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Filmmakers meet with University of Montana journalism classes ahead of world premiere

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Washington Post filmmakers

Katrina De Vera, Kate Woodsome and Michael Duffy, all of the Washington Post, speak to a group of students in Nadia White’s Global Current Events class at the University of Montana School of Journalism on Wednesday. 

Filmmakers involved with the new Washington Post Opinion documentary, “Bring Them Home,” offered University of Montana journalism students advice and insight Wednesday into behind-the-scenes details of producing their film.

Kate Woodsome, a director and producer on the film, executive producer Michael Duffy and editor Katrina De Vera fielded questions from students in professor Nadia White’s Global Current Affairs class Wednesday.

"Bring Them Home" focuses on an American family fighting to free their husband and father, Emad Shargi, who is serving a 10-year sentence in Iran after being convicted of baseless espionage charges without a trial. 

“So this film, and what we’re doing with the film, is essentially the intersection between journalism and filmmaking and I think there’s incredible importance in both because journalism has standards and ethics … it can be an incredibly powerful tool to move you, to bring you into their homes and worlds, people whose shoes you would never walk in personally,” Woodsome said.

De Vera explained the nuances of documentary editing versus a narrative structure. Rather than having a script to follow, she finds that documentary editing is more similar to writing.

“As an editor I spend the most time with the footage out of the entire crew, so there are things that even if the director is present for the entire shoot you forget things, usually the obvious stuff stands out and usually those are the pieces that we start working with right away,” De Vera said. “But there are a lot of small moments in between which actually tell the story and help move it along in ways that are really nuanced and maybe not so obvious.”

Over the last year, the team of Washington Post filmmakers spent time reporting and filing the Shargi family and U.S. officials from the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations to form the story. Though the film is premiering this week at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival, the team recently opened up their final cut to add new developments to the story.

“It was kind of a feat, I think, to get any of them, much less a number of them, and some of them are currently holding their positions — which is even harder … but to get them on the record, on camera is really,” Duffy said as he trailed off before letting out an exasperated sigh.

“It astounded me when we did it — and we got them from both sides — that’s no small deal,” Duffy continued.

After the team spoke about the process of building trust with their sources to tell their story, sophomore journalism student Jack Condon asked if they had any tips on how to allow for a similar level of care while reporting stories that have a more condensed deadline than their film.

“A lot of times you’re going to be doing parachute journalism where you’re going in for two days on the ground and that’s the two days you have,” Condon said.

Duffy suggested reporters relish and embrace their deadline rather than being discouraged by it.

“The great advantage is you know exactly how much time you have to solve the problem, you know exactly how much you can take on board, how many questions you can answer and how many you have to leave aside,” Duffy said.

Woodsome recommended focusing on pre-reporting and preparing for the trip — that way the reporter has a better understanding of the background to the story and has built some trust prior to even arriving.

Amelia Liberatore, a graduate student at the university, attended the panel although she is not enrolled in White’s class this semester.

“I think it was just a really nice opportunity to hear from outside professionals,” Liberatore said. “I think the j-school does a great job of bringing in people like that all the time.”

Liberatore is particularly curious about investigative journalism, as well as international and environmental conflict, she said.

“Generally, we talk about journalism not impacting the event … but when you’re reporting on current events you might be making some impacts,” Liberatore said. “I just wanted to hear from them about how they navigate that.”

“Bring Them Home” premieres Thursday at the Zootown Arts Community Center at 5:30 p.m. during the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. The film will be available online for streaming through March 3.

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