I first went to Paris as young photographer because it was the place to go for some odd kind of freedom of expression with the camera. Today in most places you cannot walk around the street just photographing - people aren't that open to it anymore. What I love about the people in Liberty City is that they are so trusting when you are taking their picture. And I sensed this happiness that they had as I was photographing them.
Some people have criticized your depiction of Liberty City as being romanticized.
Let's put it this way, I returned once to Liberty City with Morgan Freeman and, as we arrived there, all the women started screaming, "Morgan I love you!" and he turned around and yelled back at them, " I love you too!" The funny thing is I don't think they were all women, if you get my drift. It made me see this little neighborhood in my adopted city a place as romantic the Île de la Cité in Paris.
There's a dance sequence in the film starring Kenita Miller and a few other dancers. That's always been a debate in documentary film ... Do you think staged elements can and should exist in non-fiction film?
The minute you grab your camera and start shooting, that's already a moment where you are staging something. So the moment you take the camera out of its case, there's a bit of non-fiction going on. But what's going on in my head has always been fiction. But the everyday life of Liberty City's neighborhood is like a musical - sort of like a modern day version ofPorgy and Bess. My dream for this film is for people to realize how hard it was after the riots to rebuild this community. As Diana Ross once sang, "Ain't no mountain high enough."
You made Liberty City Is Like Paris to Me last year on January 9, 2009. It was a day that saw both the MLK parade and Obama's inauguration. Why did you want to document that particular moment in that particular place?
The amazing thing is that on that very special and historically important day the people in the neighborhood were so trusting to have us join in and have us be a part of their own unique celebration - we wanted to capture what those two culturally and historically significant days meant to them, to Liberty City, in their community in these times.
Liberty City Is Like Paris to Me, Dir. Bruce Weber, 16 minutes, HD. Screening Thursday, March 11 at 9 p.m., Tower Theater (1508 SW 8th St., Miami), and Sunday March 14 at 7 p.m., Regal Cinemas South Beach (1120 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach). 305-405-MIFF; miamifilmfestival.com.