Bush League, making tapes for translations

Broke the half way point! Forty hours in, forty to go, will take another two and a half weeks at this pace. The translator is going to have his hands full. Been thinking a lot about documentaries. I think one of the things people often fail to consider when they watch docs, is they're cast the same way a fiction film is cast. People are carefully selected based on very specific expectations relative to a story. One of the main characters in Bush League is Jacqueline. I chose her because I knew she was outspoken and she occupied a very interesting position in the community as the Sub Chief's daughter. Once she was cast, my job was to learn as much as I could about her, and then think of situations I could find her in and questions that I could ask that would produce predictable, filmable results. The same would go for a fiction film. So it's the exact opposite of 'following someone around with a camera', which is what I used to think this type of documentaries was. The entire effort is to predict what will happen or provoke it at the right time so you can be in the right place to capture it. It's manipulative. Strangely enough, a big part of getting what you want has to do with putting the camera down. If you've already decided what you're looking for in a story, then you can turn the camera off until the time is right. I did this a lot and the trick is not to let the subject talk about that thing you're most truly interested in, but to build up a foundation for that conversation and prepare it for the camera.

One of the most interesting things about shooting over a sustained period of time is watching people catch on to their own stories. I went through a tape last night that has a long interview with Jacqueline. We're out in her tobacco field after a night of rain. The crop is largely destroyed and she's seeing it for the first time. As it starts out, she's worried, but everyday in her expression. A half hour later she's begun to (melo)dramatize her body language. I asked the same question a few different ways and each time she gave me something a little different, and the longer I rolled the more melodramatic she became. She took long looks out across the field, bit her lip, sighed, slowly shook her head and so on. Twenty minutes in, she was clearly aware of her own story and playing the version of herself she thought I wanted.

It's a big job to manage. Just like working with actors, at any moment normal people in their real lives can give you different things based on their motivations to participate that day and the status of your relationship. As the relationship grows more complex, so too does the shooting. By the end of the three months in the village Jacqueline had learned a lot about me, and the last couple times I met her she used it to take the interviews over.

In this stage of edit, the different modes of footage start to get weighed and sorted. There's the straight verite material like the soccer games. There is the premeditated material when I can see a person has thought about something they've wanted to say. There are boring stretches when nothing happens at all. There are moments that would have never happened if I didn't make them and moments that would have never happened if someone didn't make them for me. The hardest choices all beg moral questions. What do I do when I know someone is lying but what he or she is saying is relevant? And what about the camera? In the shot, she looks like she's all alone, but I know there are fifteen people sitting immediately to her left, I just chose to shoot around them so she would look lonely. Am I a liar if I cut a close up from Monday into a scene from Friday? Really, none of that's the point. Facts and documentaries, actually facts and stories, haven't much to do with each other. Stories need shape and form. Any documentary filmmaker who pretends they are presenting reality or fact is dubious. Cameras can't capture reality and facts are temporal. But, good stories are illuminations of the truth. To try it this way, with a group of subjects that are vulnerable, heavily stereotyped, ripe for exploitation and in the filmmaking mode that looks the very realest, it really is full of pitfalls. But still, just like everyday life, it requires the full-hearted embrace of many many fictions in order to work.