The Documentary Center

Handing out the keys to the kingdom

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Truthfully, by the time I paid a visit to the Documentary Center, I had a pretty good idea of what I was about to encounter.

This is, in large part, due to the fact that, even before Documentary Center founder and brain trust William Badgely moved from New York to Bellingham to start his instructional haven for budding documentarians, he’d been telling me all about it in an effort to ascertain whether such a thing would fly in this corner of the country.

Probably owing to my longevity in this arts community, people are often eager to share with me their ideas for new businesses, nonprofits and general arts-related entities—and being the enthusiastic supporter of most things arts that I am, the job of active listener is one I relish. Most people pick my brain when their plans are still in the brainstorming stage. Badgely, however, doesn’t quite operate that way. He tends to ruminate and ruminate and then ruminate some more, and when he finally shares the product of all that rumination, the results are fully fleshed out to an impressive extent.

This is why I knew that when I made my way to the Documentary Center’s home in the Make.Shift basement, I would find most of the walls painted white, a large flat screen television at the front of the room, and several tables, each with a setup that includes a fancy Mac desktop and a pair of monitors—all the better to simulate what can be found in actual production offices. I further knew that the other part of the room would be given over to Molasses Manifesto—the longtime imprint under which Badgely’s creative endeavors have flourished, and part of his inspired multi-prong approach to documentary filmmaking.

So then, what exactly is the Documentary Center? Simply put, it’s a place where anyone, of any age, skill level or interest can, over the course of a 10-week session, learn all the skills necessary to make documentaries. Session sizes are small—at this point, limited to five people at a time—which will allow Badgely to provide the kind of intimate, hands-on mentorship and instruction that are both incredibly valuable and tough to come by. And, while Badgely’s first session is almost full (at press time, one spot remained for the session that begins Oct. 1), he says he’ll start another just as soon as he has another five people sign up, and will continue this form of rolling enrollment until he’s hit capacity for the number of students and sessions he can handle.

So, if you’re interested in making documentaries (or any kind of movies, really, as many of the skills Badgely will teach translate across all filmmaking disciplines), why should you hit up the Documentary Center?

First of all, because nothing like what Badgely has created exists, well, just about anywhere. As well, with experience working on shows like MTV’s award-winning True Life series, as well as helming a full-length documentary of his own, 2011’s Kill All Redneck Pricks: A Documentary Film About a Band Called KARP, Badgely boasts the kind of real-world experience that will mean his sessions will be full of practical advice, and his lessons will be grounded in realistic scenarios rather than abstract theory.

“The Documentary Center is fairly unprecedented,” Badgely says, “in that it is an educational center based in an active workspace, so it’s unique form has been custom molded from all of my experiences in order to give people the absolute most from their involvement.”

And when Badgely says he wants to “give people the most from their involvement,” it’s not just some party line he’s trotting out to get people interested. After all, Badgely is, first and foremost, a documentarian himself, and, as such, the decision to house Molasses Manifesto in the same space as the Documentary Center wasn’t a matter of convenience, it was an exceptionally forward-thinking move.

Certainly, gaining the skills and abilities necessary to make a documentary—from the outline right on up to post-production and distribution—is exceedingly important, but in an industry in which experience is everything, internships are vital. Knowing this, and knowing there’s more to any film education than learning to operate a camera, catalogue footage and use an edit bay, Badgely is able to use his ability to offer internships with Molasses Manifesto to teach that which is so often not learned until it’s sometimes too late—chiefly, how to conduct oneself in a production office.

Overall, what Badgely hopes to impart is a blend of his practical experience, passion for the craft and the insatiable curiosity (as well as the ability to organize that curiosity into a story with a narrative arc) that has made him pursue documentary filmmaking with clear focus and dedication for the past decade.

But, at the end of the day, what Badgely wants anyone who signs up for a session or is awarded an internship to know is that your experience at the Documentary Center will be guided by him, but determined by you.

“The Documentary Center is a blank slate of sorts,” he says. “We have a solid process, methods of organization and a keen insight to story to structure to help you along the way, but ultimately the story is yours. We want to help you gain the tools you will need to tell the stories you burn to tell. We hope that learning the steps to making a documentary film of your own will be for you as it has been for us—the keys to the kingdom.”

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