- Monday, Mar. 25, 2013
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Andrea Fine--half of the husband-and-wife directing team known as The Fines--recently looked at the trailer she and Sean Fine put together some time ago for their documentary short titled INOCENTE. There's a scene in the trailer when that film's protagonist, Inocente, a homeless teenager who's an artist, says she's "waiting for the day that will change my life" as her eyes well up with tears.
That special day, observed Andrea Fine, came last month when that young artist went up on stage at the Academy Awards with The Fines as they accepted the Oscar for Best Short Subject Documentary on the strength of INOCENTE. "Her life is on such a different trajectory now," affirmed Andrea Fine.
That upward and onward trajectory includes a major arts school reaching out to Inocente to become a student, and the National Arts Club in New York agreeing to fund an art show which will feature her work. "She's embraced it all well. She was 15 when we filmed the documentary," said Andrea Fine. "Now she's 19, mature enough to handle what's coming her way." And Inocente is no longer homeless, now able to afford a studio apartment.
For Sean Fine, winning an Oscar took on greater meaning with Inocente alongside he and his wife on stage. "For one, a light has been shone on homelessness in America," he said. "And the idea that art is important in our communities and throughout the U.S. really hit home. It's inspiring what art can do to help kids."
Still, Sean Fine noted that he and his wife "don't feel like activists...A lot of documentary filmmakers are activists. They become the issue and make films because of an issue. We are a little different. Yes, the subject matter is important to us. But ultimately we make film because we love great stories, we love being filmmakers. We put a lot of craft into the work--the storytelling, the editing, the music, the cinematography [INOCENTE was shot by Sean Fine]. With this film, that all came together in a special way. The subject of the film is immersed in art and the film is art itself. Often documentary filmmakers are looked at more by the issue than the craft they put into their films. Craft is essential to us."
In that vein, Andrea Fine noted that it was also important that editor Jeff Consiglio was on stage that Oscar night along with Inocente and the directors. "He's an amazing artist," said Andrea Fine of Consiglio who has also cut such projects for The Fines as War Dance and Life According To Sam. Back in 2007 War Dance--which centered on three children who live in a displacement camp in northern Uganda and go on to compete in their country's national music and dance festival--won a Sundance Directing Award while being nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. War Dance also earned an Oscar nomination for Best Feature Documentary.
Life According to Sam premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival; the documentary tells the story of Dr. Leslie Gordon and Dr. Scott Berns who fight to save their only son, Sam, from Progeria, a rare and fatal disease for which there is no definitive treatment or cure. In less than a decade, the doctors' work has led to significant advances. Life According To Sam is slated to debut on HBO this fall.
Finding Inocente The seed for INOCENTE was planted when The Fines read a statistic that one in 45 children in the U.S. would experience homelessness. "We thought it would be great to do a film about one or some of those kids," recalled Sean Fine. "But they're hard to fine in that homeless kids don't want it known they're homeless. Then we thought let's look at art programs, maybe finding the right kid or kids there."
Research led the Fines to a program in the San Diego area called A Reason To Survive, founded by artist Matt D'Arrigo. "We told Matt what we wanted to do," continued Sean Fine, "and he immediately said, 'I've got the perfect person here. You have to meet her.' We went out there for about a week without a camera, just spending time with Inocente. We asked her if she would be willing to tell her story on camera."
Inocente's story, said Andrea Fine, has "a lot of misplaced blame. The conflicts and love between mother and daughter are evident. Inocente's mother was 15 when she gave birth to her. Here's a young mom in a country where she doesn't speak the language, here illegally, moving in and out of shelters. The way she dealt with stress put pain into their lives. But there's a lot of healing and new beginnings that are reflected in the film. Inocente and her mother have a better relationship now that they live apart."
Part of that misplaced blame is Inocente as a youngster believing she was responsible for her family being homeless. When she forgot to tell her mother that her dad wanted dinner ready, the father became abusive, leading them to leave him and their house that night. That began a homeless odyssey full of adversity with the prime escape for Inocente becoming her ability to express herself through her art.
Branching out The Fines' documentary roots took hold during their tenure off and on again over 10 years as directors/producers at National Geographic, traveling to some 30 countries to chronicle subjects ranging from wildlife to life in war zones. They met each other at National Geographic, worked separately at first, then got married. They started directing together upon leaving National Geographic. Their first major co-directing project was Fatherhood in America for Spike TV. After that came War Dance. Their filmography also includes In the Moment: Lindsay Vonn, chronicling the famed Olympic skier during a pivotal moment in competition.
"We are a true 50/50 directing team," assessed Sean Fine. "People on set are amazed, telling us we're like one head but they're two of us. Oftentimes in directorial team relationships there is a dominant person but that's not the case with us. We are one unit."
Meanwhile, the Fines have diversified their unit approach into commercialmaking via production house Rabbit where they have been for just over a year, breaking in with a Dreft detergent spot for Saatchi & Saatchi New York capturing babies at their most mischievous. Next came an ambitious Gillette spot, "World Shave," for BBDO New York, which focused on a guy using the same razor for five weeks as he traveled around the world. The actual shoot entailed seven countries in five weeks as the Fines followed the man on various adventures ranging from swimming in frigid water in Iceland, to encountering sharks while in a shark cage in South Africa.
The Fines then had a return engagement with BBDO NY for Save The Children and the Ad Council; the PSA follows a box which makes it way to a health worker in Malawi. He opens the box to reveal a stethoscope which he places on a child's heart, recording the beat. Next, the box and the heartbeat recording are in an L.A. sound studio where pop band One Republic creates a beat-inspired song, "Feel Again," which has gone on to become popular on iTunes, with downloads raising money for Save The Children. The spot is the centerpiece of the "Every Beat Matters" campaign.
The Fines' ad filmography also includes a Pedigree commercial for BBDO New York which captures what it feels like to bring a dog home for the first time; and a Northrup Grummon project for mcgarrybowen, New York.
"We had thought about jumping into commercials for a number of years before we did it," related Andrea Fine. "The commercial world is a smart one--they want something that feels real along with a level of beauty and visual power. Sean is the cinematographer for all of our work and the level of craft we put into our documentaries has made for a nice transition into commercials. As filmmakers and artists, we are drawn to all the visual, imaginative areas."
Sean Fine added, "Our documentary work has helped us to see seemingly every emotion known to man. As directors we can feed off this bag of emotions and can bring whatever we need from that to our fictional and scripted work, working with actors to get better performances. Sometimes documentary makers, though, get put into a category when it comes to commercials. We'd like to be viewed beyond that as emotional, visual storytellers--whether that be with people or products. We're anxious to do big sports stories, even car commercials which we believe can be emotional and beautiful."
Also percolating for The Fines are several fictional feature film projects in various stages of development. "We're feeling good about new doors opening up for us," said Andrea Fine, acknowledging that an Oscar win can help get one's foot into that proverbial door. "That can be a big new launchpad for us. We're looking to tell stories in an artistic way--whether it be through documentaries, narrative features, commercials or branded content."