Hillary Pierce Interview
V7: You graduated from UNCW in 2007 and now you’re back to speak at Visions ten years later. Where have you been since then?
HP: After graduation I started working in the film industry around Wilmington and was fairly busy. Working at Full Frame Film Festival in Durham sparked a passion for documentary filmmaking, and I ended up going to Costa Rica with another film studies alumni to create a documentary. We actually didn’t end up with a finished product but the experience of spending a summer interviewing and filming really solidified my interest. I applied for an internship at Maysles Films in New York and was able to study under Albert Maysles, a legend in documentary cinematography. After that I got an MFA at Wake Forest, moved to Austin, TX, and was lucky to cross paths with Keith Maitland who was working on a project called TOWER. The rest is history.
V7: Why do you think making documentaries important?
HP: Full Frame Film Festival allowed me to see documentaries that uncovered stories that I wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to. I think overall being able to experience humanity through film is what makes documentaries so special. They ask something of you and demand empathy which is what struck me as unique.
V7: You were a producer for TOWER which just finished showing at festivals and played on PBS. What was the experience of reaching out to the characters like?
HP: It’s intimidating and very special. Documentary filmmakers are faced with the task of reaching out to people that might not necessarily want to share their story, especially in cases of tragedy like this. Sending out those first emails or making those first calls was very scary because I had no idea what to expect -- this was such a traumatic experience for the people involved and I didn’t want to open up old wounds or force them to tell stories they didn’t want to relive. What we found, though, was that people were actually glad to talk about it. In fifty years, most of the victims were never contacted about the event so more often than not they told us it was almost therapeutic.
V7: Was there any specific film or moment you remember where you knew you wanted to go into filmmaking?
There’s a few touchstones. My dad got me to watch some things as a kid that an 8-year-old probably shouldn’t have been into (The Birds being the first movie that comes to mind), so film was always more of this active force rather than entertainment. I remember thinking, “Oh, there’s so much more to movies than what I’ve seen so far.” Another important event was taking Mariana Johnson’s Latin American and Caribbean Cinema class. Seeing films like Soy Cuba and Amores Peros got me excited about film, and it encouraged me to double major in film studies and Spanish. The film that changed my prospects was The Trial of Darryl Hunt, which I saw at Full Frame Film Festival. That was a very visceral experience for me -- that movie made me realize that documentaries could educate you, horrify you, and give you insight into stories that needed to be told.
V7: Any advice for aspiring undergraduate filmmakers?
HP:Make your ideas real. Don’t wait on anybody else.