Emily Hochman ’15 spent two months last summer as Artist in Residence at Bowdoin’s Kent Island Scientific Station filming her documentary. Back at Bowdoin in the fall with hours of footage, Emily is working with her independent study project director, Visiting Assistant Professor of Film Studies Sarah Childress, to edit her film. They were interviewed about the project in November 2013.
EH: I wanted to go to Kent Island because a friend impressed upon me that there was something really exciting to be found there, with people conceiving their own projects, and carrying them out during the summer. I had just taken Film Narrative and a Spanish Film course and I thought [making a documentary] might be a great way to get onto something that really interested me.
In the beginning of the summer at Kent Island – I’d say the first three weeks – I focused on filming as much as I could and spent hours out in the field with the scientific researchers, doing observational footage. There were three student researchers from Bowdoin – Sara Hamilton (’16), Aiden Short (’15), and Christine Walder (’15) – and two from Kenya and one from Canada.
When I spoke with Professor Childress about it, she encouraged me to step away from being purely observational and to explore filming the researchers’ social interactions and more day-to-day things. That’s where I started using interview techniques. I also spent a lot of time off-camera, shadowing the researchers, and I helped them a lot with their projects. That informed my understanding of what they were doing.
Aiden Short became the protagonist of my film. Professor Childress encouraged me to focus deeply on him. I was a little stuck, wanting to have a wider scope and just talk about more people, but narrowing in on someone who had a really compelling story has been really fruitful. He was emotionally open when engaged, particularly for interviews.
As is the case with most stories, when it really boils down to something specific, you can get into the complexities. Encouraging viewers to latch on to one character builds that relationship. It’s more meaningful than telling a broader story.
SC: That’s a really great point, because Aiden is representative of all kinds of dynamics. So it’s an interesting way of being personal, but universal, at the same time. I think it’s another way of going back to the idea that the more specific you get, the more universal your understanding can be.
EH: Once I realized that Aiden was coming to the forefront, I spoke with him about it. I let him know that, not only would he be a character in the story, he would be the main character. I told him what I thought was interesting about what he was feeling on the island, and why I found it really compelling. I think he understands that the story I’m trying to tell is something a lot of people can identify with.
He hasn’t asked to see any footage. I’m planning to show it to him once it’s in a more coherent form and just get his input, see what he thinks. His level of comfort is really, really important to me. That will probably determine what happens with the film.
SC: There’s the responsibility you have as a filmmaker, to be respectful, but also not to let that hinder the critical work that you’re doing. Sometimes that will happen. It’s like…this is my friend, I can’t push,
I can’t go there. But, sometimes you have to acknowledge the things that other people won’t acknowledge.
This is not only a work of art, it’s a work of examination. If you don’t do that hard work, answer those hard questions, if you don’t push yourself through… then you’re cheating yourself, you’re cheating your film, and you’re cheating your audience.
I applaud Emily for her sensitivity to the ethics of documentary film practice… what it means to actually represent someone…to do that with understanding, but also with a critical view. I’m sure this is a film we’ll be very happy to see.
EH: Before this, I hadn’t really had any filmmaking experience. I had done some things in high school and had a few editing classes, but not with this level of commitment. I really benefitted from what I learned in Bowdoin film studies courses about composition and what it means to include something in a shot, and being more intentional about it.
I have about a terabyte of footage on the hard drive…I actually don’t even know how many hours I have! About five weeks-worth, four hours a day. While I was there, I would review my footage at the end of the day, sometimes at the end of the week. I would take notes on it and just do a preliminary analysis. Since then I’ve been watching some of the footage, but…(laughing) there’s a lot of stuff!
I realized that, while the interviews were taking place, I considered some of the responses from the researchers to be not particularly relevant to the lens I was looking through. I was thinking ‘this isn’t going to be very good,’ but I would just let them talk. Now, looking back, some of those comments are the most interesting things and helped change the course of the story I’m now telling.
SC: I congratulate Emily on the hard work that she’s put into a project that’s incredibly well-done. You know, it sounds so fun and sexy, like ‘I’m just gonna go shoot a film and it’s all gonna come together and it’s gonna be great,’ but people don’t realize that it’s excruciatingly hard work. You have to take this entire world that you’ve created little snippets of, that you’ve captured, and actually weave them together into something that’s meaningful not only for yourself, but for other people.
[Since the beginning of the Fall semester] we’ve worked on structure. She didn’t start cutting [editing] until last week. So that’s eight weeks spent simply creating structure, an outline of what comes first, what happens next. Just creating that storyline…and then editing.