Muhlenberg College Spring 2019

COM 231

4 Minute Documentary Piece

My documentary piece titled, “Perfect Match” tells two different stories of both myself and Marin Diddams about our roommate experiences during our freshman year and how they came to be through the use of technology. This process of creating the documentary was really hard for me, as it seems as though technology is all completely against me at the moment, but even harder than having to deal with all of the stress of preparing the documentary, something that proved to be even harder was to watch back my documentary and reflect on what I could have done better. Thankfully, we did not watch my piece in our screening this morning, however that doesn’t mean I am any more happy with my work than I would have been otherwise. I honestly feel as though I could have done so much more with this concept behind my documentary than I what I am presenting above, but I still learned a lot about the use of my personal location, opinions, and share experiences in the making of a documentary film piece. While I am not thrilled with the final outcome of my piece, I am very content with the journey it took to get there and all the learned lessons I will carry with me in my future of creating film.

William’s Unbanished Location

Marco Williams’ location in his film, BANISHED, demonstrates his personal connection towards the victims portrayed in the documentary. It shows his past as an individual and through the hidden racist side of the history of his people. In his film, Williams visits four different American cities that have a dark past of forcing African Americans to flee because of the color of their skin. One of those towns was Harrison, and in class the other day I rewatched a scene from Williams’ visit there. He was interviewing a man about why people move to and live in the town, and the man responded by saying how the cost of living is low and that there is a lack of black people and other minorities. What I gathered from watching the clip is that the demographic of the town makes sense as this city is a place where a lot of people move to after retirement, so the people living there were alive during the civil rights movement and when racism was not an expired thought process. I also sensed a feeling of discomfort in Williams as he listened to the old white man’s words about how he takes pride in the fact that there is no racial diversity in his hometown. His location in this particular scene shows that he wants the people who he is filming to be open and honest with him, and that he has intentions of gaining their trust.

Doc Research Blog Post 3

“Dorothea Lange was an energetic, ambitious photographer, but she was also a moral pilgrim of sorts, ever ready to give us a record of human experience that truly matters: our day to day struggles as members of a family, of a neighborhood, of a nation to make do, to take on life as best we can, no matter the obstacles we face.” (Coles, 114-115)

This quote from Coles chapter 3 stands out a lot because it describes Lange as a “moral pilgrim”. This description of her as a documentary photographer suggests that she has good intentions with her work and fulfills her responsibility that comes along with her work position. She is not an invasive member among these communities and is respectful of the people she is photographing. Her aim is to document the daily lives of people and show the genuine experiences and feelings that we as humans witness in our lives. An images of her’s on pages 119-123 portray a girl in a garden, seemingly either wandering around, posing for the camera, or actually doing work in the field. This demonstrates how Lange’s work is a representation of the past and how it reflects today’s world as the images display a sense of youth and nostalgia. To describe Lange as a “moral pilgrim” is to say that she is a respectable and genuine photographer who wants to convey the true daily struggles humans face during her time, that is still relevant to this day.

Doc Research Blog Post 2

What I’ve found interesting about this film is that it discusses the controversies and social issues that arise with an outsider showing up to a remote and close-knit community and documenting their lives with a camera. The film discusses what is considered right and what is considered wrong of a film maker when creating a documentary. In other words, the film discusses where the line is drawn between exploiting a group for the use of film making, and the group having the will to contribute to the making of the film. “Stranger with a Camera” discusses the story of Hugh O’Connor’s death as a result of being shot by Hobart Ison for filming on his property without permission. From this story that the film focuses on a lot, I have gathered that it is important to realize the significance of the consent of people being filmed, and to recognize how they feel about their community being portrayed to a large group of outsiders by someone who does not come from there. People care a lot about how they look, whether that be how they dress on any given day, or how their whole community as a whole is seen by outsiders. Nobody wants to be seen as bad or wants to be publicly embarrassed by a separate party. It is scary for these people to showcase their lives to a complete stranger, especially when said stranger has the power to document every little detail of it and then share it with the whole world. It is really interesting to see how the filmmaker discusses and goes about filming this small community and in doing so being able to recognize a documentary maker’s place in someone else’s society.

