Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies . . .

This week our focus was on how to conduct interviews. On Tuesday Kim showed us a range of interviews from different documentarians to show us the different styles of interviewing we might like to use, and to think about ways to incorporate our theme of ‘participation’ in our interviews.

We first looked at the famous example of Chronicle of a Summer, in which French directors Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin (or, more precisely, their minions) asked random Parisians whether or not they were happy, amongst other things. I’d seen part of Chronique D’un Ete before but what was particularly interesting and relevant for this class was the sequence that featured the subjects actually watching parts of the film and reflecting on it themselves. It was a sort of hyper-reflexivity; not just the film-makers acknowledging the role of the camera but the subjects doing so as well.

The second example was one from the renowned Werner Herzog, in this case interviewing a reticent researcher about arctic penguins. Herzog’s voice was very present in the piece (both metaphorically and literally), and we discussed whether his leading questions were successful in drawing out a more colourful response from a reluctant interviewee, or were attempts to skew the truth to fit a narrative he had already established.

Another example was an interview with Errol Morris (The Thin Blue Line, Gates of Heaven) explaining his own interviewing techniques. Interestingly, where I’ve always thought the standard for documentaries (in my own experience, both as a viewer and as a creator) is to have the subject talking to the presenter off-screen, Morris had actually created a device whereby he could comfortably film subjects talking straight down the barrel. It makes for an interesting effect. Personally, I always think it looks more natural for a subject to be talking to the side of the camera, but there is something in Morris’ technique that really works for his own documentaries.

Finally, we explored the line between participation and exploitation in Lauren Greenfield’s Kids + Money. The section we watched was two tween sisters with quite a lot of money at their disposal. It was fascinating to watch, but afterwards the class consensus seemed to be that it leaned towards the exploitative. They were only young girls, and it really seemed as though we were being encouraged to dislike them, as Dan described when pointing out the scene where there is a jump cut from one of the girls making a particularly snide comment to their mother claiming to have two ‘beautiful’ girls.

As a post-script, we watched a scene from Brian Hill’s Pornography the Musical, a – well, a musical about pornography, that also happened to be a documentary. I’d previously seen Hill’s musical documentary Drinking for England, in a similar vein. It’s a very weird concept, and I find it quite uncomfortable to watch (think the camp and melodrama of a musical, except with real people singing about their real lives), but then part of me thinks maybe that’s the point. It’s really relevant to my own piece though I think, because of the way the subjects are complicit in the dramatisation of their stories because they know that it contributes to a depiction of their character that is ultimately truthful. This idea of the fiction conveying the truth is what I want to capture in my project so it was really interesting to see an example of it.

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