Four disparate lives intertwine with surprising results in this absorbing documentary, an official selection of the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. A German terrorist, a bank robber, an "ex-gay" evangelist and a martial arts student form the unlikely quartet. In her interweaving narrative, Oscar-winning filmmaker Jessica Yu explores parallels between human life and the formal dramatic structure of the Greek tragedian Euripides.
I watched that trailer and I was all, "YEAH, That looks sah-weet!" While it's far from the beaten path of the "humorous" doc I'm shooting for, I was really interested to hear those stories! Plus, I felt that the more interviews I watched, it may work to improve my skills as an interviewer - to have people be able or willing to open up and tell their stories/opinions/reactions more easily.
First problem - the format. It was very apparent what the director was going for - the four protagonists involved told their stories simulatenously. All four stories followed the same basic arc. Their abusive childhood (different levels and kinds of abuse), their decision to take charge of their destinies (in very different ways), the moment when they face the truth of the reality they've created and finally, the decision to make a more postive change.
Because of the editing, even though each story was profound in its way, I kept getting disconnected. Just as I would get caught up in the narrative, it would cut to a different narrative. And while they shared arc points, it was mostly just annoying, in an "I GET IT," kind of way.
And then there were the puppets.
Now, let me preface that I was excited about the puppets. They reminded me of the marrionette sequences in Being John Malkovich, which I adored. Unfortunately, as a structural element - puppets acting out both classic bits of Greek tragedy and recreating scenes from the "protagonists" lives - was hit or miss...but mostly miss for me. It quickly became just another obstable to connecting to the four narratives.
I will say that there were a couple puppet moments that really worked and were extremely impactful. Writing this is going to come off weird or comical, but it wasn't. It was rather frightening. There was one scene where Joe (later known as the bank robber) was describing an incident with his drunk/abusive father, where as a boy, he stood impotent and watched his father nearly drown his younger brother. While he's recalling this memory, the puppets act it out. It was really quite moving and horrifying. That part really worked.
The other issue was the four men being interviewed. At least three - the robber, the former evangelist and the martial artist - have had a lot of experience with public speaking and telling their stories. Two (at the time of the film) had written books and gone on speaking tours. These were not merely well rehearsed subjects, these were people who are storytellers.
And when you tell the same story time and again, you can hone it and punch it and make it really interesting and exciting to the listener. You know what details to focus on and what words will best convey your experience. I think if I saw the raw footage of these unedited, I would have loved this film. Because, they do know how to tell their stories well.
Applying that to interveiwing people who are shy about sharing their personal opinions on camera...I just don't think I got anything productive out of this film that I can apply to our doc. Unless I decide to use puppets or animation to illustrate a point...?
Lesson...Do not abuse use of puppets or animation to the point you being to annoy or distract your audience.