"I'm an adrenaline junkie, and documentary filmmaking is a job where you wake up in the morning and have no idea what's going to happen," explains Margaret Brown. "So, you have to figure it out on your feet. It's very exciting,”
Brown's new film, Descendant, draws from a wide range of influences, including footage that filmmaker Zora Neale Hurston shot of the American South during the 1920s (some of which appears in Descendant). However, she says the movie that had the biggest visual impact on her film is the 2017 short, Process, which director Kahlil Joseph made in collaboration with the musician Sampha.
"It's a meditative kind of short, and the way it's shot is so beautiful and dreamlike," Brown says. "People have asked me, 'Were there movies that you looked at for inspiration while you were making Descendant?' Process is really the only one. I watched it over and over and over. It's very compelling, and you can watch it on repeat."
Descendant arrives 18 years after Brown's first feature documentary, 2004's Be Here to Love Me. Still, what drives her as a filmmaker has never changed. "You can mess up at any time, and I like it," she points out. "I'm also very curious about where I'm from. I’m a non-practicing Jew, but, in the Jewish tradition, I was taught to question things that feel unjust. I saw a lot of things around me growing up that felt unjust. A lot of my filmmaking perspective probably comes directly from that."
Below, Brown shares with A.frame the five films that have inspired her the most as a filmmaker.
Written and Directed by: John Cassavetes
When I was in college, there was a heat wave in New York. My roommate and I didn’t have AC, so, we went to the midnight movies at the Angelika Film Center a lot, because it was too hot to fall asleep. One night, I saw a double feature of She's Gotta Have It and Shadows. There was something approachable about both those films that didn't make filmmaking seem like a far off and unattainable idea. There hadn't been anything in my life like that.
My dad's a songwriter so I was always encouraged growing up to be creative, but there was no one around me in Alabama who was a filmmaker. There was something about She's Gotta Have It and Shadows, though. Those films are emotional and different and funny, and they're the only two movies I can remember that made me think, 'Well, maybe I could go to film school. Maybe this is something I could do.'
Written and Directed by: Spike Lee
Both She's Gotta Have It and Shadows are incredible works of art, but there's something about She’s Gotta Have It that has stuck with me, which is that the women in it are really strong. That appealed to me a lot when I saw the film for the first time. I wasn't seeing a lot of female characters at that time that I thought felt fleshed out and real. The characters in She's Gotta Have It felt real to me though.
Written and Directed by: David Lynch
I am very structure resistant in certain ways, but I don't even know how you would describe the structure of Mulholland Drive. I've tried to study it, take it apart, and figure out why it moves me and scares me so much, and why it gets into my psyche so deeply. But I still don't know why it does. I like that about it. It's very emotional and moving. I've cried watching it at unexpected times. I strive to make films that can do that — hit you on such a deep psychological level for reasons you can't entirely figure out.
Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer, Christine Cynn and Anonymous
Like She's Gotta Have It and Shadows, I see The Act of Killing and The Look of Silence as an inseparable pair of films. I think both movies deal with silence and culpability in really interesting, creative ways. I remember, in specific, when I saw The Act of Killing for the first time, I walked out of the theater afterward and felt like the whole world had just changed. It was a seismic film for me as a viewer.
Directed by: Joshua Oppenheimer
The Look of Silence didn't impact me quite as deeply as The Act of Killing did, but I think that's because I was more ready for it coming off of The Act of Killing. Both films are phenomenal, and they continue to inspire me to this day. I'd never seen anything like them before. And I, as a director, strive to do something similar with my films. I’ve even gotten the chance to meet Joshua Oppenheimer and he’s just so nice! He was so normal and sweet when I met him, and I was like, 'How?! You're my hero. How can you be so normal?'