Five Minutes With Occupy Documentary Maker Kevin Breslin
When Kevin Breslin arrived at New York City’s Zuccotti Park to film #WhileWeWatch, a new documentary about Occupy Wall Street, he found himself filming the filmers—the Occupy media team, who tirelessly streamed video of events in the park.
Breslin, the son of Pulitzer Prize-winning commentator Jimmy Breslin, saw a new journalistic paradigm in the Occupy Wall Street team. In a time of live streaming, YouTube, and “citizen journalism,” he began to wonder: Who are the citizens? The journalists? The occupiers?
I, too, walked those lines when I occupied Zuccotti Park, sleeping alongside fellow protesters, and wrote pieces for Campus Progress. I also contributed footage to Breslin’s film, which you’ll see at the 1:27 mark in the trailer below.
Breslin was short-listed for an Academy Award last year and was recently nominated for Best Director at the Beaufort Film Festival. He spoke with Campus Progress about making #WhileWeWatch and his thoughts on the Occupy movement.
How did the project get started?
I got a call from an Australian company I had done a commercial for asking if I wanted to do a documentary on Occupy Wall Street. We didn’t make a lot of money on it, just enough to make it viable for the team.
But here’s a joke for you—I was hired by the 1-percenters! I was shooting a bank industrial at the same time so I could pay for this project. But this took longer and got deeper.
How did you settle on the media team as a subject?
We got [to Zuccotti] the first week of October and stayed until after the eviction [in mid-November]. I didn’t know what I was saying yes to. I’d watched the news and read about it, but I went to some meetings, and I was like, oh my God, this is too heavy for me. It was like a college lecture hall. The first thing I realized is they aren’t jokers. You actually went there and you saw that these people were for real, not just imbecilic young people fantasizing.
I thought: I can’t film this. There’s too much going on here, I’m not smart enough politically. People there are very, very bright. But then I started watching the press desk, and I thought, I understand this, my father was a journalist. It was great energy, I thought—infectious. It was really alive, the fastest and most feverish bunch of people getting out an idea. They had to do their own reporting, they said, to oppose the slant or indifference of the mainstream media.
But this was something we’d never seen before. With the live streaming, what you see is what you get—you can’t edit it. And I’ve never heard so many people call themselves journalists. “Citizen journalists”—I don’t know how, but I’d never heard the term before. I was just an observer; I wasn’t adding journalistic insight, just following those guys who purported to do that.
So where is the line? Do you think these people count as journalists? Are they legitimate?
Oh, I think they’re absolutely legitimate. They are as legitimate as they are honest or objective, and I believe everybody was honest. What they saw live with their own eyes is what they got. If it looked like they were shooting the story from just their perspective, the only reason was that they couldn’t point a camera in every direction. They weren’t fictionalizing anything.
At the same time, I feel like journalists have to get the facts and tell both sides of the story. Everything is so fast with camera phones—people may have missed something in there. I’m not saying they did, but the police were saying from their perspective, the people on the other side of the cameras missed things.
If I were in journalism school right now, I’d be terrified. I’d be asking myself, why am I even here? I don’t think any of these guys went to journalism school. None of them were afraid of telling the story. A live streamer like Tim Pool—Al Jazeera picked him up, and 800,000 people were following him at certain moments. Those are adult numbers.
And if I were a [news] network, I’d sure as hell be hiring three or four of these guys. I don’t know any “legit” journalists—with their passes around their necks and vans and logos and satellite dishes—who could do this.
These guys implemented an idea from a park, in the rain and the snow, with no money. They have a patent on how to hustle! [New York University] is even holding a class this semester on how they did what they did.
What’s next for the film?
We have a big premiere coming up at the Paley Center, which is a huge honor. We’ve sent it around to a bunch of festivals, and we’ll find out which ones we got into this week.
Emily Crockett is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow her on Twitter @emilycrockett.