The Documentary Impulse

I’ve been making films since I was in high school, but it wasn’t until I had been out of college for a couple of years that I moved into making documentaries, which is the mode of production I have stayed with for the past 20 years. This week, on Saturday, October 11 at 4 p.m., I will be presenting some examples of my work and talking about my ever-evolving process of becoming a documentary filmmaker at the AMP Gallery in Provincetown (148 Commercial St.)

I initially agreed to do something there, at the prompting of gallery owner Debbie Nadolney, because I was stuck with a project I’ve been working on since 2010 and I thought the looming deadline would work to force me out of my rut.

It worked….somewhat.

I knew the deadline would not make me actually complete the film, but have done a lot more work on it in the past three months than I had for the whole year prior. My subject is Joel Connolly, an eccentric recluse here in Brewster to whom I was introduced about 14 years ago by my father-in-law Dave, who really admired him. Joel dropped out of society in the early 1970s, when I was a toddler. He settled into his family’s home here on Cape Cod, ripped out the electricity, kept animals and grew a garden for food, in addition to salvaging roadkill, and has lived without any income for close to 40 years, only recently able to file for social security in his early 80s.

My work as a documentary filmmaker has always revolved around trying to find out about something foreign to me. My first documentary explored the notion that women working in the sex industry could also be feminists; my second feature-length doc was Women of Faith, which explored the decision to remain actively engaged in the Catholic Church despite its outdated, misogynist policies through interviews with nuns, former nuns, and a Roman Catholic womanpriest; and the commissioned short Out of Service (my favorite, by the way) explored the forgotten landscape of the North Truro Air Force Station, which was abandoned to the Cape Cod National Seashore in the aftermath of the Cold War.

In Erik Barnouw’s seminal text on documentary history: Documentary, he puts forth several types of documentary impulses, from advocacy to poetry, observation to exploration, reportage to prophecy. All are valid and all have brilliant examples over the course of documentary film’s nearly 120-year history. My process falls somewhere between the impulse to document and explore and the impulse to make poetry.

If you’re in town, stop by the gallery. It’s a free and casual event and details can be found here.


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