Crafting a Story
Often times documentary is regarded in one fashion. It is seen as a vehicle to display real people, real events, in real time, and though that is a particular mode of documentary (cinema verite/direct cinema), documentaries are often planned and scripted films. Not that facts are altered or subjects are fictionalized like in a narrative film, but similarly to a narrative movie, documentaries must have a structured story and an engaging arch that best develops your films themes and characters. Through this series I hope to talk a little about that process and how our production team consciously and continuously dedicates effort to creating an impactful story.
The story’s in the details
As most documentary filmmakers first embark into the often unfulfilling pursuit of producing a film, one must have a resonating idea that can withstand the test of time and efficacy. Having a story that, at its core, highlights universal truth(s) and can connect on a humanistic level is the definitive marker of a strong film. Coming into this project of course we had a fantastic background. Shalisa, a transracial adoptee, conflicted by her duality of identities, and presently seeking out that forgotten past through the connection to her fellow adoptees. It was a wonderful start, but I knew we had to dig deeper. We were addressing the struggle of racial identity actualization that many people of color often have to work through, but that wasn’t our only theme to draw from. Not only was Shalisa discovering who she was as an Indian women, but she was also realizing her identity as a women of color in the social landscape of the United States. Coming from a background that ambivalently addressed race, Shalisa never had a supported, conscientious effort in understanding who she was as an Indian women nevertheless a woman of color. Looking at all three of our subjects, that identity was never implemented in any of their youths. With Shalisa as a mother of sons of color, it seemed vital and compelling to address how she would learn to support her sons as young men of color while fostering her own understanding of this new identity. From this, we were able to expand this story beyond just a focal narrative on Shalisa’s journey, but recognize how her journey and determination to learn and find resources imparts a cascading benefit for her family. With these and other themes in mind, we were more prepared for the rest of production and more intentional in how we sought certain opportunities and included crucial events. Defining these critical moments would bolster our story as well as connect and support others who find themselves in similar life experiences.
Next post, I will talk about interviews and how I approached creating questions that would allow us to cover our film’s themes and the vital importance of trust when you enter that space of intimate conversation.
For more information on racial development theories and studies check the links below: