An Interview with Kevin Belli

Recently, we sat down with our Director of Photography & Senior Editor, Kevin Belli to pick his brain on how he got his start at Principle Pictures and all that he wishes to accomplish.

What inspired you to get involved in documentary filmmaking?
Seeing documentary films for the first time, films like Don’t Look Back and Crumb and Gimme Shelter, made me view documentaries as an actual art form. Not only did the films really inspire me, but I realized it was the avenue to see more of the world and be able to film real stories, and that was a lot more appealing to me than creating something fictional or from a script. The truth is stranger than fiction, right?

How did you begin to work with Principle Pictures?
Ten years ago when I was working as a news editor, Beth was looking for an assistant editor. When the main editor quit the job, I got it. Then I picked up the camera, and was really hooked. and by the third film we did together, I was fully shooting the films and editing them. I got very lucky in getting hooked up with Beth early on.
It was really humble beginnings. For the first couple years we literally worked out of Beth’s basement. With our first feature, BEYOND BELIEF, we made the shift into theatrical documentaries, and starting learning this whole new world. But, we really lucked out and the film premiered at Tribeca Film Festival, played at a lot of festivals, had a limited theatrical release and aired on the Sundance channel. So, for our first time out with a theatrical doc, we got very lucky. And there was no looking back – now Principle Pictures is fully into theatrical docs…

What do you think Principle Pictures does differently from other companies?
I think what we’re good at is leaving politics out of it and finding the human stories within what could easily be politicized films. We do a really good job of finding the human element, finding the people and the characters that represent the issues in these stories.

What do you hope to accomplish with your work?
I do hope that our films help to create change, but I’m equally motivated by the art of filmmaking itself. I love the travel, and advancing myself as an artist, as a cameraman, as an editor, and continuing to put out art with mass appeal.

What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
Working at Principle Pictures has offered me a window to the world. It’s offered me an opportunity to see a lot of the world and witness a lot of parts of the world I never would have otherwise. I really love the fact that this job has brought me to places that I never would have gone on my own: Western Mongolia, Siberia, the West Bank, Iraq, Syria, Jordan, Afghanistan. This job has been this great vehicle – not only for growth as a filmmaker, but also for personal growth. I understand the world better because I’ve been places, met people and witnessed things.
It’s such a fortunate position to be able to wake up every day and come to work and think about filming, and think about editing, and think about documentaries in general. We’re surrounded by creative people, by gifted people, and sometimes you get a little spoiled and you can lose your perspective on that. But it’s just a really great way to exist on a day-to-day basis. I can’t think of a lot of occupations that offer you that type of opportunity. It’s obviously a lot different than sitting in an office. Hopefully it’s making me a better person too.

What is your personal goal in your work?
To make it to retirement working on documentaries, pretty much. I just want to be able to work on projects like we do here. Here we have a socially conscious vision in terms of our documentary filmmaking, and that very much aligns with the types of films I want to make. The trick is to keep a job, and keep working. So, if I I’m doing exactly this in 20 years, I’ll be really happy.

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