Josh Izenberg: Documentary Filmmaker & Owner of Big Young Films

My NativeAdVantage: Documentary Filmmaker & Owner of Big Young Films


Josh Izenberg is a documentary film director based in San Francisco. His most recent film, SLOMO, was featured on the New York Times, was short-listed for an Academy Award, and was the recipient of the prestigious International Documentary Association award for Best Short Documentary, as well as notable awards from SXSW, Sheffield/Docfest and AFI/Docs. He’s currently working on a documentary about surf therapy and its effects on combat veterans coping with PTSD, entitled Resurface. His Oakland-based production company, Big Young Films, specializes in character-centered documentaries.

What do you do best?

What I do best is collaborative filmmaking — that is, filmmaking that has a collectivist methodology. This means documentary filmmaking where the subject of the film is a collaborator and the crew is structured horizontally, rather than vertically. All input is equally valued, whether from a sound recordist, cinematographer, or producer, and the director is acting as a guide rather than an executive. With documentary, this means the film grows and is layered organically, rather than a pre-conceived vision to be executed in some particular way. We might start in one place with what we think the story is and wind up somewhere else entirely. Not all filmmakers operate like this, but it’s served me well, and fits with my personality.

What makes you the best?

I don’t make any claims to being the best at anything. Luckily, filmmakers, unlike politicians or CEOs, don’t have to make any claims to being the best. There is room in this world for a lot of different films. That said, I do believe in quality, and I like to work until we get it right. There are times for compromise, and knowing when to fight for a specific outcome and when to work with what’s available is a key component of the creative process across all mediums. I feel that I’m good at what I do because I find stories and characters I believe in, and I surround myself with talented and passionate people, who are smarter than me (that might be the secret.) Aspiring towards mastery of a craft is what keeps people going, and I’m just getting started.

What are your aspirations: business & personal?

Personal: I aspire to make films that affect people on a deep level. I want to humanize the people in this world who are often misunderstood, broaden viewers’ perspectives (as well as my own.) and open up a sense of wonder and expansiveness about human nature and this world we live in, through film. I also want to push the medium of film forward, experiment, and take part in the conversation around film, and documentary in particular.

Business: I aspire to run a business making meaningful media and telling important stories with as little compromise as possible.

What fascinates you?

A lot of things fascinate me. Human resilience, for one. How some people are able to survive, and thrive, after such significant obstacles and setbacks. Also, on the other side of that, human cruelty. Why is it so hard for us to work together for our own mutual benefit when it often seems easily within reach. Just look at the political climate in this country right now. I’m curious as to what the future holds, and wondering where technology will take us, for better or worse, and whether we’ll find a harmonious way to live long term on planet earth. I also love zoology.

Favorite Motto?

Never had one. I don’t use a lot of mottos.

Favorite People?

Errol Morris, Jon Stewart, Karl Ove Knausgaard.

Favorite Places?

Teton National Park, Tokyo, Bolinas Jetty in Northern California, Frenchman Street in New Orleans.

Favorite Products?

Adobe creative software. McTavish surfboards. Gregory backpacks.

Current Passions?

Surfing. Long distance walking. All forms of travel. Live music in small venues from unknown musicians.