I think back to how excited and keen I was to get started at the start of the semester. So young, so full of optimism. There is a huge difference between that kid and me now, so I’m sure that I have learnt quite a bit. The course, New Documentary, is an art focused one. I wasn’t expecting this, but I’m glad that’s how it turned out. I have no education or experience in film or production, and not only has it given me an excellent introduction to that, with a crash course in very basic editing, but I’ve learnt how possible it is to use film, specifically documentary as expression and statement. It’s given me a new light to see film and art in, and I’m grateful for that. I’ve a gained experience in the practical and theoretical, experience which will undoubtedly come in handy in the future.
As for my contribution to the wonderful world of film, it turned out.. interestingly. I’m as happy with it as I could be. I started out with grand plans that I don’t think I could ever realise, and the process has taught me to always be aware of your ability. Though from the beginning of the course I never believed that I would suddenly learn everything I needed to know to make a film, I did overestimate my ability to learn. The process is slower, for me at least, than I had hoped and I severely overestimated my ability in that regard. That was my first mistake. The rest of my mistakes, accidents with aperture, exposure and audio recording each taught me valuable lessons that I will be goddamn sure to learn from. Ultimately, the practical aspects of the course were, for me, education through error. With Humble guidance, of course, I learned from each mistake I made and am determined to never make them again.
I’m happy, not just with the film, but with my own progress. I still have many mistakes in my future, I can tell, but I’m excited to learn from them all as they pop up, making myself a (slightly) better filmmaker with each stumble, trip and face plant I make.
The end of the semester crawls ever nearer, an impossibly slow tsunami of deadlines, exams, parties and the satisfaction one gets from surviving another sentence in the academic jungle… A little artier than usual? Yup, I’ve been getting my poetic on.
With the change in focus for the film, I took an analytic approach to the dialogue from Alan and Pat. I’ve been searching the details, discussions and depths of the characters they present to find points of similarity and singularity. The obvious ones, both migrants, both in Wollongong, are easy, and are followed by the slightly harder to discern. Both our characters explore their understanding of place in regard to a home they left, and both miss their origin. Alan, older when he originally left the Congo, has a more complete understanding of it, while Pat has the idealisation of a child. Both have experiences of positive and negative receptions in country and both struggled to connect with the local population of Wollongong. Interestingly, where Alan struggled with language, Pat, through her own stories, demonstrates how migrants of every background communicated and formed bonds in the face of limited common language. The similarities and differences continue to appear the deeper you look, and I think that will be a serious strength for our film.
On a more artistic and poetic level, worrying about the audio has made me actually realise there is a level of analysis to be had there. The wide recording audio captured a lot of background noise. Though, yes, this is annoying and the greatest flaw in the film, there is something to be gained from it. The birds, occasional car and wind of the suburbs captured in the background of Pats interview are representative of who she is now and how she was for the majority of her life. Her background, suburban, closer to nature than the city but not far from it, accompanies her stories of friends, close neighbours, gumtrees and mosquitoes. Alan, his audio background the humdrum of traffic and office work fit perfectly his recollection of his introduction to the city and his base in the CBD. Even his clothes, a collared shirt under a plain sweater, dress pants and a belt, are symbolic of the different way that he has assimilated and built a personality in his surroundings.
Continuing on the audio, under the whole film at varying levels, a recording of waves crashing at the beach plays as atmos, almost representing Wollongong, another factor that drew these two completely different migrants together.
Editing continues. Slowly, painfully and slowly again. The little enthusiasm I had for editing last week as evaporated unceremoniously. We have about two minutes of solid footage stuck together right now, so it’s not all doom and gloom, but as it stand it looks like there are a fair few late nights, bleary eyes and insults hurled at Premiere in my immediate future.
Alan and Patricia have stood out in the editing process as the greatest resources we have and, that being, Astrid has fallen by the wayside. The almost designed similarities and differences between this 80 year old British lady and the mid twenties Congolese man have come to dominate the film so far, and we are seriously thinking of changing the entire makeup of the film to be more a study just of the two and their similarities rather than the grand, all encompassing idea that we began with. Not only is the new concept an easier one to actualise, but it is a more human, more relatable study.
Of course, with this comes the decision to completely disregard the Astrid interview and all the content it produced. It would be the abandonment of a days interviewing and a whole lot of editing effort, but I think it is the right decision to make.
In other news, the end of the semester draws near, and so does the deadline for the documentary. I’m not worried about making the deadline as such, more just nervous about what I will be producing. As much as I’ve learnt this semester, this is still the first time I’ve done this so I’m worried about it. That, I assume, will pass when I start getting the phone calls from the Academy Awards though.
