This weekend marks the 13th Annual Colony Short Film Festival, hosted by the Peoples Bank Theatre in Marietta, which is also celebrating its 100th anniversary. The Film Fest spotlights independent short films from around the world, and this year the event is highlighting Sarah Anthony’s documentary, The Price of Free as one of the festival’s main features.
A Mid-Ohio Valley native, Sarah Anthony graduated from Parkersburg High School in the class of ’93. After attending Northwestern University for Theatre and Communication, she worked on narrative feature films in Los Angeles before moving to London to begin her career in documentaries, with films on subjects ranging from the Iraq war to the Ming Voyages of the 1400’s. She was Associate Producer for PBS FRONTLINE on The Age of AIDS, a four hour series covering the history of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. In 2007, Sarah returned to Los Angeles and joined Exclusive Media as Co-head of Documentary Features.
At Executive, Sarah supervised development, production and distribution on multiple documentaries including Martin Scorsese’s George Harrison: Living in the Material World, Billy Joel’s Last Play at Shea, and the Academy Award-winning Undefeated. She then returned to FRONTLINE as co-producer on Endgame: AIDS In Black America, and from there went on to line-produce The World According to Dick Cheney for Showtime. Sarah has worked extensively with director Davis Guggenheim and the Emerson Collective on a variety of social justice issues, from immigration reform to redesigning the American high school system. She was a Producer on the Grammy-winning HBO documentary series, The Defiant Ones, and most recently a Producer and writer on The Price of Free (formerly titled Kailash), a documentary about child slavery which won the 2018 Sundance Festival Grand Jury Prize. She was the Consulting Producer for Making a Murderer Season 2 for Netflix and is currently producing an unannounced documentary for Pulse Films and Netflix.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to ask Sarah a few questions about what drew her to documentary work, the issues about which she is passionate, and what excites her about her next project.
What first drew you to documentaries?
I actually fell into the documentary world by accident. I had been working on narrative feature films in Los Angeles and when I moved to London and started looking for work, I chose a few companies out of the production book “The Knowledge”. I picked the companies based solely on their names, and I got a call from one of my favorite company names, “Invision”. They were doing a production with PBS Frontline, and needed someone who was familiar with Filemaker Pro. When I went to the interview the head of the company said “you do know that we do documentary films? You’ve only done narrative.” I had no idea, but I said “of course, I’ve always wanted to do documentaries!” And that part was true. I love working on documentaries – each production is like taking a master class in that particular subject. So basically I got lucky.
What compels you to draw closer to the heart of an issue, event, or story?
This is a tough question to answer because it depends on the subject matter. I’m usually drawn to stories about people trying to right a wrong, or make the world a better place. I also like working on biographies about people who are at the top of their game, because there’s always something to learn from them. I like getting “behind the scenes” or revealing something surprising. Anything that can help the audience expand their mental horizons, or inspire change.
Having studied and documented numerous social justice issues, is there an issue about which you are the most passionate?
I probably have to pick two. I’m very passionate about green energy/environmental sustainability and about child rights and education. I agree with Kailash from The Price of Free, that we should be able to track supply chains and monitor whether there are children in the work force. One of the things he says that sticks with me is “if we can label a banana organic, we can label it free of child labor.” During the Great Depression, we ended child labor in the U.S. – not just because of pressure from activists, but for economic reasons. People said ’take the jobs that the children are doing and give them to the unemployed adults.’ I think we should be doing the same thing today. The parents of a lot of these children don’t have jobs, and never got an education themselves. We could break the cycle by giving the adults the jobs and educating the children so they grow up into productive members of society.
Of the many films you have worked on or produced, is there one of which you are most proud?
That’s like trying to choose your favorite child. I love them all for different reasons. The Price of Free was a real passion project, but I also loved working on George Harrison: Living in the Material World. On that project I got to meet a lot of his friends and colleagues and because he was such a great person, so were they. I really feel like the second part of that movie teaches you how to be a better human.
What is one takeaway you have from working with Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine on The Defiant Ones?
Both men were real perfectionists with an incredible work ethic. When you’re passionate about what you do, you think nothing of working twenty-four hours a day because it doesn’t feel like work. I learned that no matter how much innate talent you have, if you want to succeed, there’s always a lot of hard work involved. There is no short cut, no matter how good you are.
Without giving away anything you do not wish to, can you tell us what excites most regarding your next documentary?
I’m excited about the next project because it’s about a very colorful character, and it’s a bold film that takes a hard look at rape and sexual assault and challenges the justice system. I think it’s going to shock people, and ask some meaningful questions.
For those interested in exploring filmmaking, what advice would you lend?
There are a million different answers to this question. It totally depends on what aspect of filmmaking you want to go into. I guess the basic answer would be ‘get involved.’ Pick up a camera, tell a story that’s interesting to you. Or write a story that’s interesting to you. Find people who are making films and volunteer for them. When I first started I interned every chance I could, and usually ended up getting hired after a day or two of interning. If you’re willing to work hard, people like having you around. And being there is the best way to learn. Although nowadays you can learn a lot online! People can shoot a film with their phone and edit on their laptop. Play, experiment, just get involved.
Watch the trailer for Sarah’s latest documentary, The Price of Free below,.
Sarah Anthony’s 2018 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winning documentary, The Price of Free, will show this Saturday, March 2nd at 1:30 p.m. during the 13th Annual Colony Short Film Festival at the Peoples Bank Theater. Sarah will also be taking questions at 5:30 p.m., in a guest panel with Daily Show Senior Producer, Sara Taksler. Click for the detailed Film Festival schedule and tickets.