Margaret Lazarus, an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, conducted a presentation and discussion of Oscar-winning documentaries last night in Griffith Theater. She agreed to an interview with recess' Braden Hendricks to share her thoughts on being a filmmaker and her experiences in the field. Tonight she will present her own films and answer questions at 7 p.m. in East Duke 209.

What do you do with the documentary arts?

I'm a member of the documentary branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The doc branch is relatively new-it was established in 2001-and we basically do a lot of things, like work on rules. We also are the committee that pre-screens the entries for the documentary awards. One of things we've been talking about is to encourage the screenings of short documentaries. There are some theaters that show short docs but this is one of the things we want to expand the number of people who can see Oscar-winning films. It's a really exciting idea, so we're piloting the program now and seeing the people's reaction. If it's something they want then we will expand the program to many more cities. [Today] I'm showing [at Duke in East Duke 209] a film I got an Academy Award for [best short documentary] in '94 called Defending our Lives (1993), which is about domestic violence. I'm also showing a newer film, one we did in 2003 called Rape Is. It's part of the curriculum for new recruits in the Air Force in response to the sexual assault situations that have happened. If there is time, the third film I want to show is Strong at the Broken Places (1998), which is about four people who deal with rape and violence.

Why rape and women's rights?

The aim [of these films] is to get people talking and expanding the idea of rape. It's such an important and big topic, and the more we talk about it, the clearer some of the things get about it. A film is a really excellent way of opening up issues because, unlike a legal case, it doesn't force you to become polarized. It presents the issue in a way where you can really talk and think about what you think about it. You can talk about that without getting involved in a polarized situation, and I think that's absolutely essential.

How did you get involved in making documentary films?

Well, I've been doing it for a long time. My first job out of college was working for a television station as a producer. I started out as a researcher, then a writer, then a producer and I just felt deeply dissatisfied by what I was able to do and fitting into the format, mixing everything up with commercials. So my partner and I said, "Let's start a non-profit filmmaking organization." What did we know? We quit our jobs in television, we did bodywork on an old bathtub type 1962 Porsche and sold it to an up-and-coming Boston rock star. With that little bit of money we started making films. My partner [Renner Wunderlich] is interested in unnecessary surgery, and I'm interested in the women's movement. With Rape Culture (1975), we got involved with a collective of people who taught us how to do distribution and we sent it out all over the world, and that's where it began. I also teach [a class called] Producing Films for Social Change at Tufts University, which is a very intense course in which students can know absolutely nothing about filmmaking and learn to use the camera, edit and make a film about a social issue that they care about.

What is it like to win an Academy Award?

It's really funny. Documentary is a growing brand, and it's growing in importance. But really, until Michael Moore showed that a documentary could make hundreds of millions of dollars-I mean, Fahrenheit 9/11 made over 200 million bucks-until that happened, I think it was hard to get theater owners and the commercial aspects of the business to take it seriously. Now it's much more of an issue. In any event, the Oscars are-it's hard to describe. My husband said it best when he said he felt we were like a couple of cats at the Westminster Dog Show. Everybody else was in dramatic theater. Just being there, and seeing everybody and getting up there [on the stage] and making the little speech. At that point they estimated the worldwide audience as hundreds of millions of people. It was terrifying and exciting, and we got to say a few things about domestic violence. Who gets that kind of opportunity unless you're at an amazing event? It's been really wonderful to watch over the years how much more documentaries are getting out there, and how the Academy has created a whole branch of awards and been really supportive. It's really exciting.

Who are your major influences?

When I was coming up the new thing was direct cinema and cinema-verite. A lot of those older mentors, like the Maysles Brothers, were masters of it and were so influential. They showed you could bring portable and light equipment and spend serious time with your subjects and capture only things that are not scripted. That's been a very important influence on me, but I've been influenced by many of the different strands within the documentary tradition. You can produce something different than what is on mainstream media and give people a voice who may not have a voice in mainstream media, and that has been a very important influence on me as well.