• I Am But I'm Not

Crafting the interview

Updated: Jul 12, 2018

Last post, I talked a little bit about the efforts we have undergone in shaping the story of our film. Understanding the structural themes of your project is essential before further decisions are made, especially before scheduling your production. By solidifying the needs of your film, you can begin to evaluate the various formats and and tools you want to use to tell your story, one such tool being the interview. Including interviews or “talking-heads” of you subject(s) is one the most quintessential tools for a documentary filmmaker. Mainly framed as a direct conversation, audiences are allowed to engage with characters of the film and learn about the story through various perspectives. Since our film centered on the life experiences of our three main characters, Shalisa, Ameeta, and Nisha, we decided that not only did we want to give authority to their perspectives but juxtapose the manner of how their narratives aligned similarly. So how did I formulate questions that took account of both our themes and recognized the distinctive traits of each of our characters? Well it starts with a secure knowledge of your character(s) and the subject matter.

Having the most solid and accessible relationship with Shalisa, I had countless opportunities to learn a little bit more about her story and a build a trusting relationship. My relationship with her and the family has grown so deep that as I type this post, I am basically an unofficial member of the Thornburg clan, but it was our open communication that allowed such a positive foundation to be grounded. Through her relationship with Nisha and Ameeta and her pre-interview process of gathering their stories I had a basic concept of how all these three women connected. Now it was a matter of building a relationship with Nisha and Ameeta and understanding how their characteristic differences added to our story. I admit, building a relationship with them was intimidating. Being such a private person myself, I was terrified to almost blow into these women’s lives out of thin air, investigating some of the most intimate and personal stories their life. Though I had an established acquaintance with Nisha and Ameeta through crew meetings with Barry and Shalisa, it took me getting over my fear by approaching each one of them alone to understand them on a deeper level. In our one-on-one conversations this veil I had put up of story/character or interviewer/interviewee fell and we just connected as women, women of color, and just people journeying through our lives. From those conversations I knew I did not have to overcompensate in this role as someone desperate to find their voice but to instead listen and give them the most secure sense of self-expression. From that point I was able to piece together a common narrative from all of three woman yet clearly recognize the important strength each of these women would bring to the film.

I started this post aiming to discuss the technique of crafting an interview for your film, but I appreciate the direction it has taken. There is little difficulty in setting up an interview. It would not be the most used documentarian tool if otherwise. The one critical difference between a lackluster interview and one that is evocative is how your audience connects to the characters in your film. Their connection is a result of your established relationship with each individual involved in the story. Building trust as not only an interviewer but as someone open to experience of discovering other life experiences. Working on this film I am continuously learning, and though I am no expert, I feel that one of the most important lesson for any interviewer is to deconstruct the walls of fear and hesitation as you foster a relationship with the people relaying their truths and create a space for the unfiltered expression of human vulnerability.

- Eboni