Videographer Danielle Burke lives in Evarts, Kentucky. Among her videos is the documentary Through Their Eyes. She has worked and studied with the regional arts center Appalshop in Whitesburg, Kentucky. The following interview was conducted by Nic Paget-Clarke in September, 2000.
In Motion Magazine: When did you start to make videos?
Danielle Burke: I started when I was ten. I wasnt doing them seriously or for money, I was doing them for fun. Just for the pure joy of doing it. Then when I got older I got an opportunity to do it as a career and I took it.
In Motion Magazine: Your parents had a video camera when you were ten?
Danielle Burke: Well, its a funny story. A friend of mine, her grandparents had a video camera and she and I would make spoofs and parodies of newscasts and TV shows that we saw.
In Motion Magazine: Who did you show them to?
Danielle Burke: We didnt show them to any one besides her grandparents, maybe my parents.
In Motion Magazine: What did they think of them?
Danielle Burke: They thought they were cute and funny.
In Motion Magazine: Have you looked at them recently?
Danielle Burke: Not recently. Id like to. Her grandma has them.
In Motion Magazine: You had mentioned earlier that you liked the process of the making of the videos. What is it that you like about it?
Danielle Burke: What I love about the process is the challenge and how in both sound and video even if you make mistakes you always learn from them. There are so many mistakes that I have learned from and never forget. I like challenging things so this is a perfect career for me.
In Motion Magazine: Were these content challenges you learned from, or technique, or both?
Danielle Burke: Actually both. There was a lot that I didnt know that had to do with technique that I learned, and content as well. You can learn from other videographers, filmmakers. If you watch them, listen to them, or talk with them, youll learn a lot.
In Motion Magazine: Do you remember any examples?
Danielle Burke: I remember Herbie Smith was talking to the AMI group one year and I was sitting there and I was listening and he was talking about how walking with a camera while you are looking through a camera can be very hard. He talked about this thing that you can do when you are walking sideways, which is to cross one foot behind the other. As simple as it is, it makes alot of sense. That was just one of the small things that I remember and I now do.
In Motion Magazine: It works well?
Danielle Burke: Yes, it keeps the camera nice and steady and it keeps you from tripping over your own feet which isn't very hard to do while looking through the camera.
In Motion Magazine: What are some of the favorite pieces that you have done so far?
Danielle Burke: I have a couple of them. One of them is the piece Through Their Eyes. The reason that that is one of my favorite pieces is it helped me to learn how to deal with people who you really dont know who may have a problem and you want to talk to them about it.
The piece is about gays and lesbians who live in the mountains, and their stories. The piece was a very hard piece to do because we had to be very careful how we put it together. We didnt want to offend anyone. A lot of people loved it. It had a very warm welcome, especially considering we are in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. I was very proud of that.
I have a couple of other smaller videos that havent really been seen. They were just things I did for the fun of it. One of the smaller ones is a music video I put together for a local band. They paid me to do it, though I would have done it for free, just for the experience. I went to their loft and I recorded them playing and I recorded them sitting around doing their normal thing. I put it together for them and just to see them happy with what I did made me very proud of that piece. It made me like that piece more.
In Motion Magazine: You did a piece on churches too? How do you think that turned out? What was it about?
Danielle Burke: It was about the rapture. It was called A Thief in the Night. I wouldnt say it was one of my favorite pieces. It didnt turn out as I thought it would or as I hoped it would. We were going around interviewing people and trying to get a variety of religions and their take on the rapture or the second coming of Jesus Christ. We also wanted to find out how other religions saw this. But, basically, all around eastern Kentucky people are Baptists, Presbyterians, and Pentecostals. A lot of their views on the rapture are very close. Myself, I was hoping wed meet people of other religions Catholisism, Buddhism or Paganism among others. But it was very hard to find people like that here.
In Motion Magazine: You found out they were mostly very similar?
Danielle Burke: Yes. very similar.
In Motion Magazine: You live in Harlan County - a county with a lot of history. What do think of that history and what did you think of that famous film Harlan County, USA? How do you think it reflected the history of your county?
