Jason Wood’s new book of interviews with documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield is both a valuable tool in understanding Broomfield’s unorthodox working methods, and a chance for him to answer some of the criticisms that have been levelled against him over the years.
After a brief introduction (in which Wood rightly identifies Broomfield’s most obvious contemporary comparison, Michael Moore), he methodically goes through each of Broomfield’s films, after an initial discussion of his formative years at the NFT (under the positive and lasting influence of Colin Young).
Demonstrating a thorough knowledge and understanding of his work, Wood’s questions enable Broomfield to revisit his considerable filmography. Initially, Wood sticks to aesthetic or logistical questions, but eventually begins to pose more challenging questions, especially with regards to Broomfield’s oft-criticised technique of appearing extensively on camera in his own works, and often blurring the line between subjective and objective reporting of fact.
Broomfield admits gleefully to setting ‘elephant traps’ for some of his more objectionable interview subjects, most notably Eugene Terre’ Blanche, but is ready to admit failure where perhaps other documentary filmmakers wouldn’t. Broomfield is considered by some as being something of a middle class fop whose heart really isn’t in his work. After reading these interviews, it’s clear this simply isn’t the case. Broomfield’s voice, once criticised by Derek Malcolm as being too ‘Eton-middle class’, is clearly something that bothered him early on in his career, but if this really annoys people to distraction or is seen as undermining his sincerity, one could argue they’re missing the point of his documentaries altogether.
At the heart of Broomfield’s work is a genuine desire to understand the world we live in and to offer his findings to a wider public. He’s certainly right in asserting that evening news bulletins barely scratch the surface when it comes to the more complex issues that trouble the world today, and are often filtered through an inane and commercially-driven editorial process. Is this really preferable to Broomfield’s subjective yet greatly detailed and researched version? Even the documentarist of the day – Michael Moore – comes across like a blunt instrument when viewed next to Broomfield’s work. Ultimately, Nick Broomfield: Documenting Icons is an engaging read that whets one’s appetite for all his films you’ve not yet seen, and encourages you to revisit those you have.
Look out for an exclusive interview woth the book’s author, Jason Wood, in next week’s issue.