At first, when thinking about location, I thought of it as where I literally was. Whether it was in my dorm at Muhlenberg College or the bagel store in my hometown, I always thought location was a physical thing. However, Robert Coles opened my eyes to location in documentary and I realized that it is a very broad term that is not limited to physical space, but emotional, social and mental as well. Coles talks about the way people are brought up and the privileges that go along with it in his novel, Doing Documentary Work. I believe that location not only ties with how I grew up, but how my parents grew up as well, especially my mother. Their experiences dictate how they are going to raise me and my siblings. For example, my mother did not have the best relationship with my grandmother. Therefore, when having kids of her own, she made sure to have a stronger relationship with me instead of a strained one. She definitely succeeded. Because I have such a close relationship with my mom, I want to make sure that my future children have that with me too, and so on and so forth. I also grew up with privileges. Similar to Elizabeth Barret in Stranger with a Camera, I was fortunate to obtain an education, go on vacation and purchase warm, sometimes fashionable clothes. With this class, I have learned to not only embrace my location, but the location of others. It has made me more empathetic and less oblivious. Seeing the location of others, for example in the film Agents of Change, inspires me to help speak out and give a voice to the voiceless. I have grown up with an affinity for theatre. In my documentary, that definitely shines through. My passion for theatre mixes with the story of how the Center for the Arts became what it was. Since it is a topic I care about, I am focused on fairly doing justice to the history. I hope Robert Coles is proud of me!
With Coles, location is an umbrella term for how documentarians showcase their voice and perspective in films such as Agents of Change. While Dawson and Ginzberg were students at Cornell at the time of the riot, they still interviewed other students of color that were involved not only at Cornell, but at San Francisco State. This showcased that this was a nationwide issue that stretched upon all around the United States. Nichols talks about speech as a way to persuade the audience. Agents of Change uses language as a way to make viewers aware that this is still an issue today and that the battle for civil rights is far from over. The interviewees give a first hand response of what the environment was like and how they were treated, it is supposed to make you feel sympathetic, empathetic and that something needs to change. These acts of rebellion occurred in 1968 (San Francisco State) and 1969 (Cornell), around fifty years ago, but we are still dealing with similar issues now. Coles states, “Tragedies have a way of becoming contagious, that one of them can set in motion another, that the temptation to solve a problem quickly can sometimes be costly indeed” (p.113). In this case, events at San Francisco State inspired others around the country, including students at Cornell University, to fight back. However, officials needed a way to stop these protests quickly and efficiently, therefore they called the police for backup. Throughout the film, people recounted their experience with the police and presented footage of the violence against the students of color. Voice does not have to do with speaking, although that is an important factor. Sometimes there is a voice in the film even if nothing is said. Watching these videos and watching what they experienced from an outside lens gives you an idea of the message they are trying to convey.
- “A documentarian’s report will be strengthen by what has been witnessed, but will be fueled surely by what those observations come to mean in his or her head: we absorb sights and sounds and they become our experience.” (p. 91)
Agents of Change follows this advice by not only including images and videos, but also including thoughts of people who were there and a part of it while the events were happening. When Coles talks about meaning in “his or her head,” this refers to the documentarians, in this case: Dawson and Ginzberg. Their hope is that when we see these observations and hear these interviews that we become inspired and use our power and privilege to give a voice to the voiceless. If we absorb what is going on in the film, connect it to the issues going on in today’s society and fight back, then we too will become an agent of change.
An interesting part of Nichols’s article, “What Gives Documentary Films a Voice of Their Own,” is the idea that the voice of a documentary not only includes who literally speaks on or off screen, but how the documentarian and the editor piece it all together. For example, figuring out what music or sounds to include, cinematography, keeping events in chronological order and the type of representation your documentary is. This reminds me of Coles’s idea of location. One of those pillars that are under that umbrella of location is language: how they speak, what language they speak in, what they are saying, etc. The music in the film has to do with the time period the events were set in and the footage of protesters/the police interacting with students showcases the relationships of people in that time period. There are still voices, whether it is the advocate at the beginning/end of the film and the interviewees describing their experiences, but that is only half of the experience.
As a young woman in America, I am personally disgusted by the way men in power are so quick to brush off serious problems such as sexual assault. Women are constantly perceived as “crazy” or “hysterical” in the eyes of men, and in the hearings done recently between Kavanaugh, a nominee for the Supreme Court Justice and Dr. Christine Basley Ford. Looking at the photograph below, a woman is looking at a panel full of men, who probably do not believe her and even if they do, they do not care. It shows a sign of bravery and sign of strength because she is facing all of them head on at once and is not afraid to come out with the truth. Coles in his novel, Doing Documentary Work, states, “These pictures remind us, yet again, that tragedies have a way of becoming contagious, that one of them can set in motion another” (p. 113). With the hearings going viral, it is important, now more than ever, to speak up, take a stand, and listen to women who are subject to these problems every day. I have never felt more unsafe, especially as a woman going on twenty, in my own country. These officials are so quick to make excuses that put the victims at fault, whether it has to do with their clothing or state of mind, rather than looking at their own behavior and assessing it. I really hope that one day, I can walk in whatever outfit I want, whenever I want, however I want, while feeling safe and protected. I really hope that one day, I won’t feel the need to carry pepper spray in my purse. I really hope that one day, women will be respected and listened to the same way that these men are.
Ford’s hearing is compared to the statue of the young girl and the bull in New York City. Both women are standing tall and fearless against their assaulter/predator, ready to face the issue head on. However, in the picture below, Kavanaugh is sitting, surrounded by women who definitely are not happy, yelling and looking immature. He looks afraid because for once, he is being targeted instead of laying low like other sexual assaulters do.
“Engaging in documentary study challenges others to follow suit, to do their share in taking the measure, for good and bad, of our nation’s twentieth-century fate” (p. 114).
I admire Christine Basley Ford. I believe her and the other women who have came forward about their experiences. I care about what happened to them and want to make things right. But most importantly, I listened, and that’s the biggest problem in this country. We do not listen, we are too busy thinking of what we are going to say next.
One of the main things that Robert Coles (1997) talked about in his novel, Doing Documentary Work, was the idea of location. Location in documentary work refers to the documentarian’s or the subject’s upbringing, language, past experiences and privileges. Bill Nichols’s (2001) article, “Introduction to Documentary,” explained the responsibilities a filmmaker had to take on and the moral ethics they needed to respect in order to do justice to the film and their subjects. Elizabeth Barret’s (2000) documentary, Stranger With A Camera, dealt with the murder of Hugh O’Connor, a documentarian, committed by Hobart Ison, a proud resident of Jeremiah, Kentucky.