Storytelling with Nell Constantinople

Nell Constantinople
May 06, 2021

Nell Constantinople spoke with the IAC class about her work producing documentary films. She shared her interest in storytelling, especially working with directors who use the medium to tell deeply personal, human stories across a range of topics from spirituality, design, technology, and the criminal justice system.


From Amelia:

One aspect of the discussion with Nell Constantinople that lingers for me is her work with The Innocence Files. I was immediately intrigued by this conversation, because the organization she worked with (The Innocence Project) is one that I am very supportive of and have even considered as a career. I thought it was very interesting how Nell stated that the project turned into the question of “what is the role of memory in the criminal justice system?” Today. many people are eager to learn about issues in the system, and are supportive of criminal justice reform, but issues like eyewitness identification are not often discussed.


Another thing that really resonated with me was the way the Nell seemed to give such a strong voice to the people whose stories were featured. She explained that the first thing she does when creating the documentaries is to ask the subjects what THEY want to get out of the film. This seemed like such a powerful way to highlight the stories of all people, especially those who are marginalized like the prisoners she spoke to for The Innocence Files. It also seemed to be empowering, rather than exploitative, as it places the priority of the film on telling real stories rather than providing entertainment to the audience. Nell seemed like such an incredible filmmaker who truly cares about the people she represents.


From Eugenie:

Nell Constantinople is an inspirational and determined filmmaker. Her work expands across a variety of disciplines. I found that her work on documentaries, such as The Innocence Files, expresses her interest in the social impact that filmmaking has. The Innocence Files, a Netflix documentary series,  covers cases of individuals who have been wrongly convicted and the criminal justice system overall. I was moved by the connections that Constantinople had to the individuals she interviewed for the story. She truly wanted to make the film capture the truth that was within the stories.

Additionally, her story sheds light on the collaborative experience. Constantinople’s recollection of assembling hundreds of index cards and a corkboard to start ideation demonstrates the natural progression of creating a project.

I really enjoyed learning about her work on the film, The Times. The film showed the New York Times does make mistakes but is determined to provide truthful news. And her work with Oprah on Belief was fascinating to hear about. Overall, I sincerely appreciated Nell Constantinople’s insights on being a filmmaker and an artist with impact.


From Kayla:

I really enjoyed Nell Constantinople’s discussion on her producing career. She gave great advice about how one pursues their passion. Nell also talked about relationships that were so important to her during the making of each film. Nell Constantinople gave us some powerful advice: “a compelling story is a story anywhere” and “hone your voice.”

One film, The Innocence Files reminded me of Ava Duverney’s 13th. The criminal justice system is so complex and both films highlight the challenges our judicial system faces. Several men and boys, particularly African Americans, are mistreated in the system. Some are sentenced to serve life in prison for a crime they did not commit. Imagine how many people have lost their lives or spent life in prison for petty crimes because DNA testing was not accessible to them at the time. 


From Tess:

I loved our conversation with Nell Constantinople on Tuesday; so far, she has been one of my favorite speakers. Overall, she was very down to earth and offered a lot of valuable advice. I was very surprised to discover that she didn’t major in film or go to any sort of film school, but yet she is a producer and has worked on major projects. She was very adamant that your major in college does not and should not restrict what you end up doing with your life. This was nice to be reminded of because sometimes it can be a little stressful thinking that a decision I made when I was seventeen about what I wanted to major in will dictate the rest of my life. Sometimes I question if I really want to pursue my major in the future or if one of my other interests would bring me more joy in the long run. It was also nice to hear that Nell didn’t have her life planned out from when she was young; it all just sort of happened.

I also liked her emphasis on bonding and creating connections with peers. In some classes and then when hearing about the intern/job application process, our peers are seen as an enemy or competition. However, rather than framing peers as a possible roadblock to our success, Nell pushed forward the idea that your peers are the ones that will help you reach success. This was very refreshing to hear, especially since I’m not a very competitive person--I don’t enjoy arguing and I much prefer everyone to be happy. The next time I’m being bombarded with the idea that you have to beat your peers or show how much better you are than them, I will try to think back to Nell and turn to my peers for help and support rather than coming up with ways to show that I’m a better candidate.


From Lizzie:

What I found inspiring and interesting about Nell Constantinople’s talk was the relationships she formed between her co-workers and interviewees. The relationships she built while working on her films reminded me of the relationships I’ve built within the WLP. I see women in the GroupMe constantly reaching out to each other about opportunities at university or asking for their collaboration on projects. So, I really connected with what Nell said about the importance of building relationships. 

I also found the relationships she built with her interview subjects interesting. She had said the first question she always asks is “Why are you doing this?” I like that she asks this first because it immediately shifts the power dynamic. It’s no longer about Nell’s project. It questions the interviewee’s role in participating. They become the contributors, and they are questioned as to why they decided to help her. I think this is such an interesting way to involve the subjects in the creative process. I also appreciate that Nell is so diligent when it comes to her portrayal of the interviewees. She mentioned showing them the films beforehand to get their consent and approval before airing them. By doing so, she avoids exploiting them, which is often a problem when it comes to making documentaries. Instead, she’s carefully making sure she tells their story rather than use them to tell hers.