Peter Richardson, documentary filmmaker
Peter’s documentary, How to Die in Oregon, won the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize. The film premiered on HBO this past May. Peter’s previous film, Clear Cut: The Story of Philomath, Oregon (his home town), debuted at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. Richardson was the cinematographer on Saving Pelican 895, Irene Taylor Brodsky’s documentary that aired on HBO in April.
Here’s what Peter has to say about living and working creatively in Oregon:
Portland is a great place to be involved in the creative industry. It has a lot to offer for a city this size – it’s a west-coast town with an independent spirit. I’m lucky to live in a city that’s so supportive. There’s an independence and a diverse atmosphere for creative people, so there’s all kinds of creative expression – it’s not an “industry town”. Oregon values quality of life over other things, and that lends itself to being creative.
I’m inspired by different things at different times. I have all these different elements, and how do I combine them to tell the story of what I experienced while making the film? Finding the theme of a scene has a lot to do with music, finding the track that shows the mood I’m feeling or trying to convey. I’m trying to share with other people universal elements of the human experience. Documentary storytelling isn’t about issues, it isn’t single-focused. It’s the human element, the experience that person is having. The subjects inspire me while I’m filming, and then my co-editor (RV note: I didn’t jot down his name. What was it?) was really a part of the storytelling process. I mean, I was 27 when I was making this film, and people ask my why someone so young would want to tell this story about death. But it wasn’t about death, it’s a human story about what those people were going through.
When I was young I wanted to be a doctor or scientist. In high school I got into writing, photography, filmmaking; in high school sometimes I would make a film instead of writing an English paper. But I didn’t think I’d get into documentaries – I thought I’d be more of a narrative filmmaker. In college, I was assigned as a photographer and photo editor for the student newspaper. And I became really interested in meeting people, in finding out what they were working on, getting a window into their world, and then capturing that in a photograph. And it’s that impulse that led to my documentary work.
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