First Comes Love

Docs Summer Series 2013

Interview with Nina Davenport

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

HBO

Apart from your journey as a single mother, there’s 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 person—from childhood to old age—allowed 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. I’ve been waiting for the right venue where he can see it in a group and where it’s easy for him to travel—he 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 can’t always make those kinds of films because they’re 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 don’t already know from the beginning what you’re going to get. I see myself first and foremost as an artist and what that means is that each film is a journey where I’m figuring it out as I go and that’s what I like to find in other people’s 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 can’t do in a narrative feature film?

NINA DAVENPORT

To me, it’s really satisfying to respond to real life and how real people live. Some people say that they don’t care if it’s real or not, as long as they’re entertained, but it matters to me if it’s real. Obviously there are editing conventions that make—you might put one scene later than it actually happened—but it’s really important to me that there’s an emotional truth to the story I’m telling.

HBO

What’s the last best documentary you’ve 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. It’s thirteen years in the life of two kids, about family and race in America, and it’s 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

I’m trying to get back into the mode of filming Jasper [her son] because he’s really such a compelling presence. Of course, everyone feels that about their child. But what you can’t 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 he’s so interesting. Of course I can’t be the only one that’s interested, which is true in general of a personal film – you have to be sure that you’re not the only one who cares.