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Alexandria Bombach: Poignant and Pressing Documentary Filmmaking

Words by Gillian Coyne

About the Filmmaker

Originally from Santa Fe, New Mexico, Alexandria Bombach is an award-winning director, cinematographer, editor, and producer of documentary films. Contrary to most filmmakers, Bombach actually studied business at a liberal arts school in Colorado called Fort Lewis College. Graduating in 2008, Bombach edged away from business and leaned into her personal passion for film by learning how to do video production for smaller projects like weddings or outdoor gear promotional material. This tenacity and sense of adventure that Bombach showed right off the bat from her entry into the professional world has continued throughout her career, as she has taken on more rigorous, compelling, and global projects.

The combination of that business degree, love of film, and undeterred ambition to forge her own path led Bombach to establish her production company Red Reel in 2009. In the same way Bombach weaves stories that draw audiences into her subjects, Red Reel focuses on producing character-driven stories…that also go on to win major awards. Red Reel’s films have gone on to win festival awards, Emmys, and numerous other accolades from both the communities being featured and filmmaking institutions.

Red Reel’s first film – and Bombach’s directorial debut – was 23 Feet (2010). Using an Airstream that was 23 feet long, Bombach and her team of two other women travelled the U.S. filming the lives of people who have chosen to live relatively off the grid in vans, buses and the likes. The film shows what it means, and what the trade-offs are, to giving everything to follow your love of the outdoors. To screen the film, Bombach and her team would set up camp and screen the film right from their Airstream for crowds of anywhere from 30 to 300 people, she said in an interview with Medium.

Since 2010, Bombach has lived nomadically, pursuing filmmaking projects that have taken her on adventures all over the world. She has spent significant time in Afghanistan working on the New York Times Op-Doc Afghanistan by Choice (2016), with the support of the Pulitzer Center, and on her own feature documentary Frame by Frame (2015). According to her bio, a friend once told her “you’re a filmmaker like Indiana Jones is a professor”. To say Bombach has a sense of adventure would be putting it mildly, but it is important to note that her travelling and search for compelling stories to tell do not by any means sacrifice the profound connection she establishes with her subjects.

In each of her projects, Bombach achieves intimacy without intrusion, exposure without spectacle of trauma. In what has become a directorial marker, Bombach interviews her subjects in a simple yet effective style in both her feature-length documentaries. Sitting on a simple stool with a black backdrop, the subjects of her documentaries are given the chance to fill in the gaps from what might be missing on film. In this sense, Bombach deviates from the golden rule of “show, don’t tell”, but in a way that allows her to donner la parole to the people whose stories she ultimately becomes a televisual vessel for. Bombach giving the stage to her subjects allows for a more intimate connection between them and the audience; by removing herself in a sense, Bombach has rendered her work exponentially more effective.

Frame by Frame

In 2015 Alexandria Bombach’s first feature-length film Frame by Frame premiered at SXSW, kicking off the film and the filmmaker’s international festival successes. During the festival circuit, the film received over 25 awards and even screened for Ashraf Ghani the president of Afghanistan. For Bombach, it was the start of a numerous accolades that her films – both short and feature-length – have acquired at festivals over the years.