Revenge of the Nerds: Ironbound Films | Community Notebook | Hudson Valley | Chronogram Magazine
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Revenge of the Nerds: Ironbound Films 

Last Updated: 08/13/2013 3:55 pm

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Ironbound Films—named for a section of Newark, New Jersey—brings to projects the complementary talents of its principals. Newberger is a pioneer of web media. Kramer, who does most of the shooting, ably handles interaction with clients or film subjects. Miller, who is responsible for crafting the storylines, can indulge his scholarly instincts. (He graduated from Brown University with a degree in semiotics and originally wanted to be a film critic.) When Miller leaps into a new project, he analyzes the topic from a sociological, psychological, anthropological, historical, and, ultimately, musical point of view.

Pressed to identify a signature style that runs through their work, Miller identifies a Borscht Belt-meets-Yeshiva sensibility.

“Our style combines comedy with intellectualizing,” Miller says. “We’ll all be very brainy, but never at the expense of a laugh.”

A left-leaning liberal, Miller avoids partisanship in telling his tales. “If [your documentary] is a polemic, it shows, probably, that you haven’t done all your research,” he says. “There’s [another] side out there that you need to consider in some way.”

For example, in the harrowing 2002 work America Rebuilds: A Year at Ground Zero, a 9/11 widow fights against reconstruction and lobbies for a memorial. While her goal was at odds with the film’s narrative, Miller showcases the woman’s passionate campaign. “She ended up being a very sympathetic character in the film,” he says. The resulting 90-minute piece steers clear of cheap sentiment, making it more emotionally powerful. Co-produced and written by Kramer, America Rebuilds is the first in a triad of works about the destruction and recreation of the World Trade Center by Ironbound, which was named official film consultants for the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum.

Unlike previous projects that were research-heavy and crafted mostly in the editing room with stock footage, The Linguists (2007) was a form of liberation for Miller and his colleagues. The Ironbound team followed a pair of intrepid young ethnolinguists—Drs. K. David Harrison and Gregory D. S. Anderson—on their journeys though Siberia, Peru, South Africa, India, and Oklahoma. The mission: to record dying languages from their last surviving speakers. (Language, like culture, falls victim to globalism, imperialism, and urban sprawl.) The viewer senses in the jerky, hand-held camera footage not only a frantic race against time but also the posterior-bruising nature of the men’s backroad travels. “We wanted to make sure you were bumping around in the backseat with the guys,” Miller says.

During the year of shooting their subjects, Miller admits he and his colleagues “were annoyed by them frequently.” Ironbound considered Harrison “a control freak” and that Anderson was “very intense.” At times, the explorers were undiplomatic and petulant toward the foreign speakers. While Miller retained these unflattering segments, against the pleas of Harrison and Anderson—The Linguists is not a hatchet job.

“We wouldn’t spend so much time following these guys if we didn’t like them and didn’t believe in what they were doing,” Miller says.

Following the Sundance screening, The Linguists became a festival favorite and was lauded by critics. Miller represented the film on “The Colbert Report.” In February, he screened the film for United Nations officials in Paris as they strategized on ways of preserving moribund languages.

The Ironbound team warmed to field shoots; the group’s current film, The New Recruits, required extensive travel. Its subject is “social entrepreneurial” projects—that is, businesses started in impoverished areas to benefit local people. These range from the installation of pay toilets to the starting of home businesses. While good intentions power these enterprises, profiteers can plague the process. The film follows several projects, some of which succeed and others that do not. In May, Miller, Kramer, and Newberger traveled to Pakistan to document a social entrepreneur’s drip-irrigation company in Karachi. It was not a typical shoot. “Political riots were breaking out in the area while we were there,” Miller says. “We were forced to have armed guards and an occasional police escort.”

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