TRAVERSE CITY — Tom Berninger is used to being in front of the camera.
His comfort zone doesn't extend to standing before a group of students.
But that's where documentarian Berninger found himself on Wednesday, positioned before two clutches of young filmmakers from Interlochen Fine Arts Camp in a crowded lecture hall.
His assignment: discuss what it takes to become a successful filmmaker.
"I'm not a teacher," he said, a preface to a lecture during which he detailed the trials and tribulations of producing the documentary "Mistaken for Strangers."
Berninger spent a year on tour with his brother's band, The National, intending to make a documentary about the music group while working as a roadie, but ended up making a film about the relationship between two siblings, one famous, and one who probably wouldn't be recognized while walking down the street by even his most devoted fans.
But his words were as important as any the students could have heard from any highfalutin, successful documentary filmmaker who makes a movie with the support of a major producer or a large bankroll.
The film this year was recognized by Tribeca Film Festival officials, who chose it for the festival's opening night screening.
"If you want to make a film, just don't compare yourself to anybody else," Berninger said. "We all go through that."
Tiffany Carlson, 17, Griffin Olis, 15, and Anna Jaoudi, 16, squeezed themselves onto two steps in the NMC Scholars Hall as Berninger spoke. The trio were busy filming the lecture with small digital video cameras, but occasionally paused, enthralled with the message from the man who a year ago was as far as they from fame.
They attended the lecture to work on a documentary they are producing as a final project for a three-week camp.