New York-based documentary filmmaker Robert Greene recognizes that the world is a stage. But if people are its performers, he says, how can truth ever be unveiled?
"Everyone of us is performing. I'm performing right now, and you are too," Greene says to me during a phone interview.
I, being the interviewer, and he the interviewee, Greene says, is a dichotomy of exploitative roles. Who is exploiting whom? Is either of us really exploiting the other? How do you get truth if this is a performance?
Greene approaches documentary filmmaking with this in mind. And in his latest work, Actress, which premieres in the Bay Area Thursday, June 5, as the Opening Night Film for the 13th SF DocFest at Brava Theater, $20, Greene employs elements of melodrama and cinema verité to create a present-tense portrait of Brandy Burre, a complicated woman torn between the roles of being a lover, a mom, an actress -- and herself.
Greene follows the actress-turned-stay-at-home-mom Burre, in her journey to re-enter the acting game while her domestic life dissolves in the process. In her late 30s, Burre, most known for her recurring role on the HBO series, The Wire, raises her two children with her partner Tim Reinke in Beacon, NY. Burre gave up her acting career when she became pregnant, and switched gears to motherhood, a choice that she is proud of. However, Burre struggles when she realizes that who shes is, isn't how she imagined she would be. Greene shadows Burre as she determines which version of herself she wants to be.
"You're never quite sure how authentic Brandy is being, but you sense that she's searching for something," Greene says. "It matches the everyday experience of many, many women that are put into positions of trying to fill the roles that are expected of them, all of the time."
Greene gained access to Burre's story because the two happen to be neighbors. When he heard that she was interested in re-entering the acting circuit, Greene was intrigued by Burre's story as an older female actor, which is a tale overlooked and undertold, he says.
"She told me a story of how she was passed over for this acting gig because she was too old when the role was exactly her age," Greene says.
The film is uncomfortably honest at times. Burre challenges the camera, starring into it, and talking to it at times. She dares the audience to judge her, something that Greene says is her true self in a heightened level. She is a performer, and he is capturing her role in real life.
The idea of the performer in documentary film comes full-circle when, in addition to premiering Greene's new film, SF DocFest presents a retrospective of his earlier films: Katie With An I, a portrait of a high school girl at a crossroads in the last few days before graduation, and Fake It So Real, a behind-the-scenes look at what happens when independent pro wrestlers face reality out of the ring. The two films will screen as a double-feature Saturday, June 7 for $12.
"These films are on the idea of social performance," Greene says. "Like this teenaged girl performing things she's supposed to be saying about getting married and going to college... these pro wrestlers that are performing themselves all the time." Greene explains, that Actress is an extension, or continuation of that mode.
In honor of Greene's unique approach to filmmaking, he will also be recipient of the SF DocFest Non-Fiction Vanguard Award, which celebrates the Greene's ability to capture beautiful and expressionistic stories of ordinary people on film. Greene is the second recipient of this award.
"It feels great," Greene says. "It's not an award that I expected. Too often, especially with documentaries, we're sitting, waiting for permission to do something; I think that you should not be asking. Take chances. That's the real lesson."
Actress screens Thursday, June 5, at 8 p.m., $20. Kati With An I screens Saturday, June 7, at 2:30 p.m., $12. Fake It So Real screens Saturday, June 7, at 4:45 p.m., $12.For a full schedule of SF DocFest Screenings visit the SF Indie Fest Website.