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Thursday, 13 January 2011

The Documentary Maker's Daughter

    Documentary filmmaker Doug Block with his daughter and film subject Lucy
    Doug Block filmed his daughter growing up. The result was the documentary, The Kids Grow Up. Below are some extracts from a Guardian article on the film, with some pertinent and close-to-home questions raised for anybody who films or photographs their family.
    'Just think," says Doug Block's wife, Marjorie, while he trains his camera on her, "when she works all this through in therapy she can take the footage with her. Her therapist won't have to imagine what you were like." 
    Block, a documentary-maker, filmed their daughter Lucy's final year at high school – interspersed with footage of her over the years. His film, The Kids Grow Up, is ostensibly about how a father copes with the prospect of his cherished only child leaving home to go to college. But there is lots more here. It is about his own childhood – "I was a lousy parent in the main," admits Block's elderly, ailing father – and about what it means to be a modern dad (friend or father?). It is about the passage of time,and Block's inability to let go of the past and grow up, as his wife – ever the voice of reason – puts it during one of their filmed interviews. 
    There are plenty of other moments that make Block look terrible: when he is filming Lucy – aged about 13 – at a basketball game and she doesn't realise until she catches sight of him, and then, her face furious, she shouts across the court: "Stop it, stop it, stop it!" When he looks like a creep for filming his daughter's boyfriend, unaware, through the kitchen window. When his distressed daughter, soon to leave for college, says through her tears as he attempts yet another interview with her: "I'm really pissed off that you're doing this at all. I hate it." "I'm sorry," says Block, in a weedy voice, but he still doesn't take his camera off her. "That was really hard because the whole time I'm thinking, do I turn it off?" says Block. "But Lucy hadn't said to turn it off. She knows I'm rolling because there's a red light on the camera. All I wanted to do was put it down and wrap my arms around her." Why didn't he? "Because your instincts as a documentarian take over and you go: OK, she hasn't told me to turn it off and this is an important discussion. I can always decide later not to include it if it's going over the line. "I know it makes me look really bad, but if you are making personal films, you can't worry about looking good. 
    Later, when I speak to Lucy, who is at college in California, she says she was never excited about the prospect of being the subject of a documentary. "It shows a much more personal side of my life than I share with most people," she says. "I thought it would be weird and it was. At the beginning I said I didn't want him to film me in public. He asked to come by when I was with my friends and I was totally opposed to that. I probably asked him to stop filming about 50% of the time. Maybe I would let him film for a little while and then I would tell him to stop, usually because I would be doing something, he would start filming and I wouldn't be able to do it any more because I felt like I was acting." 
    How did Marjorie feel about the filming in general – wasn't it an intrusion into their family life? "No," Block says. "These are two really strong women who say what they think and if they didn't want me doing it, they would have told me. They didn't necessarily want it done, and in the moments when Marjorie didn't want to be filmed she would say not now. But she generally likes to do interviews – she feels that, over the years, we've had some of our best conversations on camera because she says I never listen to her as closely as when I'm interviewing her." It wasn't always like that for Lucy. During her last month at home, she felt increasingly unhappy about being filmed and ultimately broke down on camera. "If I had known at the beginning that the filming would have had a negative impact, I wouldn't have made it," says Block. He also says he would never have released it had Lucy been unhappy with the footage. "She was always going to be the first to see it. During her first break home over Christmas, I showed it to her, very roughly put together, and I gave her the opportunity to opt out. I was prepared to shelve it, and she said no, that she thought it would be a good film." But hadn't he put his daughter in an impossible position? This was his career – she could hardly ask him to stop a project he had been working on all year. He says it occurred to him. And Lucy admits: "There were times when I didn't want him to make it but there was no way I could have brought myself to tell him that. "The hardest part has been for my dad and me to separate our relationship from the movie. I told him recently that I had a hard time distinguishing what his real feelings were from the things he said in the film [for the sake of the story]. I don't know if he realised that before. I feel good about the film now but it has enveloped our family life too much for the past three years and I'm very much ready to move on from it." 
    Read the whole article here.


Darrell Eager said...

It's unfortunate that the BBC doesn't like to share with us across the pond.

colin pantall said...

You didn't miss much, Darrell - the article says it all - I was disappointed. The Secrets of the Tribe documentary on the Yanomami (mentioned in the previous post) was fascinating though - well worth watching.