At Peters behest, I edited up and took in a short rough cut sample of the film. Only 30 seconds long, it comprised mainly of exerts from Pats interview and some B roll of the beach. It didn’t go down as badly as I was expecting, but don’t take that to mean that it exactly went well. Peter immediately took issue with the audio, as we expected. He didn’t mention much else of the piece, which either means that the rest was flawless or that one failure was enough to dwarf any others in comparison. I’m just going to go ahead with the former, and assume otherwise flawless.
We also had some great advice from Peter, an editing method that may well give our audio a fighting chance. By cutting up audio, creating shorter clips of the most important sections of the audio, we can give the audio a little extra definition and hopefully make it easier to understand our subjects. It seems a difficult and slow process, but I feel like it will be necessary if it even give our audio a slight advantage. Someone suggested perhaps even considering subtitles, but I don’t know how I feel about that. Especially in regard to the interviews with Alan and Astrid, where accents are thickest, I’m afraid that they aren’t heavy enough to require subtitles. The issue is more one of audio, and I feel to give them subtitles could be seen as either patronizing or an attempt to pass off my own troubles with audio as a problem with the interviewee.
Editing continues, and we’ve got maybe a minute together. It’s looking alright, actually, and the editing process isn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be. I wouldn’t say I’m exactly enjoying it, but the nuances and controls of the editor itself are slowly becoming easier to manipulate. With a whole lot of patience and a few hundred instructional youtube videos, I should be able to get through this.
Astrid, our third interviewee, is a Dutch migrant that has lived in Australia for some 20 years and the Illawarra for 16. Between her own fashion businesses and working within fashion and design in the area, Astrid has become embedded deeply in the area.
Thanks to her openness, eloquence and exhaustively detailed recounts, we walked away from the interview with over half an hour of footage. In total, from all of our interviews, we have just over two hours of interviews to refine and edit into something presentable. Though a pretty daunting task, I’m excited to get stuck in.
In other, less positive news, we have a little bit of a problem. Though we planned to use a microphone for the first interview, the booking with the tech department fell through and we went without. Not wanting to have uneven audio, we continued to go without a microphone for the rest. In that, I have learnt a valuable lesson about film, audio and life in general. ALWAYS USE A MICROPHONE. These words will haunt me for the rest of my life, and I assume will eventually become my epitaph.
The audio is not exactly “good”. It’s poor at best and shit at worst. In addition, the various accents of our interviewees have made already poor quality audio even harder for an audience to understand. There aren’t really any excuses to be made, nor any way to redeem or redo the audio. At this stage we have to just grin, balance the levels and hope for the best.
Also, we have made some editing progress. It’s free to use Adobe Premier Pro for a month, more or less, and so we’ve gone with that instead of Final Cut. I have no experience with either, so I’m not too bothered with which program we commit to, but Liv has some experience with Final Cut and isn’t exactly excited about switching. Unfortunately, we had to choose with our pockets.
With a few months worth of correspondence and an incredible amount of help from SCARF, we were able sit down to an interview with Alan, a Congolese refugee that arrived in Wollongong 6 years ago. We got to talk about his migrant experience, and beyond that producing good content for the film, I feel like a learnt a lot about the area, its people, its problems and how hard it can be to find yourself trying to build a new life in a foreign country.
Alan came across with no prior knowledge of Australia, very little English and limited support from case workers. Between SCARF, patience, support from the existing refugee community and Alan’s own gusto, he was able to get his own place, learn English and find plenty of steady work. I have to admit, I’m not entirely sure that I could have done the same if I were in his position.
In terms of his contribution to the documentary, Alan gave a modernized perspective compared to Pats, but still echoed the themes and ideals Pat brought to the table. In that sense, it could not have gone better. In the film, we will place the two alongside each other, attempting to create an obvious thematic process in the hopes that it will present a stronger message about the points they have in common and demonstrate through juxtaposition the items that they don’t have in common.
On another, perhaps more ethical note, we heard some pretty distressing stories from Alan. Not only about his years fleeing conflict and persecution, but about his years in refugee camps and also stories that took place in Australia. Particularly a story about Alan and his cousin being chased by a group of men for kilometers from Wollongong to Coniston was pretty distressing. That will be sure to make the cut in the film, but the stories of the Congo are another matter. Though they will be covered, Alan gave in depth recollections of attacks and conflict in the Congo that I don’t think will be mentioned in detail in the film as it doesn’t specifically relate to the topic. Here is the crux. Though I’m sure that the stories from Africa are important, if they don’t relate to the film can I include them? Their inclusion could easily be seen as cheap exploitation, appearing like I’m including an almost unrelated story simply for the shock value. On the other hand, can I neglect such an important topic and just ignore that section of the footage?