Norma Percy in conversation with Roger Graef
Roger Graef, Norma Percy’s first commissioner, describes her work as a history of the living. Winning the Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Aldeburgh DocFest, her oeuvre, spanning nearly three decades, has earned her more than two dozen major awards, including Emmys, BAFTAs, and the prestigious Grierson Trustee’s Award. Despite her comparatively unknown name, and strictly ‘behind the camera’ approach to documentary filmmaking, she has gained an extraordinary level of access to some of the world’s most influential politicians and leaders.
Norma Percy tells Roger Graef that she has a strong belief in the notion that people don’t believe things are ‘real’ until they see the ‘real’ people. Percy’s filmmaking mantra involves putting these politicians in front of the camera, often convincing them to provide an extraordinarily personal back story to some of the world’s most significant political events.
Her work is primarily analytical, using the documentary form as historical evidence in itself, providing a ‘behind the scenes’ approach to current affairs and politics. Her incredibly diplomatic interview style has gained her access to Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Gerald Ford, and Slobodan Milosevic, resulting in often personal and amusing insights into these key political figures
Roger Graef has worked closely with Norma Percy since her first documentary End of Empire in 1985. He praises her versatility as a documentary filmmaker, as her three decades of work span the politics of Ireland, Iran, Israel, Iraq, Russia, Yugoslavia, and the United States. Her fascinating discussion with Graef saw her admit that she believes documentary to be more beneficial than books on political subjects. She claims that documentary allows people to see and judge for themselves based on the face in front of the camera.
When asked who her favourite interviewee was, Norma Percy responded ‘Bill Clinton’ without hesitation. He is, apparently, the most sympathetic person she has ever interviewed, due to his personable nature. ‘He is the only person I have ever interviewed that has asked me a question about myself’ she explains. On the subject of American Presidents, she concludes her interview with a projection for the future: ‘I have always wanted to interview an American President in office’, she says, and hopes to add this accolade to her extensive oeuvre in the near future.