Some Thoughts About My Documentaries

The beginning: I’ve been making movies since early 2016. That was a year and a half ago. I’ve completed three 30 minute movies and am working on two more this summer. I’ve been able to do this because of many people who have stepped up to help me along the way. I was awarded a $1000 grant to make what turned out to be my first two movies (I didn’t realize it would be two separate movies until I began the editing process). Several friends responded to my request to find women religious (aka nuns) who would be willing to let me interview them about their work among people who are economically poor. I traveled to Tampa, Philadelphia and Honolulu over the course of a few weeks, hauling my meager equipment & heavy tripod & relying on my conversation skills to get the interviews going.

The kindness of strangers: What I found is that the women were very accommodating in trusting me, a stranger, with their stories. Most of the women I interviewed were in their 70s, 80s and 90s. Two of the women who appear in Energy of Nuns have passed away since we met a year and a half ago. I am glad I had the chance to hear their stories and to share some of their stories with others by way of this movie. After a year and a half of doing this work, I have interviewed more than 40 people. This year, I have traveled to Charleston, Kingstree (SC), Rock Hill (SC) Travelers Rest (SC), Belmont (NC) and Cary (NC) to interview women from five different religious communities. As I sit there talking with them and listening to their stories, I can’t believe I have the opportunity to sit with them one-on-one to learn about their journeys which have taken them far from home.

It is a conversation: When I interview a person, I do not go there with a preset list of questions or a clipboard for taking notes. I go there to talk with them. I see what one story leads to and I am genuinely interested so I ask the next reasonable question that tells me more about her time in Haiti, living in a tent post-eartquake at age 80 or in Peru where one chose to stay even when the Shining Path was killing people left and right. The camera is on, just off my shoulder, but it is really a conversation between two people. I guess this sort of thing can be learned but I find it is the same skillset as being a good conversationalist.

Their best stories: When I the person I am with is relaxed, it becomes a real conversation and not just a sniffled give-and-take transaction of words.  As I rewatch the videos, I have about 1 hour or 1.5 hours with each person, I look for the stories which excite them the most. In Hawai’i, I thought I was going to capture and share stories from a sister who has been visiting the leper colony on Molokai since the 1960s. That was a rare story to capture, for sure, but it turns out she really lit up when she told me about arriving in the grubby 1970s NYC to serve homeless kids as a nurse. Its not that she doesn’t love her time on Molokai, but she’s given many interviews on that topic already and had told all of those stories a few times.  I like finding these little unexpected jewels amongst an hour or so of words.  Their passion for life really shines through as they tell these little stories that few people may know or remember or otherwise hear. It is cool to be in the position of capturing and sharing these stories.

Where I am going from here: I am actively working to improve my technical skills. I don’t want my technical shortcomings to get in the way of these stories being told. I’ve learned a lot from people who take the time to cobble together videos and post them to youtube. Really, in 2017, there is so much you can learn by YouTube videos. Almost everything I have learned about editing, I have learned from YouTube. I took a semester-long class at the community college to learn more about lighting, which is so important to set the tone of a scene. This summer, I am helping someone put together a series of workshops on various aspects of filmmaking (sound, lighting, acting, storytelling) and will definitely be in the front seat, scribbling notes and absorbing what I can. This fall, I will take some online courses through a reputable documentary filmmaking program and put together additional workshops, inviting the experts I know to come and share what they know with people like me who have access to incredible stories and want to help them be heard.