Q&A: Ross Kauffman & Katy Chevigny on the Fearlessness of the ‘E-Team’

Anna, Ole, Fred, and Peter are members of the Emergency Team (E-Team) for a respected international human rights organization, the first people on the scene when there is suspicion of human rights abuses. Entering areas of conflict like Syria or post-Qaddafi Libya, they gather evidence to determine if further investigation is warranted, and often what they find challenges decision-makers, holding them accountable. Award-winning filmmakers Ross Kauffman and Katy Chevigny take us behind the scenes and on the ground with these very different yet fearlessly committed individuals as they balance their personal and family lives with their intense work life in the field.

E-Team 650

E-Team is the winner of the 2014 Brizzolara Family Foundation Award for a Film of Conflict and Resolution.

E-Team is an intense and important film. How do you describe it?

Ross Kauffman & Katy Chevigny: That’s good to hear that you think it’s intense and important! In addition to creating an intense and dramatic experience for the viewer, we were also drawn to making an intimate film that brought you behind the scenes with some amazing characters. So that was why we made a point of spending a lot of time at home with the characters AND THEIR FAMILIES, to complement their work in the field and really make them come alive to viewers as people.

How did the two of you get connected to Human Rights Watch and what inspired you to embed with the E-Team?

Kauffman & Chevigny: We had both had previous films at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival (Ross with Born Into Brothels, Katy with Deadline and Election Day), so we knew a little bit about their work and they knew a little bit about our previous work. We felt that the work of the E-Team was some of the most visual and dramatic work that the organization did, so that was our initial interest. But it wasn’t until we went to dinner with the E-Team several years ago that we realized what great characters they all are, and at that point we felt like it would be a good idea to try to make a film about these particular people and the work they do.

Logistically, how did it work? Did you take turns traveling abroad over the period of filming? When working on a project like this, how do you know when to stop filming and start editing?

Kauffman & Chevigny: We filmed over the course of 2.5 years. We worked together (Ross on camera, Katy on sound) for a lot of the footage of them at home in Geneva, Paris and Berlin. We could only send one person with the E-Team into conflict zones for a number of reasons, and so that footage was shot by Ross by himself, in some instances, and on other occasions by cinematographers Rachel Beth Anderson and James Foley.

It’s hard to know when to stop filming and start editing. We have a smart producer, Marilyn Ness, who convinced us that we should start editing in order to figure out when to stop filming, and she was right. Our editor David Teague started editing the footage and helped guide us into what we still needed to shoot to make the film work as a full story.

Your subjects Anna, Ole, Peter and Fred are incredibly brave, but as filmmakers, you experienced the same amount of danger they did during the events we see in the film. How did you prepare for this? Was it better or worse than you imagined?

Kauffman & Chevigny: One of the benefits of traveling with the E-Team is that they have very strict security protocols, and they really evaluate the risks of every situation as best they can. So being with them and knowing that they had calculated the risks made it less scary than it might have been otherwise. With that said, of course, anything can happen. And as the E-Team often reminds people, we were in the enviable position of only spending a short time on mission and then, as foreigners, we could leave. The people stuck in those dangerous situations don’t have that luxury, and they are of course in much greater danger than we were.

We’ve already announced that E-Team has won the 2014 Brizzolara Family Foundation Award for a Film of Conflict and Resolution. Congratulations! The first screening at HIFF will be followed by a panel discussion on the work of the E-Team and how it intersects with filmmaking and journalism. What do you want audiences to take away from the film?

Kauffman & Chevigny: We didn’t make this film with a particular “message” for viewers. Our aim was to draw viewers in with these characters that we found fascinating while they conduct their intense investigations. We hoped that making a film with this intensity would cause some viewers to be inspired to learn more about human rights, about these particular conflicts and about this important work.


Do you have one piece of advice for aspiring filmmakers?

Kauffman & Chevigny: You gotta have tenacity, grit, discipline and a sense of humor.

What are you most looking forward to at HIFF?

Kauffman & Chevigny: We’ve heard great things about the Festival over the years. This is the first time that any film of ours has been accepted, and we are honored. Of course, winning the Brizzolara Conflict and Resolution Award is a highlight for the film and for us.

As the winner of the 2014 Brizzolara Family Foundation Award for a Film of Conflict and Resolution, the screening of E-Team on Sunday, October 12, will be followed by a panel of experts examining the issues portrayed in the film. Find tickets. Follow E-Team on Facebook and Twitter

E-Team will be released in select theaters and on Netflix later this month. 

Ross-KauffmanRoss Kauffman is the director, producer, cinematographer and co-editor of Born Into Brothels, winner of the 2005 Academy Award for Best Documentary. Other projects Kauffman has worked on include In A Dream (shortlisted for the 2009 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature) and Project Kashmir. Ross filmed a number of the E-Team missions, embedding with them in Syria and Libya and traveling with them to Moscow, Paris, Berlin, Geneva and beyond. Kauffman is currently working on a variety of projects, including Exposure and Wait For Me.

Katy-ChevignyKaty Chevigny is an award-winning filmmaker. She directed the film Election Day (2007) which premiered at SXSW in 2007. With Kirsten Johnson, she co-directed Deadline, which premiered at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival. Chevigny also directed Journey To The West: Chinese Medicine Today, and produced the acclaimed documentaries: Arctic Son, Innocent Until Proven Guilty, Nuyorican Dream, Brother Born Again, Outside Looking In: Transracial Adoption In America and (A)Sexual. Her films have been shown theatrically, on HBO, Cinemax, POV, Independent Lens, NBC, and Arte/ZDF, among others and have played at multiple prestigious film festivals around the world.