Dec Retreat: Preparing for interviews and thinking more deeply about the process itself

I feel as though this retreat has served to catapult my group into the interview phase of the process. There’s definitely a tight timeline, and it will require consistent communication, updates, and mutual responsibility to achieve all our goals and begin to edit at the scheduled time, but I also think that we have the drive and the organizational systems in place to facilitate this kind of independent but related work.

Learning about the technology we’ll be using was fun and essential, and learning the specifics of documentary interviews, both from an aesthetic and from a technical standpoint, made me much more confident in my ability to contribute to a polished, effective documentary. Professor Mittell gave us a lot of information which was comprised of pretty standard and elementary practices for creating a documentary, but it wasn’t something I would have known or been able to pinpoint had he not brought it to our attention. I like the idea that the way you physically shoot an interview affects the way that that person is perceived by the audience, and it made me aware of how many conscious choices there are to make every time I sit down to interview someone. I sort of bristled at the idea that we should walk into interviews with a purpose already in mind, because I felt like it might close us off to other results or alternative purposes, but I realized that it is useful to have an idea of what I’m looking for, and also that my purpose can simply be to learn more about that person and the experience they bring to the table. Additionally, I was interested by the idea presented by Brian Reed, the This American Life producer, who said that stakes are what make a story interesting, as that aspect will definitely be integral to the process of editing and creating a meaningful and engaging documentary and is also something to remember when trying to reach the heart of someone’s story during an interview.

Our team time today started off with a very challenging dynamic, because I think that we were all realizing that there is not a lot of time for us to conduct all of our interviews, and that we have a lot of goals which needed to be solidified and prioritized. We sat down for a few hours and, keeping in mind that although we accomplished a lot at the last retreat we only established pretty nebulous goals, we worked out as many details and big picture ideas as we could. We ended up with some plans not only for this week, but as to how we wanted to proceed in general, and we documented them pretty thoroughly. We decided that we probably want several “characters” to feature in our documentary, but that the more footage and different perspectives we have, the better. We came up with the idea of doing a “Winooski Day” and “Burlington Day” to focus our efforts intensely on two of the school districts with the most ELL and New American students, which would also give us a chance to convene for a meaningful amount of time since we all live relatively far apart, and we’re planning on using our current contacts to network and end up with a larger web of people whose views we can record and draw on. We have a lot of different ideas and contacts, and they’re distributed between all of the individuals, so we all have some aspects of the work that we can follow up on. We ended our session this morning feeling much more secure in our progress and our plan for the coming month.

I was also very intrigued and inspired by the TED talk we watched about moral righteousness vs. moral humility, and the way that that relates to political partisanship in the U.S. It forced me to think more deeply about the small choices I make every day as well as about my values as a person. I’ve often felt, especially as this election progressed, that it was hard for me to empathize with conservatives when Republicanism became increasingly connected to and equated with hatred and bigotry–how do I find respect for a party whose core values, it seemed, were built on the fundamental oppression and hatred of others? I also read something recently about how the “don’t fight hate with hate” slogan can be used to equate the legitimate and justifiable anger and indignation that some people (especially minorities) feel with the hatred that is directed towards those people. However, this TED talk really made me realize that there is an important balance that must be struck at the heart of American politics and all discussions concerning it. I don’t know all the answers, and everyone has a reason for believing that they are right. Arguing only isolates people more, and to surround myself only with people I agree with or to only talk to people I agree with is to lessen my impact on society and essentially construct a mechanism by which I only reach or interact with people who already hold the same viewpoints as myself. I still have a long way to go to figure this out, and I think that I have by no means reached this standard of moral humility, but I’m thinking about it now in a different way than I was before and in a way that challenges my values in a very healthy way.

Clara Lew-Smith

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