Danielle Burke: I dont think it gave Harlan County a very good name. Even though everything that was in it was the truth. It was not sugar-coated in any way and it basically showed what was going on in Harlan County. I liked it because it was telling the truth which is a lot of what being a videographer or filmmaker is about. Showing the truth.
In Motion Magazine: That was during a miners strike?
Danielle Burke: Yes. Though I was born at that time.
In Motion Magazine: What do you think of Harlan County?
Danielle Burke: Considering Ive lived here all my life, its a great place. But there are a lot of people who want to get out of Harlan County. Me, Im happy being here or being anywhere else. It doesnt really matter to me. The people here are great because everyone knows everyone else. And if they dont know the people they will know someone that will. The downside is, there isn't a lot to do here, for work or entertainment.
In Motion Magazine: And thats fine with you?
Danielle Burke: Yes, I suppose so.
In Motion Magazine: Your father worked in the mines, right?
Danielle Burke: Yes, he did.
In Motion Magazine: Do you think that has effected how you portray mines in your videos?
Danielle Burke: No. Because my dad worked in the mines doesnt mean that Im going to say Oh, mines are wonderful things. Thats not how I think. Thats not true. Im my own individual person, so whether or not a family member, or family members, have worked , or still are working, in the mines, Im going to have my own views on them.
Some mines I can say they are fine. I can deal with those. But other mines, like strip-mines, those are just wrong. Straight out wrong. They destroy the land, peoples homes, the water, the homes of animals and plant life. Deep mines dont do that. They do however cause damage through blasting. My dad worked in deep mines. Deep mines don't destroy the land as badly as strip mining. They go inside of the mountains, they don't take the top of the mountain off. As long as they are careful about what they do and they don't destroy the water, or the land, or the homes, then they are fine.
In Motion Magazine: Do you have any filmmakers that you like a lot, that you see as influences in some of your work?
Danielle Burke: Ones I know personally?
In Motion Magazine: Either way.
Danielle Burke: Actually I do know them. Not personally, but I have talked with them.
I look up to Elizabeth Barrett. She did a piece that went to Sundance Film Festival. It was called Stranger with a Camera (editor: a documentary about the shooting of a filmmaker from Canada who was filming in eastern Kentucky). That piece was very unbiased. It told three points of view. First, the point of view of Hugh OConnor, the man who was shot, and his family. Secondly, it showed Homer Ison, his family and their side. And thirdly, it showed Elizabeth Barretts point of view she was living in that county when it happened. It was a very unbiased piece.
Another filmmaker I look up to is Herbie Smith. The reason for that is he makes the process fun. He makes the process of doing film fun. And another one would be Scott LaRose, he works with large movie producers and I love his parodies, the ones I have seen. Parodies are as much fun to do as documentary work.
In Motion Magazine: Thinking back over what you have said, most of what you do is documentary?
Danielle Burke: Yes.
In Motion Magazine: Do you think you will continue on that path?
Danielle Burke: I think I will but I may experiment some. I write stories and I think that my stories are fairly good, or so I have been told. Someday Id like to take one of my stories and make it a video.
In Motion Magazine: With actors?
Danielle Burke: Yes.
In Motion Magazine: Have you ever tried to get your stories published?
Danielle Burke: Not yet. Maybe someday I will.
In Motion Magazine: You like being where you are and many of your videos are about where you are and who is there. Are you more interested in the place, or the people, or in portraying various aspects of eastern Kentucky?
Danielle Burke: Sometimes its about where I am. Sometimes its about who is here. So, like you said, its a variety of things. I like having a variety. I like talking to people and finding out about them, and things that happen to them, or things that happen to their relatives. Im the type of person that would sit down and listen to their grandmas stories because they are the funniest things, or the strangest. My grandma is one of the funniest people I know. I sit and talk to her all the time just to hear her stories. Maybe someday I will do a peice on her life.
In Motion Magazine: Is there anything else youd like to say?
Danielle Burke: No matter what you put your mind to, you can do it if you have the mind-set of wanting to do it. I am a very headstrong person and if I say I want to do something, then it might as well be set in stone.
Published in In Motion Magazine January 9, 2001.
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