Morris documentary screened at Whitney Humanities Center

A new documentary on filmmaker Errol Morris puts the director in a place he rarely finds himself: in front of the lens.

Thursday night, dozens of students, faculty members and New Haven residents gathered at the Whitney Humanities Center to learn about Errol Morris, the filmmaker behind critically acclaimed documentaries such as “The Thin Blue Line” and Academy Award-winner “The Fog of War.” The event featured the screening of “Errol Morris: The Lightning Sketch,” a documentary jointly directed by Charles Musser, a professor of Film Studies, and Carina Tautu, an independent filmmaker.

Errol Morris’ 2003 film about Robert S. McNamara, “The Fog of War,”won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
Errol Morris’ 2003 film about Robert S. McNamara, “The Fog of War,”won an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

Musser and Tautu’s documentary is made in the form of an unassuming home-made video — a digital film that follows Morris’s everyday activities at work. The film is also devoid of any sonic manipulations and background music.

“The aesthetic of the film is not the aesthetic of Errol Morris, who dislikes Cinéma vérité,” Musser said in a question-and-answer session. He noted that the film was yet to be color-corrected and needed a “bit of fine tuning,” differing from the highly produced and sharply edited documentaries of Morris.

The 67-minute-long film tracks Morris around a normal day at Fourth Floor Productions — a studio in Cambridge, Mass., owned and founded by Morris. At the beginning of the film, he appears oblivious to the camera and is busy at work. Later Morris sits down for an interview with Musser and Tautu, where Morris shares his philosophical observations on eminent figures like Robert McNamara and Stephen Hawking. Morris also commented on several other subjects, discussing everything from his dogs to the rising digital social culture, which he called “absurd.”

“I have a Facebook page but I never look at it,” he added.

Morris ended the conversation by saying, “I like observing things. That’s my only excuse for my stupid existence.”

Following the screening during the question-and-answer period with Musser and Tautu, audience members asked questions that showed an intimate familiarity with Morris and his rise to fame after the release of “The Thin Blue Line” in 1988. The majority of the questions zeroed in on Morris’s unique interviewing techniques, which involve shooting extensively and editing clips together.

Three audience members interviewed said they thought Musser and Tautu’s documentary was both informative and entertaining.

“[The film] was riveting in a unique way,” Salah Ahmed ’11 said after the screening.

The documentary was shot at the end of July.

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