A New Perspective on Documentary

I am so happy to have had the opportunity to meet with Jeremy Lange, the director of the film “Farmer-Veteran”, on Friday morning, prior to heading over to the Full-Frame Festival to watch other documentaries. I’ve seen many documentaries, yet our discussion with Mr. Lange opened my eyes to all the thought that goes into the filming and cutting of a documentary. Mr. Lange explained the process of getting footage, and the many challenges that his crew has faced along the way. What was most interesting to me was his commentary about how he went into the project of Famer-Veteran expecting to make a short film about how farming can help a veteran recover from PTSD. After filming for a couple days, Mr. Lange quickly realized that this film idea was naive and illogical; he was destined to film a much more complex and multifaceted perspective on the life of a man suffering from PTSD. The film surely switched track for him throughout the project, as he had to adapt to changes in his subject as well as in the material his crew captured.

While watching documentaries such as “Tiger, Tiger”, “Cairo in One Breath”, “For Floppy Ears Only, “Giovanni and the Water Ballet”, and many more, I kept this message from Mr. Lange in mind. And what I began to notice amongst all these documentaries, is that many seemed to lack a focus, to lack a purpose or plan. “Tiger, Tiger” and “Cairo in One Breath” seemed to especially lack something in either the directing or editing side of the films. After each film, I reflected on what I had learned from Mr. Lange about the work and planning that goes into making a documentary. I asked myself and other students at the Seminar why directors chose to include a certain piece in their film, or why the movie ended on a specific scene. In some films I was able to appreciate and understand the creative choices of the director. For example, in “The Queen”, a short film that focused on the a young girl preparing to walk in a Parade (similar to a beauty pageant), the director chose to focus all the shots on the young girl’s face, allowing the viewers to see her reaction to everything going on around her. This choice helped me realize how little interest the girl truly had in her pageants, and how it was really her mother’s trying to live vicariously through her daughter that motivated the whole practice.

I think the most valuable thing I will take away from this Seminar is my increased appreciation and understanding of the process of making a documentary. I feel that I have become a more active viewer and a more informed critic of films.

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