Diving Into Documentary Production

Diving into documentary production is like diving into the ocean. It’s breathtakingly beautiful, but you can easily drown in it.

A year ago today I said goodbye to my family to spend 2 1/2 months in Guatemala producing Becoming Fools. At the time, I was anxious to get to Guatemala to start capturing the story. I had been directing the production from the US for a couple months and that proved to be quite frustrating. Every day there was a new conflict and obstacle that seemed to distract forward momentum. At least that’s what it felt like, because bad news travels fast – especially when you are trying to do something good. So, I hopped on a plane to dive into this film and immerse myself in something I felt called to do.

Saying goodbye to my son to go to Guatemala for 2.5 months to produce Becoming Fools.

I thought my presence in Guatemala would somehow bring continuity to production. I thought that things would be easier once I was physically in the country. But, I thought wrong. Proximity to conflict doesn’t give you any advantage to control it. It wasn’t any easier. It was just a different kind of difficulty – and in many ways, even more difficult. I was simply closer to the waves that kept crashing down on everything and was quickly carried out to sea just like everyone else. But I know two things about waves that also hold true for documentary film production:

  1. Don’t fight the current
  2. Never swim alone

Charles Dickens was onto something when he wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …” That prophetic description held true for the Becoming Fools production. It was grueling. It was stressful. It was absolutely heart wrenching at times. But, it was also one of the most joyful times of my life. I locked arms with close friends and purposefully dove into the crushing breakers with them because we believed in something greater than ourselves. We were all swept away by the crashing waves and pushed beyond our comfort zones. But somehow, “together was better” because we weren’t swimming alone. It was this community – this mutual trust and interdependency that gave us confidence to keep going in the face of enormous adversity. We all dove in together.

This is what you call irony – because in reality, none of us knew how to swim in the first place.

None of us had the capacity to accomplish the goal. All of us had failed at some point. We weren’t the dream team and at times it felt like a real nightmare. But somehow our group of incapable individuals was made capable, because it was called together by the One who makes all things possible. In this calling, my incapacity gives someone else strength … and vice versa, when we are committed to each other in the collaborative process.

But working together it isn’t easy. It’s ugly and full of dysfunction in the process. We all make mistakes at times and hurt each other in ways that would seem to prevent anything from being accomplished. A group of frightened people climbing on each other, gasping for air to survive in a surging tide will almost certainly drown each other. But we have a life raft if we will choose the right perspective. Somehow over the long run, the ugliness cancels itself out in a beautiful algebraic expression of grace, if the equation is built on a constant of God’s love. That love makes up for our mistakes and turns our pride of self ambition into a sacrifice for others. Thankfully, that love is a life raft big enough for all of us.

I dove into the ocean of documentary production hoping to make a difference in the lives of youth living in the streets. I’ve spent the last year being tossed around by a current I cannot control, and I still have no idea where it’s taking me. But, with help from my fellow fools, I’ll keep holding on to this life raft of love that transforms an ocean filled with broken people into an ark of redeeming grace, capable of bringing hope to distant shores.

 

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More Than A Trophy

We gained more than a trophy at the Omaha Film Festival.

Despite a total white-out blizzard, the turnout was pretty decent. Over 50 students, teachers, filmmakers, parents, grandparents, friends and family braved the snow to experience Becoming Fools in Omaha. We learned that there were at least another 100 people who planed to come, but couldn’t due to the snow. Ironically, Omaha enjoyed 60 degree weather every day prior to the Becoming Fools screening. That was an emotional hurdle, but we quickly accepted the fact that we don’t have any control over the weather.

The aftermath of the blizzard in Omaha, Nebraska.

I found myself at peace when the Becoming Fools title sequence began to play, despite knowing that the film was not yet entirely finished. There were still grammatical errors in the subtitles, audio in a few scenes needed to remixed, and none of the beautiful animation that our friend Beaux is working on, had been edited into the film. These things just couldn’t be finished in time for the screening. But in the scope of all the work already completed, these things were small – and hopefully, most people wouldn’t notice.

After the film ended I had the opportunity to answer questions from the audience. As a filmmaker, this is a golden opportunity to get feedback and gauge the impact. I was delighted to answer questions about the production and our motivation to produce the film. I even called attention to our son Micah as a visual aide, noting that children as young as him were living in the streets alone. I could sense the weight of this reality sinking in as members of the audience gasped and shook their heads in disbelief.

Our sons wearing clown noses at the Omaha Film Festival.

At one point, someone asked me if we had staged a specific scene in the film. I tried not to smile too much when I answered the question, because it was a legitimate thought. After all, the scene in question could seem “too good to be true”. I responded with something like,

“I know it could appear to good to be true, but in all honestly that is the way it happened. In fact, I wish I could have had some sort of control over the film, because I certainly would have done many things differently.”

But I didn’t have control … and I still don’t  (obviously – I mean … a blizzard on our screening day!) … and really … I will never have control.

The story captured and presented in Becoming Fools is an authentic depiction of chaos made beautiful by a God who knows a lot more, cares a lot more, and ultimately LOVES a lot more than I do. The film presents beautiful grace, but ultimately doesn’t end with everything wrapped in a bow. That simply isn’t reality. These kids are still living in the streets. Some of them are now purposefully in jail. Others have been admitted to the hospital for knife wounds. Their status has changed several times since we began post production, because that is the nature of life in the streets.

We hope to finish the film this month and begin planning a fall screening tour, but we don’t really have control over that either. We dug deep into savings to finish the film and don’t have the resources needed for a screening tour. But we trust that resources will be provided. We hope that others will choose to join us in Becoming Fools.

This journey has been chaotic and it’s been beautiful in the midst of chaos. We didn’t set out to tell this story because we knew how it would end. We simply felt called to authentically amplify the voices of these youth who live in the streets in the hopes that audiences would want to join the effort to make a difference. We didn’t win any awards at the Omaha Film Festival, but the audience affirmed our hope. Several people shared how the film inspired them to do something and engage the issue of at-risk youth. To us, that’s worth more than a trophy.


 

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