David Van Taylor
Fellow: Awarded 2010
Field of Study: Film
Competition: US & Canada
Documentarian David Van Taylor is known for films that tackle controversial subjects in an unusually empathetic and nonjudgmental way. In another director's hands Mr. Van Taylor's first documentary, Dream Deceivers (1992), could have devolved into mockery of the story's principal players, who sue the band Judas Priest for allegedly mesmerizing their sons into a suicide pact. While inexorably unearthing the many aspects of the sons’ upbringing that the families’ lawsuit was intended to evade, Van Taylor nonetheless brought a compassion to the film that left viewers questioning their own preconceptions, and critics applauding the director’s mastery. Dream Deceivers, which premiered simultaneously on the PBS series P.O.V. and at the Film Forum, garnered an International Documentary Association Award, a Gold Award from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and an Emmy nomination. It was featured at film festivals in Berlin, Amsterdam, Vienna, and Melbourne, to name but a few.
Mr. Van Taylor brought that same approach to the political arena in A Perfect Candidate (1996), which chronicled Oliver North’s Senate campaign; With God on Our Side (1996/2004), an epic history of the Religious Right; and Advise & Dissent (2010), a behind-the-scenes chronicle of the Supreme Court confirmation wars. “The interplay of otherness and empathy is all the more important in political documentaries,” he avers. “Too many films merely preach to the choir. . . . Without empathy and self-criticism there is no insight; without insight there is no dialogue; without dialogue there is no democracy.”
Mr. Van Taylor’s efforts might not have produced any consensus in Washington, but critics voiced near-unanimous approval. The Washington Post applauded A Perfect Candidate as “one of a handful of essential films about politics” with characters “more complex and more vividly drawn than … in most fiction films”; and Siskel & Ebert effused that it was “absolutely fascinating.” The Chicago Tribune termed With God on Our Side “required viewing,” the reviewer for Variety called it “inspired,” and it was aired around the world and nominated for an Emmy. Most recently, Advise & Dissent won the Founders Award at the 2010 Politics on Film Festival; and Howard Fineman of Newsweek called it “brilliant.”
Among his other documentaries are Ghosts of Attica, which won a 2001 duPont-Columbia Silver Baton, about the aftermath for both inmates and guards of that horrific prison rebellion; Caught in the Crossfire, a verité documentary about three Arab-Americans in New York, produced for PBS’s first annual 9/11 commemoration; Love Lessons, commissioned by MTV’s Logo Channel for airing on Valentine’s Day, 2007, about gay and lesbian dating coaches and matchmakers; and Good Ol’ Charles Schulz, an American Masters spotlight program, which revealed the man behind the iconic comic strip. During his Guggenheim Fellowship term, he completed two episodes of To Tell the Truth, a series exploring issues of creativity and representation in the history of documentary film.
David Van Taylor is Vice President of Lumiere Productions, a position he has held since 1996. He has been a guest lecturer at Harvard University, New York University, Columbia University, The New School, Brooklyn College, and William & Mary College; and is a member of the Independent Feature Project, The D-Word Community, Writers’ Guild of America, and Directors’ Guild of America.