While one of the uphill struggles that documentaries face is the perception that they can often be a bitter pill to swallow, one of director Lucy Walker’s strengths is her ability to create nonfiction fare that connects with audiences.
One of her two most recent features, “Waste Land,” which, along with “Countdown to Zero,” premiered in Sundance in January, has the distinction of winning the audience award at Sundance and Berlin, putting Walker in the unique position of earning two audience award wins at Berlin (she won previously in 2007 for doc “Blindsight”). To date, the character-driven, uplifting tale of “Waste Land” has garnered more than 16 festival awards.
An Oxford grad and Fulbright scholar at NYU Film school, Walker takes her time in selecting projects. She believes that films like “Waste Land,” about artist Vik Muniz’s novel project with landfill pickers in Brazil, and “Countdown,” chronicling the ongoing threat of nuclear weapons, have the potential to influence world leaders’ opinions.
“I’m always trying to optimize, optimize, optimize,” says Walker, who has delved minutely into every aspect of physical filmmaking from how mics and tripods function to understanding optics. She feels she can communicate effectively and expeditiously as a director because she’s mastered most aspects of the craft. For example, she recorded much of the sound on “Countdown,” going so far as to mic Tony Blair for an interview.
On documentaries, says Walker, “you better know what all the jobs are, because you may end up doing them.”