Dolores Huerta’s first major success as a community activist came when she partnered with César E. Chávez in the 1950s to form the National Farm Workers Association. Sixty years later, she is still a vocal feminist fighting against economic injustice. While the history books detail the work of Chávez, Huerta is not well known, and her work was often attributed to others.
The documentary film Dolores, directed by Peter Bratt, shines a spotlight on Huerta and her lifelong commitment to equality and civil rights. Jessica Congdon, the film’s Editor and Ben Zweig, the film’s Assistant Editor and Post-Production Supervisor, previously worked together on two other documentaries. The film premiered as part of the U.S. Documentary Competition selections at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and has since screened in numerous film festivals across the United States, including the Women + Film Festival in Denver, CO and the San Francisco International Film Festival
Adobe: How long have you worked as an editor?
Congdon: I’ve been an editor for more than 20 years. I started working on commercials in San Francisco and was a co-founding director and editor of Umlaut Film, where I still do some commercial editing. I started cutting feature films in 2001. I edited the film Dopamine, which went to the Sundance Film Festival in 2003. I also edited Miss Representation and The Mask You Live In with director Jennifer Siebel Newsom, which went to Sundance in 2011 and 2015, respectively.
Adobe: How did you get connected to Dolores?
Congdon: Peter Bratt was interviewing editors for this project and he and I really hit it off. He’d just watched Miss Representation and was really struck by it, so that played into his decision to bring me on as the editor. Over the course of us working together I also became a co-writer, which is one of my credits on the film. Peter is one of the most fabulous directors I’ve ever worked with. He’s really creative, collaborative, and just a lovely soul.
Adobe: Why did you decide to work with Adobe Premiere Pro CC?
Congdon: When we started cutting in February 2015 I was still working in Final Cut Pro 7, but we all knew the sun was setting on that product. I was a bit begrudging about transferring over to Adobe Premiere Pro but Ben really advocated for it and I trust him a lot. I agreed to try it and after using it for a couple of months I grew to love it and can’t see going back. There are so many great things about Premiere Pro that made the workflow really smooth.
Zweig: I knew that adapting from Final Cut to Premiere was very doable. What really sold me on the Premiere features was the ability to lay in visual effects right in Premiere Pro and watch them back in real-time.
Adobe: Tell us how Dolores came together.
Congdon: After Ben loaded everything into Premiere Pro I worked on an assembly for a couple of months. Eventually we had a three hour string out that we transcribed. From then on Peter and I would go back into the original transcripts of the interviews, write out what we wanted like a script, and then I would construct it.
Once we had a solid A-roll cut we started pulling in the archival footage on another layer and working and reworking it. We did a lot of focus groups and eventually locked the cut in July 2016. Then it was just a matter of doing all of the archival clearances, getting everything approved, scoring the music, and submitting to the Sundance Film Festival.
Zweig: We hired Jennifer Petrucelli, who is an incredible archivist, and she searched far and wide for every possible piece of Dolores’ history since her birth. Even the family welcomed us into their homes and shared their personal photos with us. Volunteers of the United Farm Workers Movement had boxes of photos that we scanned and catalogued.
Adobe: How was your experience working with Premiere Pro?
Congdon: Working with Premiere Pro has become so second nature to me it’s hard to remember what it was like before. I love its organization structure and how it links directly to files. We shot with a three-camera setup, with one camera shooting 4K and the others shooting regular HD. We were able to sync those up and load the 4K and HD content into Premiere Pro without transcoding. Because it is a historical documentary, we also had more than 200 hours of archival footage. We had many different sources and were able to bring everything in without transcoding, which made the workflow so much quicker.
I love the way Premiere Pro deals with graphics, creating titles, and doing moves. When I have to communicate with an After Effects artist I know there’s a really easy workflow. I’ve also started to lean heavily on features such as the Lumetri Color panel, Warp Stabilizer, and Morph Cut.
Zweig: I was familiar with Warp Stabilizer from Adobe After Effects. When we were able to use the feature directly in Premiere Pro it eliminated that extra step. There were a lot of shots of Dolores on the move and we applied a really simple stabilization and it worked beautifully. We were even able to use it on some old marching footage that was really shaky and it smoothed things out.
We also appreciated the integration of Photoshop directly in Premiere. The ability to right-click on a still image and bring it into Photoshop, adjust any of the levels, do some cloning or spot healing, and then simply reimport back into Premiere and continue going on with the online process was a tremendous timesaver.
Adobe: What interested you about this film?
Congdon: When I first became involved in the project, I didn’t really know about Dolores Huerta. She’d been an interview subject for Miss Representation and I knew she was an activist, but the more I discovered about her story the more riveted and furious I became that nobody knows about her.
Dolores was César Chávez’s original partner in founding the National Farm Workers Association but for a variety of reasons she’s been forgotten or written out of history intentionally. She’s a somewhat controversial figure who has evolved and taken on many challenges, from gay rights to immigration. She understands that every struggle needs a heroine and she’s always there, unwavering in her beliefs. She’s been doing this for 60 years and she hasn’t burned out, which is a lesson for all of us that you can’t stop fighting. The struggle for justice is never going to end and she’s a perfect example of how you have to keep fighting.
Adobe: What’s next for you?
Congdon: In the past five years, I’ve started doing more writing and directing. I’ve been working on my own film on Crista Luedtke and how she has single-handedly transformed Guerneville, California from a sleepy river town into a hipster destination for Northern California. We’ve also been doing a food and travel television series with Crista called Places + Plates where she travels to various countries, meets the people there, and samples the different cuisine.
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