Blog Meet RBG Filmmaker Julie Cohen

Posted April 6, 2018

On Thursday, May 10, filmmaker Julie Cohen will join us for a compelling discussion following her documentary RBG, about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Enjoy this Q&A with Julie before you see the film!


How did you arrive at Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a subject?

Myself and my directing partner in this project, Betsy West, had each interviewed Justice Ginsburg for other documentaries. We watched with fascination and amazement as she became a rock star for young women—especially after some blazing dissents she wrote in 2013 and 14. But we knew that many of her biggest fans didn’t know how much more to her story there is. We decided we would be the right people to tell it.


What was your experience with this film at Sundance like?

Spectacular. We did not show the film to Justice Ginsburg prior to its premiere screening at Sundance. The experience of sitting right across the aisle from her as she watched our portrayal of her life, seeing her laugh out loud and pull out a tissue and cry more than once is something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.


How did you become involved with filmmaking?

I made what felt to me like a very natural transition from journalism to documentary filmmaking. I spent about 20 years as a journalist—a print and radio reporter and then a longform television news writer and producer. After a long, challenging and often fun stint producing hour and two hour stories for Dateline NBC (mostly crime stories), I decided I wanted to try taking the skills I’d developed for telling true stories and using them to tell stories that had more personal resonance for me.


What about documentaries interests you as a format for storytelling?

I’m always most drawn to real life stories. Photo journalism is probably my favorite visual art; I like plays that are documentary-ish (the work of Anna Deavere Smith is a good example), even rock—I think of Bruce Springsteen‘s Ghost of Tom Joad album as documentary music. 


What was the most challenging and most rewarding part of making RBG?

The biggest challenge was getting enough access to the Justice given both her unbelievably packed schedule and Supreme Court rules about filming. The biggest reward was spending enough time with her to see a more human side: her total absorption when watching an opera, her belly laughs watching the Saturday Night Live version of herself, and the determination on her face when she’s doing planks and push ups. 


What are some of your favorite docs? What are some docs that informed the making of RBG?

I see so many docs, and there are a wide variety I love: Hoop Dreams, I am Not Your Negro, Born into Brothels, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Shadowman, Strong Island, Blackfish. I love Holy sh*t stories like Capturing the Friedmans and The Wolfpack; I love upbeat, inspiring stories like The Eagle Huntress and Life, Animated; I love personal memoirish docs if they’re done right like Alan Berliner’s First Cousin, Once Removed. And I’m an especially big fan of music documentaries—my all time favorite is Muscle Shoals. I’m glad this is the last question because now I want to go turn on Netflix!


Join us for a special members-only screening of RBG on Thursday, May 10 at 7:35. We’ll welcome filmmaker Julie Cohen for a Q&A following the film. Member tickets are available here. RBG opens at the Burns on Friday, May 11.

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