Docuverse Snapshots, 11 November 2017
On 11 November 2017 we celebrated two years of Snapshots events with an end of year planning session and screenings of work-in-progress projects by filmmakers Catherine Gough-Brady and Paola Bilbrough.
The gathering was designed to reflect on the year’s program and consider ways of invigorating the bi-monthly events, which are designed to afford ongoing dialogue between university researchers and industry based documentary practitioners on a broad range of topics relevant to both.
Firstly, Catherine Gough-Brady screened the 9 minute Filming (2017), what Catherine is calling a ‘digital paper’. This work explored the documentary as a set of interactions, between subject and documentary maker, at times using footage including outtakes from previous documentary film work.
Following the screening Catherine discussed the filmmaker’s dilemma of dislocating ourselves in our practice. How as documentary filmmakers we cast for on screen characters and in so doing cast ourselves out of the film process. Catherine discussed a possible way to resolve this dilemma through forming a term for the film ‘subject’, who becomes a ‘character’ in the film edit.
Catherine discussed exploring the ‘digital paper’ as a way to resolve the distance between academia and industry, between theory and practice. I was left thinking how as practitioners in academia we are often renegotiating the documentary form, and Catherine’s presentation highlighted a negotiation of space for the documentary filmmaker inside the frame.
When I later asked Catherine about what excited her about the expanding field of documentary practice, Catherine responded…
“I like each of my projects to have a sturdy fence, it defines the area to play in, and it means I can change the character of that field as often as I can get away with it. Forming the narrative out of the landscape is a large part of what I like about being a documentarian.”
– Catherine Gough-Brady
Catherine’s research inquiry currently titled ‘Creating documentary characters: A practice approach to rethinking the filmed subject’ is concerned with the disappearing documentary maker. The answer here seems to be that through playing with reflexivity we may work towards an ethics of representation.
The second presentation from Paola Bilbrough was a screening of a version of Willing Exile, the practical output of Paola’s PHD (2015) ‘Givers Takers Framers: the Ethics of Auto/biographical documentary’.
Through Willing Exile (18 mins) Paola is re-embracing family history and playing with notions of memory, truth and performance of self. The film traces Paola’s parent’s marriage and their efforts to balance parenting with a counter culture lifestyle and their respective identities as artists in 1960s and 1970s New Zealand. Paola describes Willing Exile as a ‘performative documentary poem’ -a fresh take on the genre of ‘domestic ethnography’.
Again, the film explores re-positioning the maker from outside the frame to inside the frame. Paola discussed the film as a dance between the aesthetic impulses of the filmmaker and the rights of participants.
When I later asked Paola about what excited her about expanding field of documentary practice …
“From my perspective, documentary practice and definitions of what that actually is are constantly expanding; I see my contribution to this as hinging on the way I use participatory processes and incorporate poetic, performative strategies in sensitive auto/biographical and cross-cultural contexts. My focus is on relational ethics and an organic, flexible practice, that alters to fit the context and whomever I’m working with. The story that unfurls is dependent on my relationship with participants.”
– Paola Bilbrough
This Snapshots forum and platform for linking theory and practice was enlivened by these presentations and ensuing discussion.
There were elements of cohesion between Catherine and Paola’s approaches, as both are developing the form through different ratios of the subject and character and the filmmaker’s presence, reversing the invisibility of the documentary maker and negotiating a more intimate on-screen presence.