And here I am weeping, again

I am blessed to have Kristin as my subject and the footage and information she has shared with me has been touchingly intimate and emotive. Today she shared with me footage out-takes of the play with her father who was dying of terminal cancer at the time, photos of her mother as a child and film of Kristin and her mother when they were much younger, in the footage Kristin looks very much like Pansy and her mother looks very much like Kristin and her sisters do now. The way Kristin looks at her dad, is the way I see her look at Pansy often, with patience and love. I always knew this would be an emotional journey but I didn’t quite understand how much of my life this would effect and I feel very selfish expressing these feelings of empathy when my life has not been directly effected by suicide or maternal or paternal death.

Kristin gave me the link to her own blog which she had been documenting her pregnancy with. The first night with Pansy was very emotional for her and she wrote of her mother here. 

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Peer support and considered feedback

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Feedback to our peers has been an obligatory part of the module outline, an assessed part of the module. Here we are though, unsupervised, supporting each other with such effort, passion and devotion. The sincere support and pride we take in each others’ work has created a tight knit family-like environment.

“Never work with children or animals.” Pt. 3.

As Kristin and I worked together as our children played (she on her PhD and me on my undergraduate work) they suddenly arrive downstairs covered in deep red stripes from head to toe and very red faces, “We are tigers” yes tigers with lipstick stripes, 4 lipsticks worth of red stripes.

Working around pre-school aged children is never without a challenge unfortunately using film the challenge is perpetually evident rather than (as with my written work) a silent difficulty forgotten in the finished product.

“Never work with children or animals.” Pt. 2.

And these children are animals!

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While Pansy and Luca gave me some lovely, candid and lively footage, and a perfect example of joyous juxtapose against the darker themes of death and suicide, they were a difficult presence in the soundscape.

Luca, my son, and Pansy, Kristin’s daughter have been friends since they were a few months old. They have always had a presence in each other’s lives and they have always been very similar people in their play and sleep habits! (Much to the woe of both Kristin and I).

In fact they are currently (17/04/2017 at 15.48) “cleaning” rather expensive setting powder from Luca’s diecast cars because they were both playing “snow” on my bed while Kristin and I worked together on the sofa downstairs…

In retrospect I should have used a seperate microphone or lapel microphone to record Kristin, some of the most important things that she had said are clouded by the children’s play and talking.

As a single parent I was always to have Luca with me during filming on the weekends and often when Kristin was free this was the only practical way we could film together. It was also important for Pansy to be suitable distracted so that I could speak to Kristin about her mother and childhood and about her relationship to Pansy.

Post production, it was clear that the sound was an issue and in future I would always try to use two microphones to combat this or pre-empt the problem.

Final rough cut reaction

fr1I have finished my narrative and have a first rough cut, I have shared this with many people but I hadn’t with Kristin and was very nervous about doing so. Kristin enjoyed the film and especially the moments of Pansy she hadn’t witnessed. She mentioned the similarities in her and Pansy’s facial expressions which I had tried to show through editing. She questioned, however, the fact that there were no photographs of her mother, and suggests she shared photos with me to add in to the final edit.

Editing emotions

Evoking an emotional reaction was the basis of my film. Or any film I would want to make. I feel that universal emotional reactions to such things as loss are important and transcend such barriers of culture and language.

I did not predict the level of emotional intensity I would personally feel filming and editing this film. While editing and re-watching all of the filmed content, trying to piece together poignant moments and link the juxtaposition of tragedy and the pure innocent happiness in my son (4 years) and my subject’s daughter (3 years).

I had finished my dissertation in anthropological science 5 days before the deadline and had only an exam to study for. I found myself alone for many hours in the Mac lab assigned to the students on my course. As everyone else on our course are doing different modules requiring different deadlines, mostly at the end of our term this meant that their priorities were different to mine.

