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Bernardo Ruiz

Airdate: March 23, 2017
Documentary producer and director Bernardo Ruiz talks about documentary storytelling and its impact on journalism.

Guests:
  • Bernardo Ruiz - Documentary producer and director
Category: The Arts

Keywords: journalism, documentary, director,

View Transcript
JOSE CARDENAS: COMING UP LATER IN THE SHOW A VALLEY WOMAN WITH A BUSINESS THAT PROVIDES BOOKS FOR CHILDREN IN BILINGUAL FAMILIES.

JOSE CARDENAS: BERNARDO RUIZ IS A DOCUMENTARY PRODUCER AND DIRECTOR. LAST YEAR, KINGDOM OF SHADOW" AIRED ON ARIZONA P-B-S. IT CHRONICLED THE DRUG WAR IN THE U-S AND MEXICO. REPORTER ANGELA KOCHERGA TALKED TO BERNARDO RUIZ ABOUT DOCUMENTARY STORYTELLING AND ITS IMPACT ON JOURNALISM

ANGELA: I WANTED TO START BY ASKING HOW YOU PICK THE SUBJECT FOR YOUR DOCUMENTARY FILMS?

BERNARDO RUIZ: THAT IS A GOOD QUESTION. AS A FILMMAKER YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT PROJECT IS GOING TO MOVE FORWARD BUT I THINK LIKE YOU AND MANY REPORTERS ALWAYS HAVE A BACK POCKET STORY. SOMETHING YOU REALLY WANT TO WORK ON IF GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY. I AM DRAWN TO THE THEMES THAT LOOK AT THE BORDER LAND AND THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND MEXICO IN PART BECAUSE OF MY HERITAGE, BECAUSE I WAS BORN IN MEXICO AND RAISED IN THE U.S., AND IN MY CASE NEW YORK BUT ALSO I THINK IT IS A RICH AREA FOR STORYTELLING. I THINK THERE IS A BLIND SPOT ON THE PART OF A LOT OF MEDIA OUTLETS ESPECIALLY EAST COAST TOWARD BORDER AND U.S.-MEXICO STORIES. ANY OPPORTUNITY I GET TO DO A DEEP DIVE, LONG FORM STORY ABOUT THAT RELATIONSHIP I REALLY JUMP AT THE OPPORTUNITY.

ANGELA: THIS IS A TIME WE HAVE A NEW ADMINISTRATION AND A LOT OF FOCUS ON THE BORDER AND RHETORIC ABOUT THE BORDER. AS A DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER WHAT IS THE REALITY YOU ARE TRYING TO PORTRAY BEYOND THE STEREOTYPES?

BERNARDO RUIZ: I THINK YOU TOUCH ON THE WORD. STEREOTYPES. THAT IS WHAT I AM LOOKING TO MOVE PAST AND I AM INTERESTED IN GETTING UNDERNEATH THE SKIN OF THE PEOPLE I AM FOLLOWING. IN THE LAST FEATURE FILM THAT I WORKED ON, "KINGDOM OF SHADOWS" WHICH AIRED THIS PAST SEPTEMBER AND THAT YOU AND ALFREDO CORCHADA CONSULTED ON WHAT I REALLY WANTED TO DO WAS MOVE BEYOND THE STEREOTYPES WE SEE WE SEE RESIDENTS OF THE BORDER LINE. WE HAD SOMEONE THAT LOOKED LIKE A BIKER AND WHAT MANY PEOPLE WOULD CONSIDER A DRUG DEALER WAS IN FACT A HIGH RANKING HOMELAND SECURITY INVESTIGATOR. WE HAVE A COWBOY IN THE FILM WHO TO MANY PEOPLE LOOK LIKE THE MARLBORO MAN BUT IS A DRUG SMUGGLER, FORMER DRUG SMUGGLER. SO I THINK WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THE BORDER LANDS IS HOW RICH AN AREA IT IS AND HOW IT DEFIES STEREOTYPES IN AND OF ITSELF. I THINK WE HAVE A UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY AS DOCUMENTARY MAKERS TO PROBE STORIES THAT MOVE BEYOND THE SUPERFICIAL PORTRAIT OF THE PLACE.

ANGELA: HOW DO YOU ENGAGE VIEWERS AND AUDIENCE? WE ARE UNDER THE IMPRESSIONS PEOPLE HAVE A SHORT ATTENTION SPAN. IS THAT EVEN ACCURATE AND HOW DO YOU BRING PEOPLE INTO THESE DEEPER DIVES?

BERNARDO RUIZ: I THINK WE ARE IN THE ERA OF BINGE WATCHING. TO THE SURPRISE OF MANY CUTE EXECUTIVES PEOPLE ARE WATCHING HOURS OF PROGRAMMING. I THINK IF ANYTHING WERE IN A MOMENT OF KIND OF EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES INTERMS OF PROGRAMMING, NETFLIX, AMAZON, MANY DIFFERENT OUTLETS COMMISSIONING THESE SHOWS. THESE LONG FORM SHOWS THAT YOU HAVE TO INVEST A LOT OF TIME INTO AND I THINK IT IS A VERY EXCITING TIME FOR LONG FORM STORYTELLING. IT IS A LITTLE LIKE JUMPING INTO NOVEL. ITS SOMETHING YOU CAN REALLY SPEND TIME WITH. IT IS GRATIFYING AS A DOCUMENTARY MAKER BECAUSE KNOWING THERE IS A LOT OF SHORT-FORM CONTENT BEING PRODUCED LIKE SNAPCHAT AND TWITTER AND OTHER FORMS OF SOCIAL MEDIA ARE INTERESTING PLATFORMS FOR SHORT-FORM CONTENT BUT THERE IS A HUGE AUDIENCE FOR THE LONG-FORM AS WELL. THAT’S WHERE I SEE MOST OF MY WORK HEADING. THAT IS WHAT I AM EXCITED ABOUT DOING. IT IS AN OPPORTUNITY TO GO DEEPER AND TELL THE RICH AND COMPLEX STORIES.

