By Ellie Gavin || Layout Assistant
On Tuesday, F&M students had the opportunity to attend an intimate lunch in the New College House meeting room and have a conversation with filmmaker John Fiege. Fiege, the head of his own production company ‘Fiege Films,’ focuses his films around relevant political, environmental, and social issues that face Americans today.
Some of his work includes Mississippi Chicken, which profiles the lives of Latin American immigrants living in a small, southern town, and Above All Else, which chronicles a family’s attempts to stop the Keystone pipeline from crossing their
Fiege, who did not originally attend film school but instead studied geology, offered insight into his untraditional path to becoming a cinematographer and how his background has influenced him.
“I don’t make films about geology per se,” Fiege said. “But I feel like that interest and appreciation of that understanding of the world, underlies how I approach (film).”
Offering advice to aspiring cinematographers in the room, Fiege comments on his philosophy to finding a good story, saying that the best ones come out of “good characters,” and “people going out and trying to change something.” Fiege admits that finding such people and situations is what makes documentary filmmaking so particularly challenging, but it is also what makes the payoff so rewarding.
“There’s this vast mystery and meaninglessness to everything, and how do we find meaning within that?” Fiege said. “I am particularly interested in people who grab that question by the horns and really try to create this strong sense of meaning and purpose in their lives.”
Another great challenge of filmmaking, according to Fiege, is the fear of running out of good ideas. Fiege admits that his first film, Mississippi Chicken, “sort of fell into [his] lap” because of the personal connections he had to the people, as is the story behind many great films.
“You’ll see in the film business some people will have an amazing first film and then you’ll never hear from them again, its because that’s their one story,” Fiege said. “Unless you come from some remarkable situation, you only have so many stories that people care about.”
After Mississippi Chicken was completed, Fiege wondered what his next venture would be. Fiege says his original idea was to produce a film about the state of Native American fishing communities after the BP oil spill. However, after a year and a half of shooting, he realized the story simply was not there, and had to walk away.
“I just kind of put myself in a place, and said this is where something big is happening and said I’m gonna find stories here, and I never did,” Fiege said.
But in the wake of his failed project, Fiege started hearing about the Keystone pipeline project, and the protests happening around it. Although it was a big shift, he realized that was where the good story really way.
“Here’s people fighting very hard to stop a project before there is a disaster, so that makes a very strong story,” Fiege said.
That lead ended up leading to his next successful film, Above All Else. Today, Fiege’s Austin-based film company, Fiege Films, employs 4 to 12 interns who assist Fiege in “scouring” for worthwhile stories, and developing ideas.
Ultimately, Fiege advice to students who want to be successful at anything is to pursue all of their interests, regardless of what they might be.
“Institutions, like universities, try to force you to put a label on what you’re doing and some people fit well into those boxes,” Fiege said. “But there (are) probably way more folks who straddle. and thats where you really need to make your own path.” To learn more about Fiege’s work, visit www.fiegefilms.com.
First-year Ellie Gavin is a Layout Assistant. Her email is email@example.com.