Doc Research Blog Post 1

Quote: “…for generations individuals have both taken part in a particular social or political struggle and stood far enough away to take some measure of what is happening, then share what they have concluded with others through writing, or, in this century, through photographs.” (Page 36)

I found this quote from the text to be interesting because it talks about the way that information based on facts is shared through different sources and opinions of different people. The quote mentions how people use conversation, writing, and photographs to share what they’ve gathered from what they are witnessing or learning about, which is exactly what we are doing by writing these blog posts in 2019. The way information is dispersed, now that 22 years have passed since the publication of the book, has changed a lot. People turn to sources like Twitter and Instagram, and Facebook to share their thoughts and say whatever they want about information given. Especially in the United States today, people on the internet love to argue about politics. These arguments pave way for people to create their own judgements and share only the information that they believe to be true or what they favor not necessarily based on factual evidence from a reliable source.

Final Reflections

I really enjoyed doing my final project because I believe it was a culmination of everything that I have learned in this class. I enjoyed interviewing people for the Muhlenberg Scholars and creating videos with my friends that I was able to share with my classmates. I have found a genuine love for making videos by taking this course, and I am really grateful that I did. I feel like I would like to take Video Production and Advanced Video Production now, because I didn’t realize that I could do these things before, and now I am confident I can.

I believe this domain accurately documents my learning because it shows how much I have grown throughout the course of this class, and I know for a fact that I have. Many times in my classes, so many things would overlap. I would make connections between this class and my religion class and my theater class and I would find it so interesting that sometimes we talked about the exact same subjects and it fascinated me. I think that my domain shows how much I learned from the readings and from making these inner-classroom and outer-classroom connections. I genuinely enjoyed making my final film, but I also liked how much theory we talked about on perspectives and history, it made the class, as a whole, so interesting.

One thing I’ll remember from this course is how important it is to not be TOO subjective. It is so difficult to get every argument and access every perspective, but one must at least try hard enough to attain them. It is important to interact with people who have biases and have different opinions than you do and try and understand their arguments instead of fighting back against them. I’ll remember the specific documentaries we watched that taught me so much about this subject matter, specifically Stranger With a Camera.

Overall, this class was so informative and so helpful. At first, I wondered why it was a foundational course for the major, and now I understand why. We were able to get our hands dirty while also learning about the theory behind documentary, and it was genuinely a very interesting and informative course. I loved being in this class and I would recommend it to anyone.

That’s A Wrap

I have always been a storyteller growing up. Whenever it was onstage playing a role or making music videos with my friends I always wanted the story of someone to be known and respected. Yet, I went into this course with a pair of fresh eyes because I know this class was destined to teach me something entirely new. I only knew documentary storytelling from browsing the occasional Netflix movie list. In this class, Robert Coles, Stranger With A Camera and Banished, taught me all about location, voice, and perspective that allowed me to look deeper into a finished product. Dorothea Lange taught me about bringing awareness to social justice even if you don’t know how many people will hear. Dr. Taub created a course that helped me learn from an arrange of film styles while supporting the magic of creation. When I set forth on completing my final project, I wanted to take all that I learned and put it to work.

I wanted to make the final film personal to me. I feel most connected to a piece when I know it can influence others. It was really amazing to take what I learned from the class and apply it to a bigger picture. Being apart of the LGBTQ+ community and sharing voices that were different than I made me feel very proud to be who I am. I loved sitting in a room and being influenced by everyone’s work. I would just let myself be immersed in it all.

I believe this domain documents the process of though during the class. It helps me write down my thoughts about a subject or book chapter and I could write as freely as I wish. I like this domain because it is blog style which I absolutely love being a creative person at heart. All students have this wonderful tool that they can express themselves on and it is a great learning opportunity. I can’t wait to continue to work on this blog throughout my time at Muhlenberg.

One thing I will take away from this class is to never stop making voices heard. I watched a lot of examples in class and with my peers on how bringing people’s inner feelings to light can spark change and growth in a community. It did spark my creativity to make more art because the world needs more light and love.

