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Tribeca Women Directors: Meet Kate Davis (Newburgh Sting)

Women and Hollywood By Melissa Silverstein | Women and Hollywood April 19, 2014 at 10:00AM

"It was very hard to get people from all sides to talk on camera. The prosecutor, several defense attorneys, even family members of the convicted men were afraid to speak out against the FBI, fearing for either their jobs or personal security. "
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Still from "Newburgh Sting"
Still from "Newburgh Sting"

Kate Davis' documentary Southern Comfort, a 2001 Sundance Film Festival Grand Prize winner, has won over 25 awards and continues to be screened as a seminal work aimed towards overcoming transphobia. 

She and her directing partner David Heilbroner have been producing award-winning documentaries for more than 20 years. They are the filmmaking team behind many HBO Documentaries, including the critically acclaimed Cheshire Murders, the Emmy award- winning Jockey, Diagnosis Bi-polar and Plastic Disasters. The duo co-directed Stonewall Uprising, which won the Peabody Award in 2012, and Scopes: The Battle Over America's Soul, part of Ten Days Which Unexpectedly Changed America, which won the Emmy for Best Non Fiction Series. (Press materials)

Newburgh Sting, co-directed by Heilbroner, will debut at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 20.

Please give us your description of the film playing.

Using the dramatic case of four black youth from Newburgh, New York, Newburgh Sting exposes the FBI's practice of targeting and entrapping Muslims in the name of fighting the war on domestic terror.  

What drew you to this story?

My films tend to tell the story behind the official story. This film is a perfect example. We take a national case -- hailed as a law-enforcement victory -- and reveal a deeper truth: that the story is based on racism, corruption, government deception, and oppression against the poor. I felt the time was overdue to look more honestly at the lies Americans are being fed in post 9-11 America.

What was the biggest challenge?

It was very hard to get people from all sides to talk on camera. The prosecutor, several defense attorneys, even family members of the convicted men were afraid to speak out against the FBI, fearing for either their jobs or personal security. 

What advice do you have for other female directors?

Just do it. Being female should be no limitation, even when filming in a male enviroment. 

What's the biggest misconception about you and your work?

I am not sure if there are any general conceptions one way or the other about my films, though I have been questioned by the press all too many times about my sexual orientation -- as if that somehow is relevant to the quality of my LGBT themed films. I hope we can get beyond identity politics and let everyone's work speak for itself.

Do you have any thoughts on what are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities for the future with the changing distribution mechanisms for films?

The new ways to get films out are daunting. With opportunites for digital distribution also comes a sense that films can come in any cereal box. So tell me, how do filmmakers control their product?

Name your favorite women directed film and why. 

In the doc world, I admire Heidi Ewing in that she pushes the form and wants to grow artistically rather than settle with a proven formula. Jennifer Fox, too, allows each of her projects to find its own aesthetic shape and audience. 

This article is related to: Kate Davis, Women Directors, Interviews, Tribeca Film Festival, Documentary, Newburgh Sting


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