Muruba is a short documentary that aims to prove the value of indigenous traditional owner knowledge in the protection of the biodiversity and why this knowledge could be useful on a scientific prospective.
The goal of our documentary is encouraging future collaboration between scientist and traditional owners taking as a case study the successful collaborative relationship between Cristina and Marilyn.
Through a call for action at the end of our movie we hope to trigger a change both in the scientific and the indigenous community by opening a dialogue between these two worlds.
The message that our project carries within it could potentially reach some of the stakeholder of this two communities and make a difference thanks to IPBES, an intergovernmental platform on biodiversity and ecosystem, that is interested in showcase our work during his upcoming stakeholder meeting.
In my reflection, I will focus on different theories and pieces of media that had informed my practice.
Firstly, I will concentrate on the practice of documentary filmmaking in comparison of fictional one, on an aesthetic and ethic point of view; Secondly, I will discuss how existing media and our responsibility toward Marilyn shaped the voice of our work. Ultimately I will address the strengths of our collaboration and explain my role and responsibilities inside the group.
In the past years, I had the occasion to work on various media pieces but my previous works have always been related to fiction.
I have a film studies background so I was already used to work on a set and comfortable handling the shooting equipment however, working on a documentary production involves some widely different creative and ethic choice if compared to others filmmaking experience.
Muruba have been the first documentary I had the fortune to work on. During the production period of the documentary I became aware of the differences between these two types of works. I use to think that documentaries just want to be a faithful representation of the reality but after working on Muruba I realize that is not that simple.
As Nichols (2001) broadly discuss, documentary “is not a reproduction of reality, it is a representation of the world we already occupy” (Nichols, 2001, p. 20). The point that he want to make with this statement is that even though compared to fictional works documentaries have a realistic approach on defined situation and/or issues, they stand for a particular point of view that gave them a voice their own. This point of view won’t necessary be the same of others, but documentaries gave to the film maker the possibility to show to his audience a version of the reality that they haven’t seen before, giving them the choice to decide if they want to adapt or reject the filmmaker prospective toward the word. “The voice of documentary can make a case or present an argument as well as convey a point of view. Documentaries seek to persuade or convince us: by the strength of their argument or point of view and the appeal, or power, of their voice. The voice of documentary is the specific way in which an argument or perspective is expressed.” (Nichols, 2001, p. 43)
Dancyger (2014) reinforce this concept identifying one particular kind of narration used in documentaries that that identify the narrator as a provocateur “The provocateur has a specific goal in his documentary: to promote change. The nature of the narration may be direct or ironic, but in both cases the goal remains the same”. (p. 359)
Dancyger (2014) again states that the range of aesthetic choices in documentaries is far wider than the one available in fictional films.
Indeed, instead of filming actors the documentary filmmaker follows subjects. Even Camera positioning tends to be a matter of convenience sometimes rather than intention and lighting is designed to be as unobtrusive as possible.
Therefor this experience has been both new and exciting to me because it gave me the artistic freedom to experiment new filmmaking techniques as well as the possibility to share our point of view with the audience on the topic of the protection of biodiversity.
Before getting into the actual shooting of the documentary we went through a decisional process to work out what we wanted from our documentary and what would have been our style.
We decided that the mood of Muruba would have been poetic, in order to better portray the beauty of Marilyn’s land.
Numerous documentary inspired our aesthetic and informed us in the production phase. In that period we discuss which movies have been meaningful to us and our vision, and then we decided what aesthetic would have suit better our narration.
One of the movies that we thought was relevant was Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi (1983), in his movies Reggio make use of time-lapses sequences to give the impression of an urban metropolis rushing to its demise. We decided to use the same tool to represent the power of the nature and to give emphasis to the flowing stream of the water as a metaphor of life.
Another film that affected our choices was Nuridsany and Pérennou’s Microcosmos (1996). It was a Documentary particularly dear to me because is the first documentary I have ever watch in my life; I was 5 years old at the time and I still remember the wonder that I felt while watching this beautiful macro shots of “People of the grass” as the authors call them. Thanks to my previous experience I knew that macro shots would have been a powerful tool for the narration of our story as well.
Since the beginning we had a precise style clear in mind. We wanted to represent the natural landscape under a dreamlike prospective, to underline the uniqueness of the place we had the honour to visit. Through our images we wanted to get the audience to realize why is important to look after this special places. Filmmakers have some tools that can alter the meaning of documentary footage and we decided to make this tools ours. When choosing our equipment stock we had to consider which gears would have been more useful to our stylistic choice and vision.
On a technical point of view having all this artistic freedom was amazing, but shooting a documentary is not only beautiful images, is also making ethical decision and as Dancyger (2014) mention with freedom comes responsibilities.
When representing someone else life filmmakers should not underestimate the power they have at their disposal, because it could affect the opinion that the audience have about the subject.
