FOCUS ON: Kim Snyder, Director of Welcome to Shelbyville

By Melody Morgan
Posted on May 28, 2011

FOCUS ON is a regular interview series profiling independent filmmakers and their projects. Up this week is Kim Snyder, whose documentary Welcome to Shelbyville, aired on Independent Lens

Why did you originally want to become a filmmaker and has that reason changed? I love film. I've always enjoyed storytelling and I felt a compelling drive to express myself in this format.  My entire family was in the arts, and my father is an artist, which also greatly informed me.  With documentary, I've observed and experienced the power of the genre to ignite social change, and motivate people to participate in civic dialogue — and that is very rewarding for me.

How do you think your Masters Degree in International Affairs has influenced your filmmaking career and the subjects you choose for your films? My concentration was Social Change and Development, and I had a challenging professor who drew connections between different disciplines, including the arts.  I've never liked compartmentalized, neat boxes around anything, so the interdisciplinary part of documentary filmmaking, and a restless desire to dig into new worlds sates the perpetual student in me. 

What is the one thing you now know about filmmaking, that you wish you had known when you were first starting out? That no matter what new level you reach, there are constantly new challenges and unchartered territory - there is no "there". 

You served on the admissions review committee for NYU's Graduate Film School. What was the most common mistake that applicants made? Applicants sent us their slick, polished regurgitated commercial visual work instead of sending us originality. The truth is, with these applications, the budget of your work matters less. 

What advice do you have for filmmakers who are first-time applicants for film grants? Collaborate with a veteran if you can as it's a competitive space. Do your research well for each specific grantor. With docs, align with potential campaign partners at the outset for creative outreach plans and niche distribution. 

How do you know when your films are complete? Does someone have to force you out of the editing room or do you just calmly "know?” It's never felt entirely "done" for me, even while sitting in film festival screenings, there's always some small cut or sound byte I want to go back and change, but at a certain point, you need to close the book and move on just like everything else in life.  Getting there is not usually calm for me personally — it's more often a generally angst-ridden process, but am working toward the goal of calm someday. 

Do you think the film industry has changed much for women since you began? The issue of gender in terms of my own work is, thankfully, not something I think about or feel particularly impeded by, but I think this is more indicative of both the independent film world and the documentary world where you tend to have more control over both the funding and the process. I'm happy to see, in the past few years, an increased focus and additional funding sources specifically for women filmmakers, and for work focusing on women's leadership emerging. ITVS's Women and Girls Lead is one exciting example. 

And one last final question, what is your favorite comedy film of all time? My top five might be: A Fish Called Wanda, There's Something About Mary, The Jerk, Monty Pythonand the Holy Grail, Raising Arizona (honorable mention: Superbad). 

This BTB interview was conducted and condensed by Melody Morgan.


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