Beyond Iconic is directed by Hanna Sawka who is a 35-year old new documentary filmmaker. Beyond Iconic is a 75-minute documentary about Magnum photographer Dennis Stock (1928-2010), creator of globally renowned images.
Hanna Sawka Hamaguchi was born in communist Poland in 1975. After her birth, her family was exiled for political reasons and settled in the United States. She completed her English/Theater B.A. Smith College in Northampton, MA. In 2004, Hanna Sawka graduated with an MFA from the Polish National Film School. Before producing Beyond Iconic, she directed five short films, both documentary and live action. Significantly, she plays roles of directors, editors, and writers in Beyond Iconic.
Being a student in film school, it is true that after graduation, not everyone can be as successful as Steven Spielberg, but they still can be good filmmakers and they can make their contribution to their communities or film industries, such as Sawka. As she said after Beyond Iconic world premium in Hot Springs Film Festival, she just found a story and then she told the story through a medium of documentary to audiences. In my opinion, she gives young film students a great example of how to be a documentary filmmaker. Beyond Iconic took five years from start-to finish-from 2006 to 2011. She also said in a humorous way to explain the long time production that two children were born during the time of her making the film.
Dennis Stock, the subject of the film, was a friend of Sawka’s father who was also a photographer. Sawka knew Stock for a long time. The personal friendships and close connections between them are great access for Sawka to make this film. Especially, she realized that lots of people saw Stock’s work or photos before, but people knew very little about Stock, who was one of the most influential photographers in 20th century.
Stock took iconic white and black photos for lots of people to present historical stories and events: Orson Wells, Grace Kelly, John Wayne and so on. Stock’s prolific work captured not only history, beauty and humor, but it stands as a record of his life as well, which includes images from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Jazz, hippies, the American social landscape, architecture, landscapes, and nature. The poster of the film shows that James Dean walks down Broadway, his shoulders hunched against the drizzle. In addition, the greatest legends of jazz, from Louis Armstrong to the cool Miles Davis, are caught in some of their most passionate or private moments. Audrey Hepburn sits pensive between talks. Images capture the subdued beauty of a Provence winter. All of these images came from the eye, mind and camera of Dennis Stock.
More than a biographic documentary, Beyond Iconic also brings audiences into Dennis Stock classroom at the Omega Institute, where he taught a master class of photography before his death. Through his class and his conversations with his students, the audience can see a true Stock behind his photography workshops, which allows Stock to teach the audience about the passion of his life. Stock’s unwavering beliefs in artistic integrity serve as reminders that great art is the result of lifelong dedication to the pursuit of perfection.
Beyond Iconic presents a lot of conflicts between Stoke and his students; for instance, they always argued about what are criteria of a good photography workshop. Stoke always directly points out his dissatisfactions to students’ works and their mistakes. The audience can see he is a person who has great self-awareness, intellectual depth, and a talent for expressing strong opinion and deep thoughts. There is a scene showing that one of the students could not tolerate his extremely tough requirements and criticism, and she is crying in the class. Nevertheless, as the director mentioned, Stock is hard and tough, but those are parts of his personalities. He made great contributions to art education, and he dealt with the issues of social forces and art forms. His workshops are both an art-form and a concrete means to record reality. The photograph relates to people’s existence that is Stock’s art philosophy. In Mr. Stock’s own words, “It is a marvelous way of saying ‘I’ve been here!’”
Swaka balances Stock’s extreme photography workshops and his quiet life with his wife and their pets. The conflicts and struggles are seen from Stock’s photos which are attempting to find meanings and people’s identifications in American pop-culture. However, the audiences feel that all the conflicts and arguments only exist in photos, because Stock has a peace and quiet life in his house. Stock and his wife had an ordinary life like other old couples living in New York City. They were cooking together, feeding pets, sitting in the yard, enjoying the retired life. Swaka uses extreme close camera placement to shoot Stock and his wife’s facial expressions, through which the audience observe love, happy and peace between them.
Swaka tells a story of Dennis Stock to the audience through her film languages and technical shooting skills. She is a good model for young filmmakers and film students, who love making films. After the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival, Swaka will do post-production works including the promotions of the film. If the audience wants to learn more of the film, they can see the official website of Beyond Iconic, and the DVD will be released later in this year.