Filmmakers have therefore responsibilities to their subject. When the shaping process of a movie begin, a spontaneous question arises, “Looking at a new reality through my eyes would I be able to show the reality of my subject without altering it?”.
Sanders (2010) states that documentary filmmaking should concern reflection on its own practice. One can’t decide what’s the right thing to do in a given situation just by judging individual action but should instead take into account the principle that informs this decision and deliberation. Morals of filmmakers are in fact related to the filmmaker’s cultural background and ideas about her or his profession.
Nakata (2007) suggest that “The Cultural Interface…(is) a space of many shifting and complex intersections between different people with different histories, experiences, languages, agendas, aspirations and responses…a space that abounds with contradictions, ambiguities, conflict and contestation of meanings” (p. 199).
Our group was the perfect example of it. Six people of six different nationalities worked on Muruba, each of us have a different cultural and artistic background that were about to collaborate with the indigenous community, a reality that was completely new to all of us.
The challenge of our project was being able to define a common vision and goals as well as exploring on a personal level the reality of aboriginality, understanding what it means to Marilyn and to us.
The poet and aboriginal elder Jim Everett expresses this concept by saying” We’re all the same species, we’re humans. And we all have different cultures. That is up for people to have their identity and their cultures the way they want them. But if they want to actually know what they are as human beings on this planet connecting with the country that they belong to and it’s their belonging place, then they need to understand the Aboriginal connection. They don’t have to be Aboriginal” (as cited in Thornley, 2008, p.53)
The first thing we learnt we started our project is that there is a specific protocol to follow when working with indigenous people.
This protocol is called ICIP, Janke (2005) explains that “protocols are appropriate procedures and provide a basis for the way dealings occur within a particular situation, community, culture or industry. Agreeing to comply with the accepted protocols of other cultural groups promotes interaction based on good faith and mutual respect, thus encouraging ethical conduct”. (p.100)
Protocols involve communication, negotiation and understanding so they may be complex to follow. As a group, we agreed that we were ready to follow Marilyn direction even though it could have meant to let go our vision of the project. This results into a process of negotiation and dialogue.
It wasn’t always easy because as Rosenthal (1988) mentioned, direct cinema means there is less time for reflection on one’s own actions. time indeed, seems to be an aspect that influences how filmmakers deal with moral issues.
Pryluck (1976) presented some solutions to deal with moral issues: a collaborative approach, provisional consent before giving final consent for the film (showing the rough cut for example), and making ethical standards explicit in order to better recognize deviations and in order to discuss the gains and losses.
‘‘If one is serious about using direct cinema to make valid statements
about people, then collaboration should be welcome’’ (Pryluck, 1976, p. 265)
All considered, the collaboration with Marilyn worked well and her contribution added great value to our work.
Regarding the collaboration with my group, I could have never imagined that all of us would have been so synergetic.
Our skills were complementary so the decision of the role inside the group came out spontaneous. I feel like everyone was happy to lean and teach to the others, this results in a better understanding of our work in its totality. The collaboration with the other members of the group brought me to a new understanding of myself as a person and as a part of a group.
Sabal (2009) suggest that students are individuals with their own ambitions,strenghts and weakness so, during a collaborative practice, they need to be aware about their abilities and limitation in order to collaborate successfully.
My role in the group was the camera person, co-editor with a special attention on color correction.
During the shooting, I have been faithful with our initial stylistic choices and my approach on composition of the shot have been mostly experimental.
According to Hansen “Composition is the result of the skill and artistry expended in arranging a picture or electing a point of vantage. It should reveal to others the lure of strange places or a new attraction in familiar things” (As cited in Brown, at all, 2013, p. 144)
I had some problem to take stable shoots due to a hand injury, but after the first days of shooting I tried to fix the problem using the tripod when possible.
At the end of the shooting were satisfied with the material that we got, but we weren’t sure how to put it together.
Bernad (2012) said that the majority of films and story come truly together when in the editing room.
Artis (2013) agree that “Editing is the greatest responsibility of the documentary. It’s the phase when “your footage” becomes “your film.” (p. 216)
In the editing I tried to relate on what the Russian film theorists Kuleshow and Eisestain said about Juxaposition. Reves (2015) discuss the meaning making process of Eisenstein and Kuleshov explaining that montage is an idea that derives from the collision of two shots that are independent of one other.
For the color correction instead I referred to Chinfat (2016) videos for the technical part and Bond (2015) video to understand how colors can evoke feelings in storytelling. My choice consequentially was giving to our film a slightly cold tone to be consistent with the theme of water.
Muruba is a project that allowed me to grow both on a professional and personal level. Working on this project I developed a new understanding of the documentary practice and the ethics of it that made me more aware about the environment aroud me.
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