Jill Freedman’s provocative photography captures the energy of 1970’s New York
12th January 2020 by Will Stewart
MadeGood – Please give me some background on yourself as a film maker, and how you got in to making films. Is this about Jill Freedman typical example of your work?
Pete Shanel – I’ve been making films since I was a kid. For most of my career as a filmmaker I’ve been working on narrative projects but over the last few years I’ve done a lot of work in the documentary space. I think “Jill” has a place in everything that I’ve done before, that it’s an intimate character piece, and that it focuses in on what makes us who we really are.
MadeGood – Jill’s photos are really fantastic but what made you want to make a film about her? Was it easy to get her to cooperate? you’ve definitely managed to get her with her guard down.
Pete Shanel – Even though I’ve lived in Los Angeles for many years, I grew up in New York, and still consider myself a New Yorker. I was in-between commercial projects last year and wanted to do something for myself and about the changing dynamics of New York. I was exposed to Jill Freedman’s photography through another documentary filmmaker, Cheryl Dunn, and I really connect to her work. So the thought came into my head, “I wonder what Jill is doing now?” Through Cheryl I got in touch with Jill and bluntly asked her if she would let me into her apt with a camera. Surprisingly she said yes. It wasn’t immediate at first but I think Jill and I really hit it off. I didn’t roll on anything for the first day or so, just to make sure she was comfortable and knew what I was doing. After that, she started to trust me and just really opened up.
MadeGood – The shooting style is very intimate, but you worked with an editor for this one. Do you always work with the same editor? Please tell me a bit about your working dynamic.
Pete Shanel – Since I directed and shot this I knew that I needed another collaborative voice for the film. I feared I would be too close to the material, and honestly I didn’t know what I had after I came back from NY. Aaron is a terrific editor who has a great instinct for story (he cut my feature film back in 2013). I trust him that he’ll take an editorial eye to the footage and cut out all the bad bits. After I came back from New York I handed over the drives and he was able to put together a really comprehensive rough cut. After that we just refined, refined, refined…
MadeGood – Do you feel like Jill Freedman’s work informs your own creative style as a film maker?
Pete Shanel – Honestly, I wish I had Jill Freedman’s eye. She was one of the major American photographers of the 20th century. She was able to capture images that is nothing short of miraculous. I think the thing that sticks with me is when she talks about respecting your subjects, and the empathy she carried with her for all the people she documented. She photographed some really hard things, drug overdoses, murders, and some of the worst aspects of the city, but managed to keep her wits about her and never compromised her artistry. She was truly a major artist and a beautiful, authentic soul.
MadeGood – What are you working on next?
Pete Shanel – I’ve been working on a series of short films about the housing crisis here in Los Angeles, that’s been rolling out throughout the year. Right after I met Jill I was inspired to shoot stills again on film and restarted my @peteshanelfilm Instagram account. I also work as a commercial director on brand films and doc series.