Vermont Arts Council

The People’s Choice Award: Denis Mueller

87: Denis Mueller

Create a documentary about the writer Russell Banks

Denis Mueller has been making films for 30 years. Howard Zinn: You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train was broadcast on the Sundance Channel, Link TV, and Free Speech Television. It was short-listed for an Academy Award nomination in 2005 and has recently been showed on Vermont PBS and the Savoy Theatre. Denis’ various films have been released on DVD and have also seen theatrical distribution.

Beginning with the award-winning, FBI’s War on Black America, which was co-produced and co-directed with Deb Ellis, he has charted the abuses by the FBI and other government agencies for over 20 years and has built an audience surrounding the subject throughout the years. Denis recently completed Peace Has No Borders with collaborator Deb Ellis He also was the co-director of the film, Nelson Algren: The End is Nothing, the Road is All which recently was broadcast on Vermont Public Television and presented at The American Documentary Festival.

Project description

I am a 72-year-old documentary filmmaker with a proved track record. My documentary Howard Zinn: You Can’t be Neutral on a Moving Train was short listed for an academy award and a recent film about the writer Nelson Algren changed the directions of my career.

Before focusing on writers, my work was primarily focused on history, like The FBI’s War on Black America. This film was the first documentary broadcast on PBS in both New York and in the Bay area. But the Zinn film, followed by the film about Nelson Algren shifted my focus to literature and reaching to reaching a broad audience and a variety of platforms.

How this film is evolving my creative practice: As my focus as a filmmaker shifted to writers, I found the opportunity to expand my creativity. One of the problems for any filmmaker doing a film about a writer is that the act of writing is, by its nature, a solitary experience. How can we transcend the solitary act of writing in a visual manner? Russell Banks; I Write to be a Better Person, represents an evolution in my filmmaking because it challenged me to use a variety of creative methods to tell the story of Banks’ journey while find a way to give my audience the “right feeling” about the themes of race, class, gender, toxic masculinity and the “American Dream” told through Russell Banks’ literature.

What does success look like? For me, success is work that enables me to focus on themes I am that I am passionate about. This film about Russell Banks fills that role in that Banks’ dearest themes, such as racial race relations, overcoming male toxicity and the despair brought on by deindustrialization, are themes I am passionate about. For me, success will be completing this film and through it opening a national discussion about these critical themes.

Media Sample 1

“Banks intro.” The section I pick is our prologue. This gives the audience an idea of who Russell Banks is and provides us with a visual sense for the film.

Media Sample 2

I want the reader to watch how we opened our film and introducing the third act. I choose this segment to illustrate our structure and unity.


Return to the candidates list

Desmond Peeples September 5, 2023