An Interview with Director Geoffrey Smith


Geoffrey Smith Documentary FilmmakerGeoffrey Smith is a double Emmy award winning Director (The English Surgeon, Presumed Guilty) and tutor of the upcoming “The Art of Documentary Storytelling” course at Open Channel.

What drew you to Documentary Filmmaking?

I had done a lot of travelling in my twenties, and whilst I was helping two Haitian filmmaker friends make a documentary in 1987 about the first Election in 31 years, I was shot and wounded in a massacre of 23 people. This put my life on hold for a few years, but I came to realise that in order to get over the psychological trauma of it, I needed to go back to Haiti and confront what had happened.

The BBC ran a strand called “Video Diaries” back then, where you filmed your own real life story as you were both the subject and the filmmaker. They gladly signed me up so off I went camera in hand. Over the next 2 months I could never have imagined that telling my own story to the camera could be so deeply cathartic. I realised that it is the act of telling, even confessing things to the camera, that can be very healing, and that lead me to realise that if it had worked for me, it could work for other people.

Since then I have been drawn to people who are working through real life dramas, as I know how beneficial it can be for them to tell their story (in a context of real trust), and how engaging it can be for an audience to witness that journey.

What is it about Documentary Filmmaking that excites and inspires you? 

It is truly a great privilege to get close to people and have them trust you to tell their story. I find that a humbling experience, yet also one which fills me with a lot of responsibility as I want to honour the trust that has been placed in me and make the best film possible. Once we have the footage, I simply adore being in the cutting room. Editing is the most intense decision based activity on the planet, and I find that challenge enormously satisfying.

What knowledge will the participants gain from this course?

After they finish the course, the students will know all of the elements that are needed to tell an engaging story to an audience, and even more importantly, how to generate those elements and make them work in the best possible way. This is a skill that will truly transform their filmmaking and will stay with them for the rest of their careers.

What pre-requisites (if any) are there to attend the course?

There are no pre-requisites for attending the course, although watching as much good cinema and documentary is always a good thing!

The Art of Documentary Storytelling course takes place at Open Channel, 7-8 August 2016.