Doug Block is a New York-based documentary filmmaker who has won increasing international recognition as a master of the autobiographical film form. With a long body of highly acclaimed work as both director and producer, his films have won countless awards, screened in dozens of leading film festivals, and shown in theaters and broadcast on television throughout the world.
His most recent feature, The Kids Grow Up (Special Jury Prize, Silverdocs) was released theatrically by Shadow Distribution and broadcast on HBO on Fathers Day, 2011. His previous film, 51 Birch Street, was named one of the Ten Best Films of 2006 by a number of leading critics, including A.O. Scott of the New York Times, and was selected as one of the outstanding documentaries of the year by the National Board of Review. Block also directed The Heck With Hollywood! (1991), the Emmy nominated Home Page (1999) and the multi award-winning short The Children Next Door (2012).
In addition to his own films, Block’s credits as producer include: Silverlake Life (Sundance Grand Jury Prize, Peabody, Prix Italia), Jupiter’s Wife (Sundance Special Jury Prize, Emmy), A Walk Into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory (top awards at Berlin and Tribeca), The Edge of Dreaming (POV) and Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles (Sundance Best Director Prize for Documentary).
Block is also the founder and co-host of The D-Word (www.d-word.com), which began as a pioneering blog for his film Home Page, and has evolved over the past 15 years into the web’s leading network and discussion forum for documentary professionals worldwide.
From the time I shot my very first wedding over 20 years ago, I knew that someday I would make a film like 112 Weddings.
As a documentary filmmaker, I found it unexpectedly thrilling to be a wedding videographer. We’re always struggling to gain access to our subjects, and here I was being granted a front-row position as an ordinary couple experienced perhaps the most extraordinary day in their lives (and being paid well for it, no less!). To be able to observe and capture their actions and behavior and the intense emotions of the day at such close range was a rare privilege and utterly fascinating.
And then there was the curiosity factor. We all go to weddings, especially if we don’t know the couple well, and enjoy speculating about whether or not they’re “keepers.” By the end of the wedding day, I felt I knew my couples quite well and had formed a genuine bond with many of them. So of course I wondered what would become of them, and what would become of their marriages.
The years passed by and, as I went about my business making a number of documentaries and raising a family, I kept filming more and more weddings. All the while thinking: someday I’ll get to that wedding film. Knowing full well by then it would be a film far more about the mystery of marriage than weddings.
Perhaps it had something to do with reaching my own 25th wedding anniversary, but three years ago I decided it was finally time to move forward. The “casting” process was pretty instinctive, based largely on my affection for the couples and how they might play off of each other as a collection. It wasn’t always easy to track them down but happily a large percentage agreed to be interviewed.
I had a lot of questions for them but at the core it all came down to two basic ones: What did you enter marriage thinking it would be? And what did it turn out to be? I felt there would be some dramatic and universal stories contained in those answers. With this kind of documentary approach comes a great responsibility. Because of the nature of our relationship and the intimacy of my shooting style (I shot all of my weddings and all of the interviews for the film as a one-person crew), the couples opened up to me with a candor that stunned me at times, almost as if I were a therapist rather than a documentarian. Additionally, by shooting them side by side on a couch, their body language, facial expressions and pauses often spoke as eloquently as their words, and revealed more than they probably meant to. My enormously skillful editor Maeve O’Boyle and I tried our best to balance our goal of creating the most intense and dramatic storylines with a sense of fairness and respect for our couples’ vulnerability.
While making the film I was continuing to shoot the occasional wedding, and it occurred to me that the experiences of a young couple in the months leading up to their wedding might make an interesting counterbalance to the seasoned and bittersweet perspectives of those looking back at their marriages of many years. By the time our couple, Heather and Sam, walk down the aisle at the end of 112 WEDDINGS, that classic ending to Hollywood movies will hopefully have a more nuanced and poignant resonance for viewers. As they’ve come to learn, happily-ever-after is complicated.
I would never claim 112 WEDDINGS is the definitive film on marriage. I’m a documentary filmmaker, not a social scientist. My intention was to simply to interweave 10 real-life love stories and see if it reveals a bigger picture view of love and long-term relationships. Certainly it’s my hope that it comes together as an unusual and powerful look at the subject.
Ultimately, I think 112 WEDDINGS is also a film about time. It’s about what time does to our looks, our beliefs, our expectations and our feelings about our partners. The one thing we know for certain when we marry is that life will throw all sorts of unexpected stuff at us and things will change. How we deal with it together as a couple is our ultimate barometer of success.
Some who are familiar with my previous three autobiographical documentaries (HOME PAGE, 51 BIRCH STREET, THE KIDS GROW UP) might wonder why I’ve not included any references to my own marriage in the film. It’s not like I didn’t give the matter lots of thought. In the end, I decided I had gone down that road before, and that it would be inauthentic to imply that I was exploring the subject of marriage in an attempt to somehow fix or save my own marriage.
In and of itself, 28 years of marriage hasn’t made me any kind of marriage expert. But it has given me the wisdom to dedicate 112 WEDDINGS to my ever-lovely, ever-patient wife Marjorie, and to leave it at that.