Digging in the dirt – or reflecting dreams?

Documentary makers often come from journalism: they are socially and politically engaged, and incredibly good at investigation – digging the dirt, winkling out false claims, getting behind spin and unearthing the facts. UK television has built a strong body of work based on this tradition. It fits in with our politics by debate and democratic ideals. It results in guidelines not to show our films to our subjects – that is seen as undermining impartiality.

But for those of us who see documentary as a dialogue with our subjects, as a mirror to reflect their lives or dreams or hopes, impartiality is not the right aim. 

And we don't really want the defensiveness of debate and point-scoring. I need to show my films to the people in them. I am more concerned with making a film where the main participants recognise something about themselves, and are willing to share with an audience. It's less investigative journalism and more like some sort of mirroring.

Tricycle Film Club is run by a Buddhist community based in the U.S. They have chosen THE EDGE OF DREAMING as their February Film, and there is a great discussion going on as they debate the closing thoughts in the film, that maybe the bravest thing is to live as though we will live forever. Buddhist thought is to live, mindfully, remembering death. But maybe living as though we will live forever is also mindful, knowing that there is no 'other place' no 'other chance', that there is this earth, with us on it, now.

One of the things I love about this buddhist debate is how it emphases discourse, argument, intellectual rigour, and yet stays in this frame of a gentler curiosity, where there are no opposing sides pitted against each other, with winning and losing arguments: just a lot of bright people bringing their life experience and their readings and reasoning power to muse over the big questions: do dreams mean anything? What happens when we die? How can we get the most out of every day, every moment? How do we cope when it all goes wrong and we get hit by random unfairness?

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commented 2012-03-02 03:19:46 +0000
Two possibilities….To live life as though you were never going to die…or to live life, ever aware that death could come in the very next moment. Such amazingly different invitations to consider… in the weighty question of how SHALL we go about creating this life we are given. For myself, I feel an amazingly powerful resonance with the first possibility.

Dying is a but a brief moment in time. But life is the process of actually living each and every moment, within the context of the “me” that exists between birth and death. And in point of fact…in the Dharma…there IS no tomorrow….there is only THIS moment….and then the NEXT moment…and then the NEXT.

Why then be distracted by the thought that someday…somewhere…sometime… there will be a moment which will be the last? And why try and craft THIS moment as though it was somehow dependent… upon some moment in the future… which will be the last? Why not just craft THIS moment as though it was the most precious thing in all the world…for it is the deepest truth of the Dharma, that THIS moment is the only moment you are given, in which you can have any chance to craft the life that you yearn to live.

So I say with the deepest passion that I can touch within myself…YES…Yes and Yes…I will dedicate all my energies to living each and every precious moment to it’s fullest…not because I will someday die…but because Life exists solely for the purpose of Living.

The Universe is nothing more than this elegant process…the process of energy and matter at play in experiencing the infinite possibilities of form and function that are available to them. It’s a dynamic process…and all of my own moments are a mirror of this same process. I can even believe that there really is no finite birth and death for me as well. I too am at play in experiencing the infinite possibilities available to the elemental essence of which I am made…and for this elemental essence…there is no death…no birth…just the infinite play of form and function.

Play on I say…Play on ! ! !
commented 2012-02-22 12:12:54 +0000
As a journalist trying to make the difficult transition to make the transition to documentary, I can really identify with what you are saying Amy.

Journalism, particularly news, is not about reflection and contemplation, but about presenting the most obvious and salient points as quickly and clearly as possible. It’s the first rapid scan over an issue or event.

What’s interesting is that, particularly if you work in online journalism and social media, your attention span and actual ability to stay with a subject for long enough to get depth and perspective becomes attenuated. You fire and forget, moving onto the next story. As a result, you present a simplified reality.

The need for impartiality issue is sometimes a virtue, but also, I think, a part of this speed and brevity. When you are operating on reflex, you have to have safety mechanisms in place to protect against allegations of unfairness and legal actions based on bias and defamation. In other words, because you lack the time to time to come to a fair judgement or find the truth, you avoid making a judgement at all – you simply present the facts, and what competing actors in a story say – often canceling any deeper meaning out in the process.

Investigative journalists have quote a rare chance to get deeper into a subject, but most will have spent many years working in the a news environment for many years before they get the opportunity to do that. Only a few journalists in this country, like Jon Ronson, manage to take a more philosophical approach.

But without a more philosophical element to what we produce, be it journalism, film, or documentary, what is the point? I feel like we risk living in an age saturated by information, but without much wisdom!
commented 2012-02-15 20:50:51 +0000
I’ve been working in films for almost 30 years, and have been progressively more dismayed by the way the reactive and antagonistic style of film-making has gradually displaced the more reflective style. Of course we need both, but we absolutely need to support film-makers like Amy who use a more reflective and intuitive approach, not only because it enriches our lives, but because the media world tends to perpetuate an ‘us and them’ view of society. Society is us, and film-makers need to remember that.
commented 2012-02-14 01:42:22 +0000
I love what you say about approaching documentary as a dialogue, a mirroring. This way of working involves acute attention, deep listening, and ultimate respect. Thanks for putting this forward as an alternative way to make non-fiction films.
published this page in Amy's Blog 2012-02-13 15:19:37 +0000
Amy on the Edge
Life, death, and Amy Hardie, filming.