major topics including Afro-American players, player/team owner relations, and the resilience of the game. Other must mention include multi-Emmy nominations documentary ‘Prohibition’, The Vietnam War, Jazz, and Novick’s first solo directing, College Behind Bars (2019). College Behind Bars explores urgent questions like What is the essence of prisons? Who in America has access to educational opportunities? Six years in the making, the series immerses viewers in the inspiring and transformational journey of a small group of incarcerated men and women serving time for serious crimes, as they try to earn college degrees in one of the most rigorous prison education programs in America – the Bard Prison Initiative (BPI) Novick is one of those filmmakers who have combed through an obscene amount of knowledge and understanding of documentary films. I have a feeling you will enjoy this chat as much as I did. Enjoy my conversation with Lynn Novick.

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