Lessons Learned

Filming on the Streets 01 byronv2

As the semester comes to a close, I started to reflect on what I feel like I have learned throughout this semester. This semester flew by and I am deeply surprised that it is almost the middle of May. I personally feel that with every course I take at Muhlenberg College, I grow more as an individual: intellectually and as a person. Specifically within my documentary research class, I will specifically take away the lesson of location. A person’s perspective affects how well one is able to retell a story. We must understand the importance of perspective and the necessity to take into account multiple points of view. The accuracy of the story increases when we are able to get multiple different perspectives.

Documentary making was a challenge of mine. The time constraint was difficult for me because there was so much more that I wanted the audience to be exposed to. I feel as if the stories I told could have been more impactful but it is a challenge every documentarian faces and must overcome. While conducting interviews this semester for my documentaries, I found it so interesting to listen to how people describe themselves and their experiences. What they experience is so broad and by choosing what they want to share with me summarizes the highlights of their story. When I decide what is the most important of the experience they shared with me, I create a more narrow lens of the story than the subjects originally began with. Major events that occur within the story manage to slip through the cracks but the specific details that are sometimes the most unique and genuine can get lost within translation. I will remember to include the details when retelling a story and continue to take into account numerous perspectives in order to tell the best story.

Building the World: A Documentary Research Reflection

This Documentary Research blog, PAXREI>COM231, has been an ongoing project underlying the other projects in the course. While I played with WeVideo to make short documentary stories, telling tales of alumni and book-thieves, I also tinkered with this website in WordPress. The blog aspect of the course gave me a space to practice playing with words and assembling aesthetic design beyond – or perhaps alongside – the documentary projects in the class. The processes of producing videos and building a blog both feel a lot like assembling something from a set of parts: the multimedia building blocks of video, text, images, and sounds. In each post, I tried to experiment with different features of WordPress by using unique image layouts, block quotes, etc. In this class, through a combination of essays, the documentary projects, and the blog project, I got to embrace the side of me that is a tinkerer, assembler, and experimenter. These were my subjective locations that I gravitated to as I tried on the location of documentarian.

(I would like to say that my location is that of a “putter-togetherer,” always putting parts together, but then I might have to locate myself as a joker, too, as a safe disclaimer for the audience.)

I could put together a documentary about the memorable little things in this course. I would include delicious shots of Tate’s Bake Shop cookies, coffee (in all sorts of vessels: bottles, cups, mugs, etc.), and Wegmans’ scones, all sitting next to a copy of Robert Coles’s Doing Documentary Work, all set atop a blue gingham tablecloth a la The Great British Baking Show.

These almost-pastoral shots of sweet snacks would then be sequenced to an R.E.M. soundtrack, if I could obtain the license to use one of their songs, per the media laws that I learned from the lab section of the course. The film would be an observational piece, with minimal and understated narration, if there were any at all; the authoritative “voice of God” would be largely absent. Instead, the voices in the documentary would be ours, engaged in discussion about the subjectivity-objectivity binary, papers, blogs, short films, and American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange.

To pan out a bit from this documentary concept, I think the one thing I will remember most is our discussion of identity and location. Every person brings something different to whatever work that they set out to accomplish. Two people who are doing the exact same job – or making a documentary about the same subject, for example – will still approach the work differently because of how their own subjectivity leads them to process information and make choices.

I find this idea of location so vivid and so memorable because it fills the world with opportunity. Different people have different locations. Different locations include different human traits and attributes. I may locate myself as a “tinkerer,” but someone else might locate him/herself as a “performer,” for example. And each location necessitates a different way of seeing. The tinkerer might see the world in terms of parts to assemble; the performer might see the world in terms of staging and movement.

It follows, then, that the mere act of communication would allow me to learn about new modes of perception and new ways of seeing the world. Every conversation would be a learning experience about what the other person has to offer, like taking a trip to a new place (a new location) and discovering a whole world.

Ultimately, I think that’s what documentary work does. It is an inroads to location; it builds a world from audiovisual parts, and then presents that world to the audience so that they might discover a new location, a new way of seeing.

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