The Most Thought-Provoking Discussions at the Truth Seekers Summit

The inaugural Truth Seekers Summit brought together some of the brightest minds in filmmaking, music, and current events to speak on topics ranging from the impact of misinformation in media to the evolving language of documentary filmmaking. Co-hosted by Rolling Stone and Variety in partnership with Showtime, the summit featured panels, Q&A’s, and keynote discussions from marquee names in the world of documentary filmmaking. Check out 10 of the most thought-provoking moments from this week’s event.

Errol Morris on Breaking Rules

The dean of American documentary filmmaking Errol Morris sat down with Variety’s Jenelle Riley to discuss his work, legacy, and signature style. The Academy Award-winning director of The Fog of War and The Thin Blue Line spoke honestly and openly on why he believes that rules and codes are damaging to the art of documentary filmmaking and what documentarians should be paying attention to when they’re making a film.

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Stanley Nelson on Choosing Subjects That Matter

Stanley Nelson has spent his career turning a camera lens on the Black experience in America. The filmmaker behind Freedom Riders and The Murder of Emmett Till has created unsparing examinations of painful periods of American history, and he was recognized with the MacArthur “genius” grant in 2015 thanks to his work. In this conversation with Variety writer Addie Morfoot, Stanley discusses his work with first-time filmmakers and why the subjects he chooses need to have a deep level of personal importance.

The Vocabulary of Verité

This panel was a masterclass in how new and emerging filmmakers should approach the practice, as told by some of the industry’s leading creators. Watch Variety editor Clayton Davis facilitate a conversation between R.J. Cutler (Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry), Sacha Jenkins (Wu-Tang Clan: Of Mics and Men), Sam Pollard (MLK/FBI), Liz Garbus (I’ll Be Gone in the Dark), and Dawn Porter (The Way I See It), where they discuss everything from bringing your own personality to the screen to why it’s so difficult to create balance over the course of a single film.

Todd Haynes Tries Something New

Todd Haynes made a name for himself as a director on scripted films like Carol and Wonderstruck, developing a signature style and visual language that has garnered him critical praise and plenty of awards. But The Velvet Underground sees him jump into the documentary pool with both feet, and he’s learned some lessons along the way. In this conversation with Variety’s Clayton Davis, Haynes talks through how the film came together, the challenge of documenting such an influential subject, and how he created the film’s authentic feel.

Weapons of Mass Disinformation

In a polarized and fractured society, the truth can be a subjective thing. In this panel, Rolling Stone D.C. bureau chief Andy Kroll talks to Vice journalist Anna Merlan (Republic of Lies), writer and producer Billy Ray (The Comey Rule), PBS News Hour White House correspondent Yamiche Alcindor, former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, and writer and director Cullen Hoback (Q: Into the Storm) about how the challenges of presenting the truth have transformed in modern society, and why people have such a hard time exiting their filter bubbles and getting to a single, agreed upon truth.

The RZA on Blending Myths and Facts

As one of the most influential members of the Wu-Tang Clan, RZA has had his hand in everything from seminal albums to widely lauded documentaries, films, and TV shows, including Wu Tang: An American Saga, which tells the story of how the iconic rap group from Staten Island got their start set against the gritty backdrop of NYC in the 1990s. In this conversation with Variety editor Andrew Barker, RZA discusses why Wu-Tang is more than hip-hop and how he blended myth and reality to create one of the most acclaimed TV shows of the past few years.

Dolores Huerta on Community Organizing

As one of the most influential and vital labor leaders of the 20th century, Dolores Huerta has spent her life fighting to give a voice to the marginalized and the poor. Along with Cesar Chavez, Huerta led the fight for labor protections and living wages for America’s agricultural workers, and she’s continued that battle with her eponymous foundation, which helps organize activists on a grassroots level. In this conversation with Variety’s Clayton Davis, Dolores speaks on her legacy as an organizer and activist, what her current work is focusing on, and how she’s been helping with Latinx Covid-19 vaccination drives.

An Exclusive Look at Showtime’s Attica

In this panel, we get an exclusive look at the new Showtime documentary Attica. Variety’s Jazz Tangcay discusses Attica with the film’s director Stanley Nelson, producer and co-director Traci Curry, as well as one of the film’s subjects Tyrone Larkins, who was present for the deadly five-day prison uprising in upstate New York 50 years ago. The panelists discuss why the story of Attica matters, why having the voices of the people who were there matters so deeply, and why the shadow of those five days in American history loom large today.

Pod Save America‘s Next Chapter

In the shadow of the 2016 election, Pod Save America became something of an audio rallying point for liberal Americans, where they could hear opinions and thoughts from some of the left’s leading luminaries outside of the mainstream-media ecosystem. Founders Jon Favreau and Tommy Vietor created the podcast — and eventually the media company Crooked Media — as a counterweight to conservative media giants, and have turned what was once a simple weekly show into an outlet for progressive causes and energetic activism. In this conversation with Variety’s Kate Aurther, Favreau and Vietor discuss the beginnings of Pod Save America and Crooked Media, how entertainment and activism can overlap, and what topics they’re looking forward to covering with a new administration in the White House. 

True-Crime as an Agent of Change

It’s not a secret that “true-crime” has fast become everyone’s favorite genre of documentary. But what if the grisly murders and tales of graft and subterfuge could be a force for positive change? Facilitated by Variety’s Jazz Tangcay, this panel explores how true-crime is opening up real avenues for cultural and societal transformation with director Joe Berlinger (Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel), producer Amy Ziering (Allen v. Farrow), director Donald Albright (Up and Vanished; Atlanta Monster), and director Zackary Drucker (The Lady and the Dale). Watch them discuss their work, the future of true-crime as a genre, and why uncovering truths about tragedies can be a healing process for different communities. 

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