Learning Documentary Filmmaking in Oaxaca & Bringing It Home

During the week we learned how to make documentary films based in the village of Teotitlan del Valle, our instructors Erica Rothman and Mikel Barton kept reminding us that the experience was more about the learning process than in making a polished finished product.  We reminded ourselves of that over and over (our instructors did, too) as we were challenged by what came our way.  I learned how important it was to shift, flex, adapt, and stay focused.  Others who attended would have their own experiences.

What story would I tell?  Would it be specific enough?  How quickly could I learn, let alone master, the editing software?  Would my Spanish be sufficient to enable me to ask impromptu follow-up questions of the person I was interviewing?  Would I be able to go deep enough to tell a compelling story with the help of a translator?  Can I operate this hand-held video camera without it shaking?  Am I going to get the right b-roll?  Will this story be interesting enough?  Is there enough action?  How do I make subtitles?

The film we made will not win us an Academy Award.  But, that was not the point!  The point was to learn enough to come home and know how to create a documentary film in my own community.

Today, I met with directors of the UNC Chapel Hill School of Nursing Biobehavioral Observation & Nutritional Evaluation Laboratory to tour the facility and discuss donor naming opportunities.  What they do is fascinating.  In a home simulated environment, nurse researchers study the interaction between infants and mothers to determine how early cues influence feeding and early onset of obesity.  Other researchers look at the interaction between depressed mothers and children and how psychiatric mental health treatment can bring about behavioral change in the quality of those interactions.  Other faculty are studying the feeding behaviors of frail and/or demented elders.  Nutritional deprivation in hospitals and nursing homes is significant because of the time it takes for elders to eat.  Another nurse researcher is looking at obesity in children, especially Latino children, and is using the laboratory to capture and assess findings.

What is learned in all the studies will be used to train parents, patients, family caregivers, home health and long-term care workers, aids and medical professionals.  Faculty and graduate students can also be trained.

This is an exploding area in health care education.

Behavior is videotaped in the Observation & Nutritional Evaluation Laboratory, then scored according to a recognition system to validate what behavioral characteristics promote or detract from good health.  Researchers modify packaged systems for specific health behaviors. Video is really important, one director says.  It is minimally invasive and helps to see and examine behavior and environmental interaction.  They also know that there are behavioral and biological interactions.  Body chemistry changes depending upon the environment. They have learned through these studies that both behavior and biology can change.

My wheels are clicking!  They have videotaped footage (b-roll).  They have a professional videocamera and film editing software.  They have people power who know how to do this!  We need to conduct interviews with faculty and subjects, and voila, we’ll have a documentary!  I propose this to them and they’re excited.  This is what it means for me to bring it home!

One Response to Learning Documentary Filmmaking in Oaxaca & Bringing It Home

  1. Washington DC film school

    Great article.

    Sometimes we get wrapped up in the finished product and forget what we did to get there. As you mentioned, it was about the experience. I think we all have to remember this from time to time.

    -Timothy

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