How do we make documentary that is both political and poetic?

Working through this course, I’ve learnt that the most effective way to express a point of view, particularly a need for change, is not always the most straightforward one. I mentioned in my post A Starting Point, in which I questioned the ability of a film to be both political and poetic, that “the emotions stirred by the poetic qualities of a film or text can in fact be what makes it political, what causes a viewer to question something or move towards a particular stance or seek to understand more about an issue.” I think my experiences in making political films during this course, as well as watching the development of other films by my peers, has proved this to be true. This can be seen clearly through my own development. The first two films I made surrounding the issue of Safe Schools in Australia are quite straightforward in their themes and their viewpoints, but its their poetic qualities that give them strength. For example, Evan and I made the following film about the suicide rates of lqbtqia kids:

The visuals are pretty standard, and the stories are coherent, yet I believe the strongest parts are the numbers that appear without context (eg. “1 in 3”, “1 in 6”) and the layering of voices over top of one another, because in those spots of ambiguity the viewer is forced to think for themselves on the issue – 1 in 3 what? Why are there so many voices?

Take into consideration the inspiration we drew from this video:

Which explores the issue that the discussion over queer kids as ‘problems’ is driving kids to extremes such as suicide, and so by layering the voices we are making the audience feel overwhelmed by too much discussion, emulating that feeling. I think those more experimental parts of the film are the most effective in getting the viewer to think about the content, and its by thinking about it they are going to form an opinion on the issue, making it political.

Perhaps the most experimental aspect of our found footage film is that we aimed to use humour to side the audience against Shelton, and as a result side them with safe schools. I think this tactic is really effective, the humour makes it accessible, but it’s also biased. To watch this and still side against safe schools would paint you as a bad person, so there’s some emotional manipulation going on through this format. The humour comes from the organising and layering of the clips and audio, and I think out of that comes poetic form, and whilst it might not be beautiful so much as it is tactful, it perhaps does the opposite to out last film, telling you how/what to think rather than encouraging thought through ambiguity.

I think working on these films helped me to better understand how useful experimental, poetic devices can be in making a political film. I’ll even admit, starting this course I was mildly annoyed, thinking I was being cheated out of making something useful. Experimental documentary? Why can’t I just be taught how to make a standard  film? When am I ever going to be able to use these skills? However now I am so glad we were told to break the rules, to be creative in expressing our ideas and be poetic, because I think its really taught me how to get ideas across  in a way that is impactful, thought provoking, and at the same time beautiful.

I think what further cemented this in my mind was the work of other classmates, being able to see the development of ideas and how differently themes could be explored through the medium. Patrick and Ruby’s film spoke to me particularly in this sense, it was so abstract but so powerful, images of ugly scenery shot beautifully, spoken poetry making the raw sounds of building and tools sound purposeful and rhythmic. It felt sad without explicitly being so, and the strong sense of emotion it expressed really shone out. I think that film in particular made me realise the power of creative ambiguity, and opened me up to new ways of thinking for project 4.

I think our film for project 4 is a perfect example of me using what I’ve learnt about the power of poetic devices, particularly ambiguity, to inspire change through thought:

Banning buzzwords around the topic of sex forces the viewer to piece together the dialogue to fill in the holes, causing them to think about and engage with the film. The message comes from ambiguity, and whether those watching find it humorous or frustrating that all taboo words and imagery are avoided, it draws attention to the fact that sex is continuously censored, from which comes our stance. It forces the viewer to see it as ridiculous – a film about sex that never mentions sex? But that’s a reflection of society, and so in our final film, it was not so much a question of how do we make this political as well as poetic, but how could we not? It’s simply the best way to express our point of view, and I’m quite proud of the final product, as well as how far I’ve come in thinking about experimental film form when it comes to making political content.





Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *