The following interview was originally published by The Huffington Post on 2/20/2017. An excerpt is reposted here with permission.
Co-authored with Dr Yasmine Van Wilt, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, Mellon Fellow at Union College, Kobalt/AWAL recording artist, dramatist, artist, academic, and contributor to Arianna Huffington’s Thrive Global.
This is the second of a series of interviews with extraordinary people who are using their skills and training as artists and humanists to improve their communities, challenge assumptions, and advance our understanding of the human condition.
In this interview we speak with seven-time Emmy award-winning filmmaker Charles Stuart. Stuart has over twenty-five years of network experience in writing, directing, production, news gathering and film making. He is a recipient of five national EMMYS, two Duponts, three regional EMMYS and various other national awards for excellence. He has provided more than fifty hours of programming to all major networks. His work includes more than a dozen documentaries including eight Frontlines for PBS, many co-productions with ABC, Home Box Office, The Discovery Channel, A&E, TLC, Lifetime, AMC, CNN, MSNBC, National Geographic and ESPN. He has also produced for 60 Minutes on CBS. Yasmine Van Wilt is a Producer on Charles Stuart’s forthcoming film Into The Light.
YVW: From your exploration of the HIV and AIDS epidemic in HIV Positive Voices, to the exploration of the American mental health crisis in the forthcoming film “Into The Light,”your work reveals an inspiring dedication to the examination of human suffering. Indeed, you’ve turned your lens towards some of the most pernicious societal issues of the contemporary era. What are some of the important lessons you’ve learned?
I learned when I was at ABC News that I needed to be able to attract a network. I learned early on the difference between what is important and what is interesting. I can’t pitch a story to a network when I know they won’t find the story interesting. For example, the film I made for AMC. Why was AMC interested in a story set in the Middle East? Well, they wanted to create buzz for their network because they need to sell advertising.
YVW: How do you transform your reportage of these stories into works of art?
Well, for in Hollywood and the Muslim World, I pitched the project from the lens of cultural invasion. I told them about the fact that American programming was being pumped into cable television programming across the Middle East. So that’s one way in which I do this.
The second way: As I learned at ABC News, there are some issues that are very important, but no matter how hard you try, you can’t make them interesting. And in that case, where the network won’t be interested in the story, you then have to find ways to get the issues in front of audiences. And you have to be creative. These issues were, HIV/AIDS, hunger, reproductive health and mental illness. If the networks want stories about this, they hire in-house.
YVW: How do you maneuver getting films with noncommercial subjects onto major networks?
Well, sheer grit and determination. If an artist doesn’t have the money to do a project, she or he needs to be creative and dogged. I wouldn’t have been able to survive as a freelancer by just doing special issue work. Doing nothing but noncommercial films is a good way to go broke. So I also do projects for ESPN, for example; and this work isn’t “special interest.” And I enjoy doing this commercial work. It is a great joy, and I work with tremendous people.
YVW: Do collaborations with others help to make the noncommercial work possible?
Yes, to a certain degree, you have to call upon people or institutions you trust to partner with you. To take leaps of faith in order to advance our understanding of humankind. I wish we were teaching this in schools. I wish we were expressing from the first days of the educational experience just how important the ability to work with others is: You have to behave decently and to conduct yourself with passion and grit.
Read the full interview at The Huffington Post.