Interview: Honor Killings Filmmaker Mick Davie

Rebecca Shokrian
for National Geographic News
February 12, 2002

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Note: following photos are graphically shocking

Michael (Mick) Davie, 27, is a field journalist, producer, and writer for the National Geographic TV Channel. He has traveled extensively documenting the hardships that people endure on a daily basis.

Traveling often as a child, Davie believes, sparked his interest in other cultures, while early experience as a local TV news reporter strengthened his ability to identify compelling stories. In 1999 Davie won an Emmy Award for his War Diary and War Child productions. He is now working on a new series, World Diary, documenting sensitive social issues such as honor killings in Pakistan.

Davie discussed his life and work in an interview with Rebecca Shokrian for National Geographic News.

Was there any experience as a youth that led you toward journalism and documentary filmmaking?

I think my youth had everything to do to with the job I have now. The civil war in Zimbabwe meant we had to move to Australia when I was four. In the 25 years that followed, my family and I moved about 36 times, living in Tasmania, Indonesia, and Borneo, to name a few. All this traveling meant I attended numerous schools perpetually making me the new kid, forcing me to learn how to make friends fast. I feel I apply that same survival-instinct approach to the people I meet while in the field. I also think that traveling so much at a young age exposed me to so much, giving me the chance to see an incredible array of perspectives. That has highly influenced my work, making it easier to tell people's stories from so many different cultures.

Where did you learn filmmaking?

I have never had formal training in filmmaking. I majored in English and drama, with a minor in journalism, at the University of Queensland. My only paying job after college was in TV journalism; at 21 I was hired as a nightly reporter at a regional TV station in Australia. The next seven months were spent reporting only local stories, but it was a great experience because I had to cover two to three stories a day, which my team and I had to write, shoot, and produce quickly. Eventually, I got a bit frustrated by the work, leading me to buy my own video camera and pitch the idea to ABC-Australia of hitchhiking from Cape Town to Cairo. The channel would not fund my expedition, but agreed that it was a good idea and said if I came back with decent footage, they would fund the post-production. So off I went, on my first real filmmaking experience, for eight months.

Who has been most influential in guiding your filmmaking?

Ross McElwee. He made a great film called Sherman's March, which was about his journey from the northeast coast of the United States to the South. I admired that he was able to make a story out of whatever he stumbled across, which became my goal from Cape Town to Cairo—to start the journey with no preconceptions and being totally unprepared. Spending either a few days or weeks in a city or region to obtain a sense of what is happening, what the big story of the day was, and making that into a documentary piece.

Tell me a little bit about your style of filmmaking. Do you think it differs from National Geographic's traditional documentaries in the sense of camera direction, editing, and the subjects you cover, for example?

I don't think my documentaries differ radically from the style of National Geographic's. My films follow the same principles of filmmaking. The only thing I tend to do differently is that I get people to look straight down the barrel of the lens. I am often both the correspondent and the cameraman. I think that there is a real power when the subject of the interview or of the particular scene looks directly at the camera because it makes a real immediate connection with the audience. And traditionally that hasn't been done at National Geographic. In fact, is has been frowned upon a little bit. The more traditional way of filming is to have a camera man standing next to the correspondent and then the subject looks off camera at the correspondent. I find that creates a slight disconnect.

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