A Collaboration with Timothy Greenfield-Sanders
The Art of the Interview
Interviewing is a subtle art form–a dance between the interviewer and subject.
I began working with the acclaimed portrait photographer and director Timothy Greenfield-Sanders nearly a decade ago when he was midway into directing the first volume of the HBO documentary film, The Latino List., Vol. I. My first interview subject was Christian Armando Perez, a.k.a. Pitbull.
I had seen The Black List, the first in a trilogy of documentary films featuring prominent African Americans who shared their struggles, triumphs, and joys of Black life in America on HBO and loved the film. I was also a fan of Greenfield-Sanders’ portraits and admired the purity and subtlety of his images. When one of the producers called me to interview Pitbull, I was elated to contribute to the next iteration of the series.
After working on The Latino List, Volumes I & II where I share interview credits with fellow journalist and friend, Maria Hinojosa, I worked on two more films, The Women’s List and The Boomer List, both produced for the American Masters brand. The films originally aired on PBS and are now streaming on Netflix.
It’s been thrilling and delightful work. The films have offered me the opportunity to refine my interviewing skills–an art form that I cherish. I’ve interviewed a wide range of human beings–Deepak Chopra, Margaret Cho, Billy Joel, Laurie Anderson, Wendy Williams, Betsey Johnson, Nancy Pelosi, Alicia Keys, Amy Tan, among many, many others.
At its most fundamental, an interview is an authentic conversation between two humans—soul to soul. The particular format of the List films, direct to camera, is especially powerful. During the filming, interview subjects are looking into a camera, which has been turned into a monitor. Therefore, they see me during the entire filming process. I, on the other hand, am in another part of the studio, looking into another monitor, one of the cameras filming the subject. While there are about a dozen people in the studio, at the core, its just the subject and me in an intimate exchange–two humans engaged in deep conversation.
I have been transformed by the intimacy of these exchanges and the generosity of the many people who share important moments of their life stories through me.
What is exciting as well is that in the List documentaries, as in all the work I do as a journalist, the interviewer, me, is not the story, which is why the viewer never sees me. I am not the story. I am the bridge to their story. This makes the film ever more powerful. The use of direct to camera results in a deeper, richer, and more powerful experience for the viewer.
I’ve now worked on four List documentaries. But there are three more directed by Greenfield-Sanders and produced by the same team except with different interviewers. My friends and colleagues Samuel McConnell and Janet Mock, conducted interviews for The Out List, and The Trans List, respectively. And, Elvis Mitchell, former New York Times film critic, conducted interviews on the film that inspired it all, The Black List.
Together the series of documentaries offer a refreshing meditation on race, class, sexuality, ethnicity, and culture in America through the varied voices of exemplary figures. Just as the initial film, The Black List redefined the term “blacklist,” each of the films in the series has helped redefine what is it to be a woman, a Latino/na, LGBT, trans in America, and in the world. The films have added to the discourse dispelling myths and reframing narratives of marginalized communities.
I hope you take a moment to check them out. And I hope they touch you as deeply as they have touched me and everyone who has worked on them.