Featured Writings


Telling It Like It Is at GETTING REAL

This year’s GETTING REAL conference fell at an introspective and ripe time in my life as a documentary filmmaker. For most of my career, I have felt decidedly on the outside looking in at those special folks who visit war zones, interview presidents, whistle-blowers and celebrities, get the big grants and commercial work, and generally manage to make a living at filmmaking. I have envied those who, as Sundance Documentary Film Program Director Tabitha Jackson describes it, are "Curators of Outrage." Especially during my hiatus for motherhood, I was a complete outsider—in a world of diapers, parenting books and nap schedules. The only outrage I felt was in my own choices and how desperately I longed to return to filmmaking, without a roadmap for how I might get there one day.

More and more, my outsider status has crumbled. In 2014, my film Rich Hill got accepted to Sundance—and, even more incredibly, won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Rich Hill was released theatrically in 100 markets and will have an Independent Lens broadcast on January 5, 2015. Yes, one of my bucket-list dreams came true. Most importantly, I got to express a little love for kids growing up in my family’s hometown, and a bit of outrage at their circumstances.

So this past fall, I was in an especially wrought place—reacting to the bounty of the past nine months, but with a measure of uncertainly about how to approach what is next. It was time to wean myself off the festival circuit and theatrical tour—but not to take time off, as much as some part of me craved doing that. I wanted to be strategic. I wanted to seize the momentum coming off of Rich Hill and work super hard to get new projects off the ground.

Filmmaker Dawn Porter asked me to speak with her during her keynote address at GETTING REAL and, true to theme, the request was for me to tell it like it is. Some of what I shared with her and the audience was excruciating to reveal. I had been in a cycle of promotion, which meant a mantra of "everything is great." I didn’t want to complain—and I didn’t want to be weak. But there were some real struggles I was facing: with work/life balance, trying to make more money than my children’s babysitter, and how to transition from the success of Rich Hill and the work that still surrounded it to the work of my own career as a filmmaker and creator.

So what does GETTING REAL look like for me? Here’s my list of takeaways from this year’s conference.

Read the full list on Documentary.org


Tracy Droz Tragos (Rich Hill) Talks Rory Kennedy’s Last Days in Vietnam

Made almost 40 years after the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam, this documentary underlines why we must not forget the lessons of that war.

Stories of war need to be told. And it is a moral imperative that filmmakers continue to tell them with whatever means, be they fictional or non-fictional, they have at their disposal. Ultimately it’s the politicians, especially those who have never been in combat, who need to see these films. In my fantasy world, seeing them would be a requirement for any elected official wishing to cast a vote.

Viewing might start with Gallipoli. Then maybe Schindler’s List and The Thin Red Line. And on to The Deer Hunter, followed by Saving Private Ryan and Apocalypse Now. Some Restrepo, The Fog of War and To Hell and Back, not to mention 5 Broken Cameras and The Hurt Locker. I’m just getting started, but you get the idea.

Read the rest of the story on The Talkhouse

Filming a Beautiful Town in Decay: ‘Rich Hill’ and the Elusive American Dream

Once upon a time there was coal and ambition in Rich Hill—a rural town in southwestern Missouri with a population of 1,330—but shortly after World War II most of both ran dry. 

For me, the most important thing about Rich Hill is family. It’s the town where my father grew up. He was killed in Vietnam when I was three months old, and my relationship with his family, particularly my grandparents, was especially close. They were like surrogate parents and a huge influence on my life and my work. My grandmother was the third grade school teacher in Rich Hill; my grandfather owned the town grocery store, and when he was forced to close it, he became the rural mail carrier. Both my grandparents worked hard and although they would never be considered well off, they were fortunate to have steady jobs and a home. And they gave back to their community.

Read the rest of the story on The Daily Beast.

Sundance Winner Tracy Droz Tragos Talks Balancing Movies and Motherhood

Here’s what I posted on Facebook a few days ago: Sweet P just lost her first tooth. And I missed it! In Raleigh on my way to Kansas City via Atlanta. I’d like to go to the bathroom and have a good cry, but we are about to take off…

Yes, my five-year-old daughter’s first tooth had come out – and I was in an airport, on a layover, between film festivals that are at opposite ends of the country. It’s been about three months since Rich Hill won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize for a Documentary at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. And lately, I spend way more time at festivals than I do with my family. Missing the lost tooth is just one in a series of misses, others more significant.

From mom friends, I’ve heard, “You are an inspiration” or even “You are superwoman.” From my filmmaking friends without kids, I hear, “I don’t know how you do it.” I don’t really know how I do it either. I muddle through my days, improvising, daydreaming of windows of time to do my work – just waiting until the kids are asleep. Jealous of those young dudes just out of film school.

Read the rest of the story on The Talkhouse.