Filmmaker Interview with Director Andrew Morgan

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“This is a story about clothing. It’s about the clothes we wear, the people who make them, and the impact the industry is having on our world. The price of clothing has been decreasing for decades, while the human and environmental costs have grown dramatically. The True Cost is a groundbreaking documentary film that pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing?

The links between consumer pressure for low-cost high fashion and the meager existences of the sweatshop workers who produce those goods are explored in THE TRUE COST.”

What motivated you to make this film?

I’ve been making film in some form or another since I was about ten years old. It is really the only thing that’s ever made sense to me and yet still the thing that holds this sense of magic. When I was a kid I saw ET for the first time. I’ll next forget sitting on the end of my bed crying at the end and just thinking what is this thing that can make me feel this deeply. Right away I wanted to understand how it worked and why it worked and what kind of good it could do in the world.

What do you want audiences to take away from your film?

I want people to open their hearts and eyes to this simple reality that their are human hearts and hands behind all the things we wear. That is happening and with it is opening up a new and needed global conversation that I am so proud to be a small part of.

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Was there one memorable or special experience you had while making this film?

We were filming in Cambodia following a major protest of garment workers demanding a grossly overdue wage increase. One of the workers who had been severely beaten in the protest died and we were invited to the funeral. I will never forget the feeling standing there alongside friends and family as they grieved the ugly loss of life. Something about that moment made it all come home for me. We weren’t just talking about the millions of exported people powering this industry, these numbers were made up of individual lives. These lives had stories and families. It filled our whole team with this sense of determination, in a difficult moment of production and redoubled our commitment we needed to keep moving forward.

What about the most rewarding?

We filmed with a young woman in Bangladesh named Shima. She has faced severe physical abuse for starting a labor union in her factory. She also is paid so little that she has been unable to keep her daughter with her even in the city’s worst slums. We followed her story over the course of several trips as it became such a powerful representation of the struggle that so many women like her face. Her story broke my heart completely both as a filmmaker, a father and just as a human being. For me getting to honor her story by sharing it with the world to such strong effect has made every second of this project worthwhile.

Are there any recent developments regarding the fast fashion industry?

The struggle for wages and basic union rights is still ongoing. In Cambodia there continue to be protests as the voice of the workers is getting louder every day. The film has opened a window of opportunity, extending the conversation into mainstream media and fashion press outlets. What we are fighting for now is real measured change that is built on long term commitments. I believe this is the very beginning of a new chapter in international business and human rights.

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How did your story evolve from day one, to the very last day in post — is your story what you thought it would be?

I picked up a copy of the New York Times and read about this clothing factory that had collapsed just outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh. I read about how it took the lives of more than 1,000 people and that at the time of the collapse it was making clothing for major western brands that I knew well. It broke my heart and raised all kinds of questions that I wanted to find the answers to. That curiosity on day one is what carried me through the next two years. The film grew in size and scope as we went along because every layer of the story uncovered a layer beneath. The result was this large mosaic that still really focuses on incredibly personal stories. Getting that balance was the biggest challenge in post as it felt like we had several different films that we could make.

What did you shoot on?

We shot this on Canon C100’s with Zeiss CP.2 primes. It was important to be able to pack the cameras down into back packs and look less conspicuous. It was a small crew and with production taking us to 13 countries it was key to stay nimble while also creating a common look and feel. For me the primes did that because they forced us to stay on the visual path we had chosen no matter what.

What were a few stylistic choices or techniques that you used to help tell your story?

My goal here was really to make the film making as subtle as possible. I knew from the beginning that this story had so much power, we just needed to stay out of the way. There is very little in the approach that was stylized or heightened, my hope is that the viewer forgets the experience of watching the film and feels immersed in the world we are exploring.

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Do you have any advice for other impact documentary filmmakers?

Don’t wait for permission. Go make things. Find good partners, use what you have and start today. I meet so many people who are waiting in this long invisible line, just go start making something and you’ll be instantly so far ahead. Be brave. Trust your gut. It will lead you in the must unexpected but beautiful places.

For more great docs, join us over in SIMA RAMA — a monthly digital film club for bold, beautiful and award-winning impact cinema that connects members directly with creators, experts, live forums and curated actions.

Written by Jordan Wilson, SIMA