Elise Conklin: An Interview

Elise Conklin is a filmmaker that directed a story about the Flint Water Crisis in Michigan. It's a terrible state of affairs in Flint because even to this day the government has not been able to give relief to these people. Thousands of people have built their lives in Flint and can't afford to move elsewhere. Elise and her team decided to take action and tell a story about it. She won a Student Academy Award for her efforts with the documentary this past year taking the Bronze prize in the category. 

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Elise Conklin and I’m a senior at Michigan State University studying Media and Information with a triple minor in Documentary Filmmaking, Fiction Filmmaking and Religious Studies. I’m an aspiring filmmaker with hopes to move out to New York City after I graduate, and I most recently directed From Flint: Voices of a Poisoned City the student academy award winning film.

What made you make a documentary about Flint? 

My producer Liv Larsen and my director of photography Izac Gracy came up with the idea, we knew we were going to make a documentary together but hadn’t settled on what. As soon as that idea came to the table nothing else came close. I was actually very intimidated going into Flint. I didn’t want anyone to think that we were trying to exploit these people pain, and further their career off of this criss. I was very vocal about this concern and we made sure to approach the citizens of Flint in the most genuine ways we could think of, through non profits and built relationships.

Elise prepares her shot for the next interview in Flint, MI Lauren Selewski - Photo Credit

What was the production like shooting in Flint?

Production was really intense it was a lot of running getting the moment and then sprinting to the next. We had some sit down interviews which were much calmer, we had a lot more control over those situations but ironically being a student really got in our way of making our film so organizing the trips to and from Flint was defiantly complicated. I was balancing 3 jobs on top of being a full time student, but the Flint doc really was our priority. It had to be. All of us were so dedicated and so ready to drop everything and get the moments we needed. We had a lot of things going against us but it was a story we really believed needed to be told.

After shooting the documentary how did you find the story?

 We had so many amazing quotes that simply didn’t make the final cut of our film, it was hard to condense it to what it is today. It was really important to us that our film told the story that the citizens of Flint needed told, and the themes that started to surface over all of the interviews really helped us construct our documentary. We made sure to focus on the messages that people would take away from the film.

What was the festival experience like?

We’ve had a lot of really incredible responses from various film festivals starting with the Traverse City Film Festival, all the way to Hot Springs and even Doc NYC. It’s been so gratifying to see people listening to the story of Flint.

What happened when you first heard the news of being nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture and Sciences?

I lost my mind when I got the email that we were just semi-finalists. To be one of the winners I’m still overwhelmed, one of my favorite moments was right after I got the call that we had won I got to call each of my team members and tell them. Liv knew before I spoke a word, Lauren burst into tears, Jenna didn’t believe me and Izac slept through my call, I couldn’t think of a better way to explain our team! 

How long is your film? Do you plan on making it any longer?

Our film is just shy of 25 minutes long, I would be very interested in expanding it but their hasn’t been any forward progress in Flint yet, things have actually gotten worse. Funding is a big issue I’m the only team member who’s still a student so one of the things that made this documentary so powerful was how selflessly we were able to approach it. We didn’t have an angle, we weren’t there to make money. If the opportunity presents itself we would be interested in expanding but there are a lot of obstacles in our way right now.

Where do you see yourself going in the film industry?

I’m really interested in post production, both in documentary and narrative. I really love all aspects of filmmaking but I feel very comfortable in an edit bay. Right now I’m focusing on documentary but I also really love fiction pieces.

Any favorite moments on set?

Probably my favorite moment during production was when we went to film the demonstration outside the democratic debate hosted in Flint. Our editor is a die hard Hillary fan, and our Producer was just as passionate about Bernie. Seeing them debate and joke and playfully argue. That was the moment when we really started to bond as a crew and I realized these were some of my best friends.

What was the response in the community after you screened your film?

We’ve gotten a really positive reaction from the people of Flint. Our film actually won the Flint Youth Film Festival and we’ve received a lot of messages from people thanking us for telling this story but honestly I’m so grateful that Flint trusted us after being so betrayed.

Fun Questions

If you were stranded on an island what five things would you want with you?

A boat, a swiss army knife, sleeping bag, flint and a copy of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods

Do you prefer to shoot on film or digitally? 

I’ve actually never really had the opportunity to film on real film but when it comes to documentary digital is low budget and still makes really high quality images. So I’m gonna have to go with digital. 

What's your favorite program to edit on? 

I love Avid, From Flint was actually edited on Premiere but I’m an Avid girl for sure.

If you could meet anyone from history who would it be? 

Jeanne de Clisson the Lioness of Brittany

If you could go into outer space where would you go?

 Kepler-16b the land of 2 sons