Documentaries such as ‘This is Tottenham’ or Press Tv’s – ‘Eritrea a Nation in Isolation’ inspire me to create art that can change people’s perceptions on a subject matter. The reasoning for those two, in particular, is undeniably due to the fact I can relate to both, they contribute in explaining my identity.
I’ve noticed that I tend to enjoy social and political challenging documentaries rather than pieces about an artist or a lollipop lady. That’s why I came up with an idea of documenting an Eritrean female freedom fighter because it hasn’t really been done the way I want to see it.
Actively trying to locate and find people to feature in your documentary is hard and takes a bit of convincing. It’s shown me how to bring out a certain level of confidence when speaking to people. Initially, the way I found my subject was through a friend who worked at the Eritrean embassy who then referred me to this interesting woman. However, at the time my idea was far too underdeveloped and the only other project that stood out to me was Yusra’s idea of ‘the Syrian refugee family’. I suppose it was because it was a similar theme to mine.
Susan Sontag talks about how photography is just a fraction of the truth. ‘photographs are evidence not only of what’s there but of what an individual sees, not just a record but an evaluation of the world’. The creator has chosen that exact frame for the viewer masking the full image. From that frozen moment, the audience depicts meaning of a situation/time/era and accepts it as fact. In reality, it isn’t 100% true but has been carefully thought through by the photographer. Once I understood this concept, I was then aware that whatever we chose to show will infer a distinctive meaning. so as a group we had to come to a mutual agreement on what the overall message of our film will be.
This lead to experimenting with multiple angles for the same shot and deciding which one we like best in the edit. Even though they all looked slightly the same they connote different meanings to an extent. Or Dziga Vertov Kino theory may be more relevant in this case because it is a little more specific to moving pictures/documentary
‘I am the camera’s eye. I am the machine that shows you the world as I alone see it.’ it’s basically explaining a similar point to Sontag highlighting that the camera is an instrument, like the human eye, used to show actuality.
When developing our project we had to take into consideration Ethics within the documentary. For example, depending on the audience will determine how much we have to censor. Especially because of the sensitive nature of the topic, we recognise what is appropriate to ask without compromising the families dignity. I didn’t want them to feel like they were being taken advantage of, in order for it to work they needed to be comfortable but vulnerable at the same time.
Sadly when we presented our finished project, our subject disliked it to the point that he was offended which was a real blow for us as a team. He hated it so much that we have discouraged him from getting involved with the media in the future, he regrets bringing us into his family home, but worst of all we had lost respect from an admirable man.
This is where ethics come into play, even though we invested hours of our time, grown with the project, out of respect for the family we could not use it or put it on social media.
I can only blame myself because we should’ve got him to sign the release form straight away to give us a sense of security, now we have a perfectly good documentary gone to waste. However, it was definitely a learning experience and I am still very happy as it was like practise for a better piece in the future plus I’ve improved my skills in editing sound.
There is literally no amount of planning that can prepare you for shooting, it never goes a 100% to plan. We visualised cinematic sequences layered together to generate a well polished poetic felt visuals with an expository narrative element.
Mentally everything was there, physically we had everything. We booked a track, dolly and got a Canon 5D out but in reality it was not needed, it did not enhance our work at all. Our work lacked authenticity because of the extent we went to construct every little detail of the documentary, it meant it lost the emotional aspect.
On the day of shooting, we introduced some spontaneity, captured the family in their element. which was almost the opposite of what we were going to do, the original plan was to only reveal the family in the end and only have decorative shots of personal items within their home. Either way, even if it turned out to be successful we still didn’t film enough shots to carry it through the whole film.
The majority of our time was focused on perfecting the sound, we encountered problems with the smoke alarm beeping every 10 seconds but luckily the sound workshop highlighted explained how to get rid of the irrelevant sound without affecting the subject’s voice.
Visually editing the rushes was a demanding task, what we had planned did not work in the edit. The original proposal was that we wouldn’t reveal the subjects till the very end, meaning the first half would consist of just the empty house with cinematic tracking shots and close-ups of personal household items. However, we failed to capture enough shots to illustrate this idea, but also it seemed a little fictitious maybe even forged for the reason that every shot was smooth well polished and constructed to an extent. This took away the sense of realism and diminished the empathy felt by the viewer because we have gone and detached the audience from the action
However, we failed to capture enough shots to illustrate this idea, but also it seemed a little fictitious maybe even forged for the reason that every shot was smooth well polished and constructed. This took away the sense of realism and diminished the empathy felt by the viewer because we have gone and detached the audience from the action
Addition to that difficult task, we had to insert subtitles because our subject spoke in Arabic. Personally, for me, it was painful as I’m the only person who doesn’t speak the language but I was heavily involved with the edit. Getting all the translations perfect and in the right place took time but it’s essential in publicising a message to the outside world.
During this documentary module, I’ve learnt more than in any other module due to the informative and engaging lectures and also seeing Meera’s work giving us an idea on the quality of work we could produce in the future.
Susan Sontag (1977). On Photography. New york: Penguin; New Ed edition.
Dziga Vertov/ Annette Michelson/Kevin O’Brien (1984). KINO-EYE. California: University of California Press. 344.