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In Barbara Kopple’s 40-plus year career as one of America’s greatest documentary directors, she has won Academy Awards for the seminal 1976 documentary “Harlan County, U.S.A.” a portrait of a Kentucky coal mining town in crisis, and for “American Dream,” a 1990 examination of a meatpackers’ strike at a Hormel plant in Austin, Minn. A pioneer of cinema vérité that got her start with the Maysles brothers (directors of “Gimme Shelter” and “Grey Gardens”), she was most recently nominated for a News & Documentary Emmy award for “Desert One,” a doc about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. Kopple will be a keynote speaker at Variety and Rolling Stone’s Truth Seekers Summit on Thursday. She spoke to Variety about her decades-long career in nonfiction filmmaking.

When you look at the documentaries you’ve made, what’s the through line that connects them?

I don’t know if there’s a through line. I think that they are all just stories. You could throw me a story about anything. I really love people, and I love telling their stories, and I feel so excited when I’m able to do that.

Has the way you make films changed over the years?

I don’t know that I’ve changed the way I make films. I have consistently tried not to stick my nose into a story. I try so hard to let the characters be the ones that carry the story and say the things that they want to say. Maybe I got that from this woman Lucy Jarvis [a film and television producer], who lived to be 102 years old. She just did anything that she wanted to do. She wasn’t afraid to do anything. She embraced life. I think many other women are doing the same, like Rory Kennedy, Mirra Bank, Liz Garbus, and Kristi Jacobson. There are just so many wonderful strong women documentary filmmakers. It’s a real community of people you want to talk to, support and see where they are going and what they’re doing. So, I think if anything has changed, it’s having more and more women filmmakers who I love and seeing their work and spending time with them.

You were 31 when you won your first Oscar for “Harlan County, U.S.A.” At the time, was it difficult to be a woman in the documentary industry, which was dominated by men?

No. It wasn’t at all because one there was very little money. There’s still very little money, but it’s getting better. I felt that it was easier because I could say anything I wanted to. For example, I did a film on Mike Tyson (“Fallen Champ: The Untold Story of Mike Tyson”), and if I wanted to ask questions to different people, they would help me, where a guy might have had to use shorthand. The same with the Yankees film I for ESPN called “The House of Steinbrenner.” I could just ask anything and learn so much. So I think that it’s easier because people are not intimidated by you.

Is it at all surprising to you how popular documentaries have become since you made “Harlan County, U.S.A.” in 1976?

No. We live in very hard times and people want to get a sense of truthfulness in terms of what’s happening and what’s going on. Documentaries do that. Documentaries are so valuable.

You have made several docus about celebrities including “Wild Man Blues” about Woody Allen and “Shut Up & Sing” about the Dixie Chicks. Why do you think in recent years celebrity-driven documentaries have become mainstream?

People want to know what makes you tick. Celebrities are people and they have their own stories and insecurities and the same with people who commit terrible crimes. What propels somebody to do that? What was their background? So, I think we want to learn about these people. We see celebrities, but who are they really? What did they have to go through to be where they are?

Does one’s sex and race matter when it comes to directing a documentary?

Everybody should be able to tell stories, and we will all tell them from different perspectives. I don’t think anybody really should be blocked out because one person comes from a different culture and feels differently than another person. All of our stories are important, and they all come from different places because of who we are and because of who the people are that have asked us to make a film about them.

What are you working on now?

I’m finishing a film on civil rights about Janet Murguía and Marc Morial. (“Untitled 21st Century Civil Rights Film”). They are these unbelievable visionary warrior types. Janet is a civil rights activist and president of UnidosUS, and Marc is a political and civic leader and the president of the National Urban League. They are both so empowering and they’ve come together over the years to do things, to work together, to exchange information. They fight for everything that you can imagine. They fight against white supremacy; they fight for equal rights and voting rights, and prisoners’ rights. It goes on and on, but the most beautiful part of the project is getting to know them, their families, and what they went through to get where they are.

Will it be a series or a one-off film?

It’s going to be a one-off independent project. We are about two months away from finishing it.