ANGELA: HAS SUPPORT FOR DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS -- PEOPLE HAVE THIS IMAGE WHERE IT IS HARD TO BREAK INTO IT AND IT IS BUT ARE THERE OTHER PLACES TO WATCH DOCUMENTARIES AT? PBS HAS BEEN A LONG SUPPORTER BUT IN GENERAL HOW DO YOU SEE THAT SUPPORT?

BERNARDO RUIZ: IT IS A CHALLENGE. THERE IS MORE OUTLETS IN THE PAST. PUBLIC MEDIA HAS DONE A LOT FOR DOCUMENTARY. I ALWAYS WANT TO SEE IT DOING MORE BUT IT IS DOING A LOT WITH VOP LENS AND INDEPENDENT LAND. THEY SHOWCASE SOME OF THE MOST ORIGINAL DOCUMENTARY WORK OUT THERE. THERE ARE COMMERCIAL PLAYERS FUNDING DOCUMENTARIES. THE LAST FILM I MADE WAS A HUNDRED PERCENT FINANCED THROUGH PRIVE PRIVATE MONEY. SO THERE ARE OPPORTUNITEIS BECAUSE THE AUDIENCE APPETITE IS THERE. ITS ALWAYS BEEN THERE BUT I THINK THE PRODUCTION VALUES HAVE CAUGHT UP WITH THE STORIES AND I THINK THAT PEOPLE HAVE A HUNGER FOR BACKSPACED REPORTING, HUMAN CENSOR STORYTELLING. WE WANT DRAMATIC AND COMPELLING STORIES BUT PEOPLE ARE LOOKING FOR STORIES ABOUT PEOPLE AND SITUATIONS THAT MOVE BEYOND THE SHORTSIDED AND OFTEN SUPERFICIAL TREATMENT THAT A LOT OF CABLE NEWS CAN GIVE US.

ANGELA: WHAT ABOUT IN THIS ERA, FAKE NEWS, WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKER AND THE RESPONSIBILITY RIGHT NOW?

BERNARDO RUIZ: I THINK ONE OF THE THINGS THAT WE SAW WITH FAKE NEWS IS THAT IT WAS ABLE TO SPREAD BECAUSE OF THE -- ITS DISTRIBUTION THROUGH SOCIAL MEDIA. ONE OF THE THINGS THAT IS INTERESTING IN DOCUMENTARIES THAT WE CAN SPEND A LONG TIME WITH A STORY AND LOOK AT THE SHADES AND COMPLEXITIES OF A STORY AND I THINK LIKE OUTLETS FILMMAKERS BECOME -- PEOPLE GO TO CERTAIN FILMMAKERS BECAUSE THEY KNOW THEYRE GOING TO DO CERTAIN TYPES OF STORIES. THE VETERAN FILMMAKER FREDRICK WISEMAN WHO HAS BEEN MAKING FILMS ABOUT ECOSYSTEMS AND PLACES. PEOPLE KNOW WHO THEY GO SEE ONE OF HIS FILMS HE WILL DO AN IN DEPTH PORTRAIT OF A PLACE. I THINK THESE TYPES OF STORIES HAVE AN ABILITY TO GET BEYOND THE SUPERFICIAL AND FLASHY. FAKE NEWS THRIVES IN THE SUPERFICIAL ENVIRONMENTS. I THINK IF YOURE TALKING ABOUT LONG TERMS STPRIES, I THINK ITS HARDER TO PULL THE WOOL OVER PEOPLE EYES.

ANGELA: YOU HAVE HAD A COMMITMENT TO TYING THE TOSS BORDER STORIES. WHAT ABOUT LATINO STORIES AND GETTING MORE OF THOSE VOICES ON THE AIR AND IN FILM?

BERNARDO RUIZ: I THINK NOW MORE THAN EVERY WE REALLY NEED STORY TELLING THAT LOOKS AT THE TRUE DIVERSITY IN THE COUNTRY AND I FOCUSED ON THE DIVERSITY OF THE LATINO COMMUNITY. IF YOU LOOK AT THE MEXICAN-AMERICAN POPULATION ALONE I THINK IT IS ROUGHLY 10% OF THE U.S. POPULATION THAT CAN TRACE ITS HERITAGE TO MEXICO AND THE FACT THERE ISN'T MORE STORYTELLING ABOUT THAT COMMUNITY IS SOMETHING I'M ALWAYS SURPRISED BY AND I FEEL LIKE IT IS THIS MISSED OPPORTUNITY. WE HAVE SUCH AN OPPORTUNITY TO TELL, AGAIN, DEEPER, MORE COMPLEX STORIES AND IT IS JUST SOMETHING THAT I THINK WE NEED TO CONTINUE TO WORK ON. I THINK THAT IS ACTUALLY SOMETHING THAT PUBLIC MEDIA CAN DO PERHAPS BETTER THAN OTHER OUTLETS.

ANGELA: THANK YOU FOR JOINING US. WE LOOK FORWARD TO YOUR NEXT PROJECT.

BERNARDO RUIZ: THANKS SO MUCH.