Wednesday, December 16, 2009




Let me begin on a defeated note. Today, I received a kind letter from a University I applied to for a faculty position in Maryland.

The note was nice, but it was a rejection, so the sadness that comes with it supersedes the niceness. I suppose when the right place comes along we will be paired... Or not. It must have something to do with fate... Right?


On to better things.

I added two more clips to my website today. They are video installations I did for theater productions: A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Madwoman of Chaillot, and The Passenger List.

I now feel a bit more accomplished in that area.


The reason I got involved in documentary filmmaking is because I wanted to give people a voice, I wanted to help them tell their stories.

Actually, as an undergrad I was originally a journalism major. I thought I would write people's stories. But then something happened... I took a film class. It taught me to look at "the movies" differently. I had a flash that I could tell stories in a much more dynamic way. I could begin with words, then use image and sound to connect with an audience. I was sold and I transferred and changed my major to filmmaking. It changed my life, and I happy to be making the small contribution to film and society that I do.

So that's it. I want to give you a voice. I want to tell your story, and the story of the person next to you.

There was some buzz about a particular blog on twitter about a week ago. It is a site I like very much. It's called "Letters of Note".

I like the site because it IS the voice of others. The letters provide candid insight into the happenings and thoughts of the authors.

Visit Letters of Note

Essentially, these letters are the making of social history.

My documentary work is a direct result of this philosophical approach to history.

My doctoral dissertation was a documentary film: De Luxe: The Tale of the Blue Comet,

Along with that film I wrote an essay titled A Critical And Philosophical Approach To Documentary Filmmaking. Part I focuses on four elements:

1. Imagination
2. Empathy/Sympathy
3. Social History
4. Responsibility

Here is what I had to say about social history:

Social History

The third element that creates my frame helps me apply method to my filmmaking. It is the techniques of new or social history. As I have stated earlier, history is the thread that stitches humanity together. To study history is to attempt to understand oneself and the “other”. The historical task is one of responsibility and imagination. To understand one another, we must learn the “other’s” story and then, we must imagine their perspective, their place in history. The study of history is humanity’s responsibility to understand the individual’s story and from that we are able to achieve a perspective of a larger context. History is comprised of stories. They can be found everywhere and each one is a viable window to the past, present, and their inevitable product, the future. Here, the story or narrative is constructed as a documentary. This historical task is called social history. It is a movement that has been gaining momentum beginning in the middle of the twentieth century. Considering the diversity of the United States, social history has become a necessary method of historical study if we are to be accountable for its diversity.

In the preface of The Encyclopedia of American Social History, social history is defined as:

History “from the bottom up”; as the history of everyday life; or, as the history of groups and the power relationships between them. History from the bottom up immediately brings to mind images of the working class, black slaves, the poor. The history of everyday life chronicles change over time in the fabric of ordinary existence – sometimes minute and subtle, occasionally rapid and momentous… Concerning the interaction between groups, social history prods us to ask questions about the identities that unite and divide us according to such overlapping categories as gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social class, and sexual and political orientation. Social historians explore the relationship between diverse groups, but they also examine how people develop the cultures and ideologies that bind them together or set them at odds. (xvii)

The goal in applying social historical methods to documentary filmmaking is to make my contribution to humanity to help understand its many and diverse perspectives. This goal requires what may seem like an unlikely tool when studying and trying to understand history, but it is a tool that is intrinsically linked to perspective: imagination. One must be able to imagine oneself in the predicament of another to understand that individual’s unique perspective. To get closer to the source, in my films, I try to use the individual as primary source. With De Luxe: The Tale of the Blue Comet I tell the story with a blend of documentary tools: Historical research, historical photographs and film footage, and individuals who are connected or formed connections to the story of the Blue Comet. Three individuals recount their personal experiences with the Blue Comet, and the rest are popular historians. These are individuals that have dedicated themselves to telling the story of transportation history in New Jersey, particularly that of railroad history. They are not historians by training, but like myself, have placed themselves in the narrative, connected with the material and presented written histories through various historical societies.

Needless to say, the words of others are important to me. I find personal letters extraordinary. Because my friend A.W. knows this about me, he gave me a great Christmas present yesterday. It's a book called Yours Ever: People and Their Letters.

"This companion volume to prolific Mallon's 1984 study of diaries, A Book of One's Own, surveys several epistolary subgenres, including friendship, advice, complaint, love, confession, war-zone dispatch and pleas from prison. A 25-year correspondence between Mary McCarthy and Hannah Arendt pleasurably mixes world politics and personal foibles, musings about the Eichmann trial with an unwanted pregnancy and literary gossip. Henry Miller bullied his patient publisher James Laughlin for 30 years (Why should I compromise?... to please you?); Florence Nightingale's angry, agitated letters from the Crimean War show a respect for the suffering soldier and a contempt for complaining nurses; E.M. Forster confides to a friend his homosexual initiation at age 37 by an Egyptian tram conductor; and Winston and Clementine Churchill's long correspondence blends patriotism, ambition and shared tenacity. They stand in marked contrast to the duke and duchess of Windsor's baby talk and self-pity. This smart, witty and lively account with excerpts of a not-yet-extinct literary genre will whet our appetites for published collections of letters—a selected bibliography is included—while motivating us to put pen to paper to rediscover a satisfying means of communication."

In continuing with the stories of others, as mentioned previously, I had the great opportunity to participate in the StoryCorps project two weeks ago. I interviewed my mother about her life and it will now be cataloged in the Library of Congress. We are a part of the archives of American letters and history!

Some of the stories are posted on their website and the most compelling ones are broadcast on NPR.

You MUST visit their site to learn about the project and listen to the tales of humanity. You will be moved.



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