Bill Nichols talked about how documentary films can be very similar to fiction when it comes to creatively recreating something, documentary is “the creative treatment of reality” and although there are modes, theories and ways in which we can make documentaries be more effective, there are no rules in the way we decide to treat reality.
In Nanook of the North (1922) Flaherty recreates the life of the Inuit and does it in a very realistic manner but still taking some creative liberties to make it look a lot more interesting, Man With a Movie Camera (1929) , city symphonies, all those early nonfiction films were experimenting with the medium and finding their own way to represent their reality.
For this documentary I wanted to focus on what Nicols Talked about the different approaches of representing reality, the recreations we decide to use. Instead of having talking heads or actors narrating the stories of abuse, I wanted to have something a little bit more abstract, more poetic.
Similar to Sans Soleil (1983) I wanted to use excerpts of different accounts of abuse survivors and juxtapose with the intention of conveying a clear message that is not only focused on one person but in many. The intention of creating a collage-like narration is also to show that there is a pattern in the way abuse takes place.
In a poetic matter, the film “sacrifices the conventions of continuity editing and the sense of a specific location in time and place…” (Nichols, 162) The characters do not take form, we never see them on screen and their stories are incomplete, the poetic mode lets us engage with the story in a different way, it encourages and opens up the possibility of an alternative form of knowledge.
Instead of using the real victims to narrate the stories I opted to ask other people to read them, some of this people was selected at random, this came in part because I wanted to give the victims some anonymity and also as a way to make others aware of the issue and understand that anyone can become a victim of abuse. In Stories We Tell (2012) the filmmaker recreates home movies and by combining real footage with the recreations, she gives a sense of authenticity but at the same time recognizes the artificiality of it as a way to comment on the fact that the stories we tell are constructed by us. My approach, however, wasn’t to focus on the artificiality but as a way to be inclusive and say “anyone could be a victim”
While watching Notes on Blindness (2016) I thought a lot about the blurred line that sometimes exists between fiction and documentary films, the power of reenactments as a creative tool to heighten emotions, performance brings “heightened emotional involvement to a situation or role” instead of having someone to act the stories of abuse I decided to use a more abstract approach and try to recreate emotions through dance and music.
On his book, Nichols says that “Performative documentaries bring the emotional intensities of embodied experience and knowledge to the fore rather than attempt to do something tangible” the feelings behind the stories are very hard to describe or exteriorize, showing what happened to the victims seemed unnecessary to me and the choreography by Elise Beers seemed to exteriorize the feelings behind the story. Not only the dance was a performance but the readings, although delivered by non-actors, while reading I asked them to empathize with the people and act as a proxy.
One of the most important things about documentary films has to do with “voice”, in this case, I wanted to give voice to the survivors, however, it’s undeniable that the voice of the filmmaker will always be present in their work. The way the documentary is constructed combines the poetic with a performative approach which makes it so the use of only one element (music, images, sound) will not work independently, it is the combination of all of them in a specific manner that makes it go in a specific direction.
While trying to give voice to the survivors I came to the conclusion that it was necessary to make a call to action, since the topic is a social issue I found out that one of the things most survivors and victims want is to speak up and help others avoid becoming victims, they see their stories as a learning experience for others to avoid certain patterns in life.
One of the ways I wanted to raise awareness and call to action was by having a voice of authority, is not only the victims speaking but they are survivors. In the last minutes of the film I included an excerpt from Leslie Morgan Steiner’s TED talk , she talks about some statistics and gives some insightful information on the subject which gives the film an expository quality in which the professional commentator’s tone gives “a sense of credibility and omniscience”(Nichols, 169)
Making this film taught me more about the fact that documentary films are a combination of modes, styles, and media and even though sometimes they can be categorized they will always be able to fit in more than one category. The same way each individual has its own perspective, documentary films act as individuals that show the many ways reality can be treated.