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There are plenty of lenient “rules” to filmmaking, but seeing someone shatter conventions is quite refreshing. There are plenty of great directors, actors, writers, and other artists out there who meet this criterion, yet there are a few who go unnoticed. Nick Broomfield, a British documentary director, is probably the nerviest interviewer I’ve ever come across. He asks bold questions, performs some wild stunts, and will go to any lengths to see his documentary turn out the way he wants it to. Even though I haven’t yet seen a film from him that I would call a classic, he is one the best contemporary documentary filmmakers out there.

Broomfield consistently breaks rules. He’s not Jean-Luc Godard, but he is great when it comes to breaking “rules” of documentary filmmaking. For example, interviewers/directors are not supposed to be an active element of the movie, for the point of a documentary is to… well, document. However, like Michael Moore after him, Broomfield sprinkles his face all over his documentaries, and in a sense, he is a secondary subject in his movies. Or actually, he is the subject. As Roger Ebert said in his review of Broomfield’s Biggie and Tupac, “His movies are, in a sense, about his experiences in making them.” While his chosen subject (Lily Tomlin, fetishes, Heidi Fleiss, etc.) is the main focus of his film, his role is very active indeed.

In addition, unlike most directors these days, Broomfield refuses to use a large crew. He is his own sound recorder, and someone else acts as the photographer. Anyone watching him knows he is brilliant when they see that amid the cords, boom mike, headphones, and other sound equipment, Broomfield is surprisingly clear-headed, completely organized, and focused.

Unafraid to ask tough questions, Broomfield will even get himself into some trouble in order to make his point or to get what he wants. For Aileen Wuornos: the Selling of a Serial Killer, he spoke openly with Wuornos, America’s supposedly first female serial killer. (Most other people in his place would probably freeze and not know what to ask.) When one woman reveals herself as practically Machiavellian, Broomfield puts her in her place, calling her deceptive, conniving, and the like, not worried about the possible consequences due to the twisted people he’s involved with.

In Kurt & Courtney, he attends a party at which the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) awards Courtney Love with an award about free speech. After Love makes her acceptance speech, Broomfield improvises: he approaches the podium on stage and talks about how inappropriate it is that Love, who sent death threats to reporters and journalists who discussed her in an unfriendly light following the death of Kurt Cobain, receive an award from a group that supports the freedom of the press. (Unsurprisingly, he was immediately removed from the stage.) If anyone can say anything about Broomfield, it would regard his fearlessness.

As awesome and relentless as he his, Broomfield and his work consistently go overlooked. Most of his documentaries were for Channel Four of the BBC, which has offered minimal exposure of Broomfield’s films in the States. Barely even a third of his movies is (or ever has been) available in the U.S. Even while he made movies in the United States, I had never heard of Broomfield until I saw Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam (thanks to Roger Ebert for placing the movie in his top ten list for 1996), and I was left greatly impressed. Documentaries aren’t exactly at the top of people’s lists of movies to check out, but when they’re done well, like when Broomfield makes them, they’re more than worth the cost of a rental.


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