Amid the mundane task of converting analogue media into a digital format, a mother and son reconnect in country Victoria to explore a method of circumventing mental illness.
The title of this short stylised documentary, Obsolete, is not only an adjective that describes the diminishing uses of analogue technology, but also a metaphor for the will of someone living with depression who aims to replace the illness with positivity. In this film, producer Daniel Bowden embarks on a road trip to country Victoria to visit his mother, Tina Bowden, with the intention of converting her degrading analogue videos tapes into a digital format before VCR technology becomes obsolete. It is through this process that the pair engage in conversations about art, depression and the natural ways in which Tina evokes ‘solace’ by painting pictures of meaningful scenes in her life. In the tradition of Ross McElwee’s solipsistic documentary Time Indefinite (1993), Obsolete is a reflexive autobiographical account of Tina & Daniel Bowden’s exploration of art, creativity and the positive impact they can have on mental health and wellbeing.
One of the most interesting things I’ve learnt about documentary filmmaking during my time in the studio, is that nothing is real. As cited in John Corner’s 2006 publication that exposited Bill Nichols’ statement ‘A Fiction (Un) Like Any Other’ (Corner, p. 89), documentary film is essentially an artful construction of filmic elements that are combined to emphasise the storyteller’s agenda.
For me, this notion of storytelling malleability materialised after I had failed to produce any usable audio from one of the shoot days. This oversight occurred during a series of in-car driving shots of me explaining my intentions for the film. As I wasn’t able to monitor the audio levels whilst driving the car safely, I was unaware that the shotgun microphone had been switched off for the entire 2 hour journey. Aside from attempting to mitigate the issue by re-shooting these scenes as pickups, which turned out looking staged and contrived, I had to fabricate significant portions of the story in the edit suite, albeit, with limited footage. Consequently, many of the elements became blatant fiction. For example; the chronology of the road trip, this was shot over several days, as opposed to the one day, as was implied. In order to maintain my overarching premise of mental health and well being, I applied non-diegetic functions such as onscreen text and voice overs in an attempt to bring the piece together and crystallise my agenda.
What I am trying to achieve with this documentary, is the presentation of a stylised slice-of-life film that sets up an audience’s expectation only to subvert it with a narrative more profound than the original. The inspiration for this style of narrative has come from the documentary films; Sherman’s March by Ross McElwee (1986), Anna Broinowski’s Forbidden Lie$ (2007) and Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man (2005). However, in an attempt to instil an expectation of metaphor and symbolism as well, I found that I shouldn’t have been too esoteric when telling the story. Judging by the reactions of my peers after they had viewed Obsolete’s work in progress screening, there was somewhat of an air of confusion and as a result, I have learnt to think about being more explicit with my storytelling.
Daniel Bowden – Director
Daniel Bowden is an RMIT University student majoring in Media & Communication. He has produced nonfiction and fiction media artefacts for museum, film, theatre and more recently for ABC Radio National’s creative audio unit.