Julio 12, 2008

Trying to Tell the Story of War Tax Resistance

I'm in perhaps the most exciting yet frustrating stage in my work on the documentary about war tax resistance that I'm making. I'm basically trying to make sense of all the footage and figure out how to present it in a compelling way - the big question is: what is the story? I've been struggling with this for about 4 years, ever since I started thinking about the challenges of making a film about this subject - Put another way, how do I tell the story of war tax resistance in a way that's interesting and exciting?

I decided to go all the way back to Michael Rabiger's excellent, wise, super book, Directing the Documentary, which I originally read in 2003 and which helped me enormously to first learn the art and craft of non-fiction filmmaking - actually, I'm really still learning, of course, but this book was my early training, my film school. I returned to it this week to re-read the chapters on the beginnings of post-production and the first assembly.

The advice I keep coming back to that he gives is: start organizing the material with the action, and then layer on the interviews, because if you start with the interviews, you will have talking heads as the primary spine of the film. Of course most of what I've ever done, and a lot of documentarians have done, has been reluctantly not following this advice - because most of almost any documentary film's central material is in fact people telling their stories. It's very rare that you can capture the actual stuff of life that you're talking about, or at least all of it - I've been acutely aware of this since I was doing the paper edit of my Juarez film 3 years ago.

Yet I tried to find a way out of that conundrum with an experiment in narrative that I had not tried before, which I thought of in very early pre-production and which I tried to follow during shooting: follow real people as THEY learn about the subject and meet people that do war tax resistance.

How sad is it when you have something like 50 hours of footage shot over 5 years and you still don't feel like it's enough "coverage"? [i need more "action" material that is relevant to the topic - demonstrations, press conferences, protests, street theater, tax day rallies, even stuff like relevant signs or banners being held up (or t-shirts being worn, etc) at more general anti-war events. Have you shot anything like this over the years anywhere? Do you know anyone who has? If so, please get in touch.]

However, I might have the seed of a narrative that focuses on action, on movement through space and time, and I want to try to make that into the backbone of the film. Perhaps it will need to be augmented with judicious narration, and animation, but i think it's there, basically... Almost every other film longer than 10 minutes that I've made has instead been organized by subject section - can this finally be a film that is a chronology? Is there hope that the story can really be based on a classic, time-based model of story? I'm going to try.

Posted by steev at Julio 12, 2008 10:54 AM