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Meet the DocuWeeks Filmmakers: Phie Ambo--'The Home Front'

By IDA Editorial Staff

Over the next month, we at IDA will be introducing our community to the filmmakers whose work is represented in the DocuWeeksTM Theatrical Documentary Showcase, which runs from August 12 through September 1 in New York City and August 19 through September 8 in Los Angeles. We asked the filmmakers to share the stories behind their films--the inspirations, the challenges and obstacles, the goals and objectives, the reactions to their films so far.

So, to continue this series of conversations, here is Phie Ambo, director of The Home Front.

Synopsis: The Home Front is about conflicts in our private sphere: feuds between neighbors. The film follows a boundary inspector who mediates between disagreeing neighbors. We enter the homes of the feuding parties to learn about the conflicts from both sides. Why is it so difficult to solve a conflict so close at hand? And what do fences and hedges represent? Is this really what the conflicts are all about?


The Home Front


IDA: How did you get started in documentary filmmaking?

Phie Ambo: I got interested in documentary filmmaking when I was in my early 20s; I bought a video camera and immediately I was hooked. I thought it was magical that I could point my camera at whatever I thought was attractive and just leave the rest out of the framing. The camera became my way of trying to understand reality. I could select what I wanted to be part of my own private reality. I guess it´s still the reason why I keep making documentaries and not fiction-looking at the world in my own framing is my way of trying to get a meaning out of the chaos that is life and reality.


IDA: What inspired you to make The Home Front?

PA: I got inspired to make The Home Front because I had heard in the news that violence towards public employees was rising and so were fights between neighbors. I got interested in finding out why we fight so much in a country like Denmark, where we have a pretty good welfare system and a very high living standard. What creates conflict, and what does it look like in the microcosmos that is our neighborhood? I was mainly interested in conflicts that arise from matters of principle. The neighbors had to have fights that to the outsider seemed small and meaningless, but through the film I would invite the audience to look deeper into the conflict and discover that maybe fights are not at all about what we say they are. I was interested in the anatomy of conflict at a very basic level. I wanted to look at these fights that on the surface looked pointless and dissect them to see what they actually consisted of.


IDA: What were some of the challenges and obstacles in making this film, and how did you overcome them?

PA: The main challenge in making The Home Front was to get participants for the film. Not only was I an intruder in a very stressful and personal time in peoples' lives, but I was also insisting on having both sides of the fence in every case. If I didn't get both neighbors to participate, I felt that the film would be more about gossip than about dissecting a conflict. It took me two summers of recording to get the cases that I needed for the film.


IDA: How did your vision for the film change over the course of the pre-production, production and post-production processes?

PA: From the beginning I wanted to make a light and humorous film because I think that it´s important to keep things in perspective: Nobody will suffer serious injuries from having a problem with a fence or a hedge. It was important to me that the participants understood that the film was not about pointing out a winner or a loser in a fight and that it would be an entertaining and playful film-not a serious piece of journalism. But one thing is theory and another thing is actually seeing yourself depicted in an entertaining film about something that you at the time experienced as extremely stressful. I always screen my films to the participants before I finish the editing, and I was really surprised that all the participants were happy with the film and were able to smile at their situations now that a year had passed by. 


IDA:  As you've screened The Home Front--whether on the festival circuit, or in screening rooms, or in living rooms--how have audiences reacted to the film? What has been most surprising or unexpected about their reactions?

PA: The Home Front is the first film that I made just for television. I have only made artistic films for the big screen, so to me it was quite a challenge to create a short film for primetime TV, but I wanted to learn to communicate to a wider audience. The film was seen by almost one million Danes, so that was very rewarding. But it came as a surprise to me that the film also turned out to have a big festival life.


IDA: What docs or docmakers have served as inspirations for you?

PA: I get inspired by any film that has a personal voice. I like documentaries that are driven by a strong and entertaining story, like Catfish or Exit Through the Gift Shop, but I also love to see films that are told through powerful images, like Our Daily Bread or Working Man´s Death. I like it when I can feel that the director wants to tell a story that only he/she can tell. 

The Home Front will be screening August 12 through 18 at the IFC Center in New York City.

For the complete DocuWeeksTM 2011 program, click here.

To purchase tickets for The Home Front and the rest of the films in the DocuWeeks New York Shorts Program, click here.