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Feb 13, 2024 by Marc Peruzzi

Meet a Creative: David Holbrooke


Home Base / Telluride, Colorado.

Activities / Skiing, hiking, outdoor pursuits.

Why David:

Holbrooke’s career began as a TV producer working at the Today Show, CBS News, and CNN, so a story sense is intrinsic to everything he does. But it was 9/11, which came down a few blocks from his office in all its misanthropic dust, that redirected his career. That’s when Robert De Niro and his Tribeca studio tapped David to work on an anthology of 9/11 short films. That project fizzled, but not before David connected with the director Richard Linklater (“Dazed and Confused,” “Boyhood”) to produce “Live From Shiva’s Dance Floor,” a documentary that saw Linklater and the poet and tour guide Timothy “Speed” Levitch tour the ruins of the Twin Towers and cogitate on fear, destruction, and, as the title implies, renewal. Documentaries are now David’s preferred medium. His most noted works are “Hard As Nails” (2007), “The Diplomat” (about his father, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke and released in 2015) and “We Are Not Done Yet” (2018), all of which can be viewed on HBO.

David (right) in the Balkans on the set of "The Diplomat" with General Wesley Clark.

In addition to his film work, David is a curator, widely credited for taking Telluride Mountain Film from an obscure film festival to one of the most important events on a filmmaker’s calendar. “I feel fortunate to be able to do projects with real meaning,” says David. “That was the question I asked myself when I left CNN. ‘Can I pursue meaning?’ The answer is yes, but pursuing something that actually earns money is something else entirely.

When I started in the doc ‘business,’ I remember talking with a renowned documentary filmmaker who has all these Emmys and can self-fund early stages of projects. I asked him how he made his money and his answer was real estate. The lesson was: Don’t take on documentary filmmaking unless you have an insane gift or you simply can’t live without storytelling.

During his years with Telluride Mountain Film, David grew discouraged at the lack of original thinking in the documentary space, so he started an eponymous festival to celebrate non-derivative thought.

In a world where we are being bombarded with images, stories, and opinions every second of every day, David has a keen ability to identify what’s relevant and why we should care about a particular topic. His strong story sense takes you to a new place where ideas intersect with action. For David, it’s not just about educating and sharing, it’s about making people understand their role in the world and the power of storytelling as a form of activism. He isn’t someone who wants to stay at the surface of life. He wants to dig deep, do the work, and come out the other side of a conversation with a renewed point of view. While working together on “The Diplomat,” I felt incredibly privileged to have David as a creative partner.

Stacey Reiss Executive Producer | RadicalMedia
At the Original Thinkers pulpit.
On the set of "The Diplomat," with General Wesley Clark.

Specialized Skills

David might not say it, but as a director he has a deft eye and ear for human stories. Watch this clip form “The Diplomat” for an example.

What's Next

As a festival director, David spent much of his time reviewing submissions and started to see a troubling pattern, which was that so many films just didn’t need to get made. Were they original? Were they well-made? Did they need to be out in the world? The answer was all too often NO, yet the proliferation of film festivals encourages people to make films for all the wrong reasons. As a response, he wanted to start a smaller, carefully curated festival, which he called Original Thinkers, and here’s the vision: “Original Thinkers believes that everyone can be an original thinker if they put their minds to it, and that engaging with new ideas and authentic stories can help us better navigate the complex world we live in with empathy and understanding.”