The story of John



I decided to make a documentary about my friend John. I once talked with a fellow student. She told me that it is hard to decide what kind of documentary you will be making from the beginning. I found that to be very real while making this documentary. I filmed John with the idea of recreating his process, I would have loved to make a newer movie like Notes on Blindness. I would have loved to hire actors and light every scene. There were two problems, the first is that I am a poor college kid, the second, why, what’s the point?

It took a while to decide the meaning of why I used action figures. It was also cheaply made. And after adding the music, the whole film sounds like a Mormon Message. I really was influenced by Bill Nichols’ theory of recreating events. He specifically said that people feel betrayed if the recreation of events feels real, especially when they find out at the end that it is really isn’t real (though, it may be what your documentary is going for.) We watched some films that showed this idea of fake recreation which has made the decision clear; anything recreated does not make an observational mode film. Observational might be something like Cartel Land, where the filmmaker films his subjects in the moment. Neither could it really be the Performative mode, though interacting with the subject is a main central key. Performative mode, though, is a movie like The Gleaners and I, which is a more in the moment, home movie.

Bill Nichols stated that when recreating the past, we need to introduce at the beginning that we are making something that isn’t real. A great example is Stories We Tell because at the beginning, we see people setting the cameras up. We know at the beginning that everything she records is going to be fake, though, everything is filmed like a home movie. The movie is a little difficult though, because after a while, I started to believe that the recreation was the actual events, then at the end it plays everything like a recreation and I felt betrayed.

This documentary is sort of like a poetic mode. We talk about the movie San Soleil which is more of a series of shots with a voice of God narration. This is shown a little more during the recreation parts of the film. John being the voice, or the narrator of the show. But it also doesn’t fall into this category because of its lack of a point, and a juxtaposition of images.

In theory, this movie isn’t a reflective one. We don’t look at ourselves and our perception because of John and his bouts in the Netherlands. We could relate this movie to History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige because of its recreation of events. I think that History and Memory does really well at recreating events juxtaposed with historical artifacts.

So to answer the question, the mode that this film is most like is probably an autobiographical one. We can most likely relate it to the things we watched. It uses a talking head who talks about his experience as a kid. We recreate them using images that represent the situation placed in front of us. We see this in Stories We Tell also in the movie Man on Wire. It has traces of participatory mode because I, the filmmaker, interact with the subject. I know we see that in the films we watched in class as well, but I think that is what separates Stories We Tell with Man on Wire, where the filmmaker doesn’t appear to ask any questions to the subject.

Overall, I think this movie is more like Nanook of the North. I actually think I used it for inspiration while making this documentary. I know that in fact it will never be Nanook of the North by any stretch of the imagination, but it has traces of what I learned from it. Let me briefly describe them to you: I really like how Nanook of the North creates controversy of whether it is a reality, or if it is purely narrational. It was, though, how Flaherty saw these eskimos at one point in time. Does that mean that he was wrong in his portrayal? No, it just means that some things might be made up or assumed from what we see. Nanook of the North did betray a lot of the audience this semester, and apparently history, because its recreations were portrayed as reality.

So there is where I get my influence of Stories We Tell. I tried to show that this was a film based on the opening shots of me adjusting focus with a sharp zoom and also by filling up a bathtub (which may have been obvious). John’s story is super interesting. Anyone willing should really go and talk to him.

This far into the paper, you are probably thinking that I knew what I was doing when I started going into this project, this was only the beginning. I didn’t want to use the action figures at first. I had no reason to. I had to think of a way to creatively tell John’s story and why I was telling it the way I was. So when I thought of making action figures and using household items to tell his story I had to have a reason to, or the story would lag in confidence (which sometimes I have). Eventually I realized that I was telling the story of a kid who had a world in which he became an alien. Then after becoming more “human” as some might say (not to cause any trauma or problems with those who immigrate to the states.) When he went back home, his home was foreign to him. It is really a sad story that has relevance to A.I. from Steven Spielberg. Everyone goes through it as well. My parent’s house that I grew up in became foreign to me when I left to go to college. It really hasn’t been the same ever since. All of that happened when I became a foreigner to another place and made that place my home.

To wrap up this paper, I would like to talk about how my film relates to fiction film. In Bill Nichols’ book Introduction to Documentary we learn that reenactments are the overlapping of fiction and non fiction films. That can only be because we are reenacting something that actually happened. Like Mr. Nichols said in his guest lecture, you can’t take back the past and record it onto film, instead you recreate it. I don’t know if my little toy scenario is included into this idea, but I think using toys is closing the gaps between fiction and non-fiction. All in all, it was really fun to make.




The Gleaners and I. Artificial Eye, 2009. DVD.


Cartel Land. Dir. Matthew Heineman. A&E Indiefilms, 2015. Advertisment.


Notes on Blindness. Dir. Peter Middleton. Arte France, 2016. DVD.


Stories We Tell. Dir. Sarah Polley. NFB, 2012. DVD.


San Soleil. Dir. Chris Marker. Argos Films, 1983. DVD.


History and Memory: For Akiko and Takashige. Dir. Rea Tajiri. Women Make Movies, 1991. DVD.


Man on Wire. Dir. James Marsh. Prod. Simon Chinn. By Igor Martinovic,

Michael Nyman, J. Ralph, and Jinx Godfrey. Magnolia Pictures, 2008. DVD.


Nanook of the North. Dir. Robert Flaherty. Revillon Feres, 1922. DVD.


A.I.: Artificial Intelligence. By Steven Spielberg. Prod. Steven Spielberg. Dir. Steven Spielberg. Warner Brothers, 2001. DVD.


Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Second ed. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2010. Print.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *