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Interview with Nina Davenport

Mom and baby

HBO

Why this story?

NINA DAVENPORT

When I found myself in my early forties still single and still wanting a baby, I looked around me and saw so many women in the same situation, grappling with the issue of not knowing when their biological clocks were going to expire. Since Id already made a personal film in the past, Always a Bridesmaid, I thought I was the ideal person to tell this story, which is one of the big stories for women of my generation.

HBO

Was it difficult to share such intimate, raw moments on film?

NINA DAVENPORT

For whatever reason, Im not shy. I think one reason people dont want to share their stories is that they dont want to be judged, but I dont care about that. I want people to like me as much as anyone, but I dont see what harm can come from generously sharing your story with people.

HBO

Apart from your journey as a single mother, theres a focus on your relationship with your father.

NINA DAVENPORT

What was really amazing about that was how making my dad a character in a film helped me see him in a more sympathetic light. It gave me a distance that is difficult to have with your own parents. Looking at someone as a whole personfrom childhood to old ageallowed me to see him with more compassion and it actually improved my relationship with him.

HBO

Has your father seen the film?

"I want the next film to be nothing whatsoever about me."

NINA DAVENPORT

Not yet. Ive been waiting for the right venue where he can see it in a group and where its easy for him to travelhe is eighty-four.

HBO

What inspired you to become a documentary filmmaker?

NINA DAVENPORT

Grey Gardens is definitely high up on the list of my favorite films. But I also studied at Harvard where Ross McElwee, Robb Moss, and Robert Gardner teach. Ross is very well-known for his autobiographical films and Rob Gardner is a well-known ethnographic filmmaker but with a very strong element on the visual, so between those three I got the impulse to be very visual as well as very personal in my own work.

HBO

Do you see yourself making more autobiographical films in the future?

NINA DAVENPORT

I definitely see myself making at least one more, so that it would be a trilogy (starting with Always a Bridesmaid), a portrait of one woman of a generation. But I cant always make those kinds of films because theyre exhausting. I want the next film to be nothing whatsoever about me.

HBO

What do you think makes a good documentary?

NINA DAVENPORT

The ones I like the best are where you dont already know from the beginning what youre going to get. I see myself first and foremost as an artist and what that means is that each film is a journey where Im figuring it out as I go and thats what I like to find in other peoples work.

My film, Parallel Lines, is a really good example of that. I just got into a car with a plan to talk to people as I was driving from California back to New York post-9/11. It ended up being this amazing portrait of America because I went on a hunch the entire time.

HBO

Is there anything you can accomplish in a documentary that you cant do in a narrative feature film?

NINA DAVENPORT

To me, its really satisfying to respond to real life and how real people live. Some people say that they dont care if its real or not, as long as theyre entertained, but it matters to me if its real. Obviously there are editing conventions that makeyou might put one scene later than it actually happenedbut its really important to me that theres an emotional truth to the story Im telling.

HBO

Whats the last best documentary youve seen?

NINA DAVENPORT

I was on the jury at the 2013 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. We gave the award to American Promise which I really loved. Its thirteen years in the life of two kids, about family and race in America, and its very honest. They had no idea when they started where it would go.

HBO

Could you see yourself making something of a similar scope?

NINA DAVENPORT

Im trying to get back into the mode of filming Jasper [her son] because hes really such a compelling presence. Of course, everyone feels that about their child. But what you cant predict, which is something that comes across in First Comes Love, is that something that can seem so insignificant at the time can take on such resonance over time. I can see myself making another film just about him, because hes so interesting. Of course I cant be the only one thats interested, which is true in general of a personal film  you have to be sure that youre not the only one who cares.

First Comes Love

Docs Summer Series 2013