Lesley Chilcott To Make Two-Pronged Tribeca Debut
Lesley Chilcott
Director's documentary "Watson" to premiere at fest; filmmaker to also moderate discussion on branded content and activism
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Lesley Chilcott, whose credits include serving as producer on the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth, is no stranger to the festival circuit. Yet she never had occasion to attend the Tribeca Film Fest--until now. In fact, Chilcott will be a participant at Tribeca, which runs from April 24-May 5, on two fronts--debuting Watson, which she directed and produced, in the festival’s Documentary Competition, and moderating a Tribeca X panel discussion on Activism and Impact, centered on how brands can advance themselves and social causes by teaming with filmmakers to tell moving stories that raise awareness of important issues.

Chilcott’s Watson delves into the life of Captain Paul Watson, co-founder of Greenpeace and founder of Sea Shepherd, who has spent 40 years fighting to end the destruction of the ocean habitat and its wildlife. 

Chilcott has been a long time admirer of Captain Watson. “It’s one thing to volunteer and give to groups. It’s another to go beyond and become a full-time activist,” related Chilcott who explained that through Watson she wanted to give audiences “a 360 world view” of the sacrifices it takes to be a full-time activist. At the same time, she explained that Watson “is not an environmental film. It’s action, adventure...I wanted to concentrate on him as someone who will not compromise. In this day and age with all the politicians going on and on, most people can be bought. This is a human who cannot be bought. It’s admirable.”

Chilcott also imbued Watson with a bit of cinematic artistry, which she said is hard to explain unless you see the film. Suffice it to say that she was inspired by the 50th anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey. In seeing Kubrick’s iconic movie again, she wanted to depict marine life creatures as “intelligent spaceships,” taking an underwater cinematography approach which had her camera beneath sharks and whales in the deep blue, providing a different perspective on these wonders of nature and the value of their habitat.

Helping to bring Watson to fruition was a chance meeting at a dinner party. “A woman dressed in black sat down next to me at this fancy event,” recalled Chilcott. “She introduced herself as being from Sea Shepherd.” That started a conversation. The woman was Farrah Smith, director of major gifts at Sea Shepherd. Chilcott asked her why no one has made a film about Paul Watson. Smith’s response, related Chilcott, was “I don’t know. Why don’t you make it?” This led to Chilcott connecting with Watson via some early Skype calls and the ball got rolling. Chilcott said that her general motivation is to make “documentary films that uncover basic truths. What could make a guy risk his life?” Watson’s story was right in line with her brand of storytelling.

Watson adds to a directorial body of work for Chilcott, which also includes the acclaimed documentary CodeGirl. That film tracked the story of 5,000 girls from 60 nations as they compete in an entrepreneurship and coding competition by Technovation. CodeGirl was released for free on YouTube before it hit theaters. In the five days it was available online, CodeGirl generated nearly one million views, and viewing parties among teen girls took place in  assorted countries, including 64 Google offices worldwide.

Chilcott’s filmography as a producer includes several Davis Guggenheim-directed documentaries such as An Inconvenient Truth, the Producers Guild Award-winning Waiting for Superman, the Barack Obama biography A Mother’s Promise which made a major splash at the 2008 Democratic National Convention, and It Might Get Loud about legendary guitarists The Edge, Jimmy Page and Jack White.

Activism and Impact
As for her Tribeca panel duties, Chilcott will moderate the Activism and Impact discussion featuring: Greg Hahn, chief creative officer, BBDO New York; Folayo Lasaki, head of marketing, SoulPancake, a division of Participant Media; Lisa Sherman, president/CEO, The Ad Council; and Peter Van Overstraeten, VP, premium and super premium brands, Anheuser-Busch. 

In light of the increasing need for advertisers to stand for something, to have a purpose, this session will explore how activism-oriented brands and organizations can achieve their impact-oriented goals by working with filmmakers and creators to tell stories that support their mission. How can companies meaningfully enter and be involved in this space? What types of content can be created to help further a message and raise awareness for important causes.

The panel discussion is part of the Tribeca Film Festival’s inaugural Tribeca X: A Day of Conversations on Friday, April 26, providing an examination of storytelling at the intersection of advertising and entertainment. Keynote speaker is Procter & Gamble chief brand officer Marc Pritchard.

Chilcott is well versed in the filmmaking and advertising sectors. On the latter score, she is on the spotmaking/branded content directorial roster of production house BODEGA, which maintains bases of operation in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Her credits span commercials for such brands as Motorola, AT&T, M&Ms and Cover Girl.

She enjoys the challenges of shorter format filmmaking, collaborating with clients and agencies to tell real stories that help to define brands. Chilcott added that her ad endeavors introduce her to new technological toys and innovations, including varied cameras ranging from ARRI Alexa to RED. She turned to the Alexa 65 and the RED Monstro 8K for Watson, based in part on her earlier experiences with different cameras from both manufacturers. Chilcott deployed the RED Monstro in 8K for underwater lensing beneath the humpback whales. She felt the camera and resolution would help best capture the “interconnectedness” within Captain Watson’s world, showing the strength of an ecosystem dependent on the diversity of life within it.


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