My approach to documentary making

As I am embarking on making a documentary on a ritual from a foreign tradition: Stick fighting in Trinidad, I am studying documents, evidence, factual reports made by historians and ethnologists. Kitty Zulmans speaks of “documentary evidence”, she says “documentary and evidence have a claim to truth, a claim to honesty, objectivity and veracity.” Gathering, selecting knowledge and also making my own by conducting interviews and asking specific questions to selected interviewees, then cut the gathered information, put it back together with my own interpretation is far from objective.
Objectivity doesn’t exist since any information collected is already filtered; gathered by subjective minds, various people with different truth, education, approach to life. Objectivity is clearly not the point. Does it make my work less valid?

Like Arun Khopkar shared during the discussion in “India Arts and film” at Ambika P3 in London last week, “I am not worried about objectivity, there is a moment when you feel that the voice is speaking to you. You have to respect the poetry of it.” The filmmaker’s truth, his/her genuine approach and integrity, letting the poetry drive the collection of knowledge is what has made the best piece of work and Art. Even in Science, an area well known to be widely considered as objective and cradle of true reality, the biggest discoveries have been based on what I would call “informed instinct”, moments of “poetry”.

As a filmmaker, I want to share a visual “document” that I made with an audience. “Etymologically speaking, a document is defined as something to instruct” Sophie Benebi reminds us in Documentary and the dialectical document in contemporary art.
My aim is to instruct, give knowledge but in order to open the possibility for the spectator to get an experience of the Art of stick fighting. Conveying enough knowledge so that the viewer can experience the object of my research based on the relationships that I am developing with my subjects is key to make documentaries. I see knowledge as a process not an end and documentaries as “creative treatment of reality” to take John Grierson’s words.
V. I, Havranek describes very accurately how the “contemporary documentary approach in visual arts has buried once and for all the myth of the disinterested or objective observer.”
I am interested in showing the beauty of Stick Fighting and its spiritual African roots, my stance is clear. I am “engaged”. Havranek remarks, “in essence this term simply labels an approach in which the observer’s position is established as a conscious process.”
The relationship between the people I am featuring and interviewing, the documented and myself is key since my approach is grounded “in the relationship between the artist (myself) and the subject, which is perceived as bearing, enduring and gauging of the political and social matrixes to which it is connected or to which it connects itself.” Havranek insists on “the importance of dialectical ties to the documented and media criticism in the documentary method versus the ontology of “documentarism.”
The documentary approach in visual arts is based on the process resulting from the relationship between documented and documenter. It reflects this very process.

Sophie Meyer
November 8, 2011


About mysticfighters

I am a filmmaker currently exploring rituals rooted in the Caribbean especially stick fighting. Based in London I have worked with broadcasters and press agencies as producer and director for news, current affairs and culture.
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