Documentaries are not movies that can be meticulously scripted. The characters can be strategically chosen by the filmmaker, but they cannot be created with lines. The situation is not a part of fiction, but it the exact opposite. The power of documentary is that it is not one out of many stories written by a screenwriter, but it is the story of the person being filmed. It is the art of bringing an ordinary story and applying it to the bigger picture. It can also bring an unusual or catastrophic event to light or in another light. The purpose of a documentary is to entertain but also enlighten. Since it is in the form of narrative entertainment, it can be easier grasp to the injustice and cruelty that people face. Documentaries are windows into other people’s lives and hardships; they are not just films to demonstrate these hardships.
During the Full Frame seminar, we had the chance to speak to Cynthia Hill, who is the a filmmaker of “Private Violence”, “A Chef’s Life”, and “Road to Race Day”. She talked about how she chooses the topic, finds the subjects, and also the loss of losing a story to document. Documentaries are about the subject, but her job is to make the subject a powerful story that will the leave the viewer with the unreleasable, lingering feeling of just watching an amazing film. The goal is to make the story stick with you. The goal is to make something in you change whether it be a perspective, a judgment, or the way you live to some extent. Cynthia Hill discussed how she uses techniques and rhetoric to make this happen. She castes the subjects and chooses the most natural ones, the most outgoing ones, the ones that stand out. She is a director with the eye for who would be the best cast to reach her motive of making the film. Another vital factor that she considers when she makes a documentary is where her narrative starts and what mood does she want the viewer to feel. In “Private Violence”, she opens with a woman at a domestic violence shelter, worried about her abusive boyfriend coming back and finding her. The opening scene is chaotic and frantic. You have already been exposed to the emotionally straining occurrences that a victim to domestic violence feels. Cynthia Hill says that this is intentionally done. She said that it sets the tone and emotions that should be felt. With the wired phone conversations that narrate the opening scene, you also get to know the characters. Who helps who, and you see how they all care.
Like “Private Violence”, the other documentaries that I watched at the Full Frame Festival seemed to have a common motive: to show humanity and community in struggles. “On Her Shoulders” was a project about Nadia Muard who is was a victim of sex slavery by ISIS. Her tragedy is obvious, but the way she goes about her life after and fulfills her unplanned purpose to advocate for others is what makes the story. She pushes through her own fears and trauma to help others and work with other people so that no one else has to go through what she went through.
Later that night, I watched “Solar Mama” which was a bout a group of women fighting for their education from their underdeveloped homes and bring back power and knowledge. The project focused mainly on this one woman living in Bedouin, married to a husband who does not believe in a woman’s success, and a mother of two children. She, like many others, travel to this organization in India that is intended to educate women form around the world and teach them how to circuit solar panels. In the end, you see the women bring back the solar panels to their homes proving their capabilities and encouraging future generations.
The next day I watched “América” which was about brothers taking care of their elderly grandmother until death after their father left. They struggle, and the film does not fail to show the crudity of taking care of another person. Throughout you understand why many people choose to put their loved ones in a home in the hands of a stranger, but it also shows that if you love someone you would only considering them being in the care of your own hands.
The films show a variation of versions of distress, but the goal of all of these seemed to be the opposite of just showing the cruelty of life but rather how it is allows possible to overcome it. As cheesy as that may sound, in the world we live in today these viewpoints are vital. It is so easy to look at a misfortune and pity or wallow in it, but these documentaries teach you to do something about it. And again I apologize for the cliche comment, but they inspire.
I have always watched documentaries. I have always admired the impact they have, but I never knew the strategic planning to make the impact. You can just just film a story. You need to mold the story to make it appealing to a large audience. Full Frame allowed me to admire documentaries, hear film makers discuss their work and teacher, and the experience also allowed me to watch thought provoking stories along side friends that you can discuss the film with afterwards. That is the best part. The best part of the experience was that you didn’t have to sit in the heart aching, questioning feeling in your stomach alone. You can talk out the feeling and share your first, unedited thoughts about the issue or story being presented. Full Frame is an a space full of people who want to learn more. It is a space where you are shoulder to shoulder with a strangers watching the same film either laughing or crying. Everyone in that moment is connected with one similar emotion evoked by one shot.