The long hours of re-watching rather emotional micro-expressions and thinking intently of the reality of the subject. As having filmed the content, understanding the physical reality of the subjects and being able to fully empathise with the subjects in Pansy and Kristin. Knowing them, loving them as people and imaging life I was not involved with, did not know. The deep loss and hurt of this situation, imagining myself at 15 and how I would deal with such a traumatic situation.

The burden of editing this left me emotionally drained and physically exhausted. I didn’t sleep well and felt my mind wandering in normal conversation with people. I felt helpless, I wanted to protect Kristin as a mother, I wanted to help her as a friend, but this was 30 years ago, and there is nothing I can do.

Titles and music

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roughcut2 from Catriona Blackburn on Vimeo.

Adding titles and music was a turning point for me in terms of finding a position of gratification through editing. There is something about text and music which makes the film feel polished and encased in a cosy contextual border of start and ending titles. This was, as well, where I first began to create subtle story through film editing, for example introducing the garden through the windmill and the piece of music which the film would end on. Introducing the soundscape of the film, the children’s laughter and voices, introducing colour and sunlight and then introducing Kristin in the first scene after the title sequence. Introducing light and staying mindful to intersubjectivity, trying to evoke a questioning reaction with the few seconds of expression on Kristin’s face. The titles started to make me feel accomplished and that I had started to be able to use the editing software creatively as a tool such as a good paintbrush, I wanted to feel I could express myself through the medium and this felt like the first time it all started to come together.

Filming and consent

After the initial look back on the current film and interview content that I had and forming a small 2 minutes of edited film to show my peers within the group. I had been given feedback on my film. What struck me in the feedback session was that the interpretation that I had projected into those 2 minutes was that of deep sadness. Although the topics of suicide and parental loss are extremely emotive, my subject and friend, Kristin, does not hold herself or live her life shaped by the sadness of her past. I felt a strong need for participation and recalled the visual anthropology literature on the subject of participation and reflexivity. I wanted to do justice to the strong individual that Kristin is as a person and how she has grown out of such sadness and heartbreak, is wise and knowledgeable, intelligent and empathetic. I did not want my film to portray weakness, just that of vulnerability.

The next time I went to film and interview Kristin I brought up the subject and felt it was important for both of us to address the consent of the film project and the reality of my interpretation and how it may be perceived by others. Kristin understood my concerns, was agreeable and reminded me that, neither of us had any control over the fact that it would be my interpretation of the story and the content. With this mindfulness however, it was important for me to include the potential perception of others within my editing.

The first edit

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Filmversion1 from Catriona Blackburn on Vimeo.

Post filming production had started and I had selected my darling of a poignant interview, Kristin talks about death, loss and conjuring up the lost imagine of a deceased loved one. The anthropological themes are very obvious to me. Suicide, what is a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ¬†death, the social reorganisation of the dead to live in the lives of the living again.

I worried, consistently, that my use of editing and music damaged the sincerity of the content. After feedback from my peers it was clear to me that my want to juxtapose the sadness and grief with that of joy and new beginning needed to be exposed a little more obviously.

“Emotion, at the top of the list, is the thing that you should try to preserve at all costs.” – Murch

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Learning to use the editing software was frustrating initially but I got the hang of it within hours and absolutely adore it. I love getting lost in editing for hours at a time, not realising where in the day I am. It feels like meditation.

Learning cut techniques and classic shots was extremely inspirational for me. Understanding what I could do with the editing software made me think more pragmatically about filming and shots. Finding beauty in small details, using pull focus and pan, making sure the shot it static and smooth, editing to find seamless transition which doesn’t interrupt the story being told.

Shots and pull focus

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Learning to film using the ‘iwaffle'(Intention, White Balance, Audio, Frame, Focus, Light, Exposure) guidance and understanding the need for shots within interview for example not only educated me but inspired me immensely. Understanding traditional shots and techniques meant that I could clearly imagine how a scene would be cut and this helped in my actual filming. It is evident when looking back on my collection of film that learning modification of white balance, sound, lighting, understanding different cuts and shots all led me to a better quality of film clips for editing the final film.