Throughout the year, we’ll be featuring each of our Fellows as guest bloggers where they will share their thoughts on their films, filmmaking, or anything they think would be of interest to the documentary community. This month we hear from Felicia Barr who reflects on how to maintain momentum on a long-term documentary project.
by Felicia Barr
Momentum at the beginning of the New Year runs high in my household. Goals are set, the previous year's accomplishments and failures are reviewed, and optimism runs high. And, while it's always great to have that jumpstart of enthusiasm, maintaining it can sometimes be a challenge. I think that's why I'm most looking forward to this Fellowship Program. When motivation starts to lag, I have a community that can spur me on, and enable to move past some of my own self-created obstacles.
I've been working on this documentary project for a few years now. While, at times, shooting has been erratic due to personal and professional obligations at home, the desire to see it finished has never waned. This will be my first documentary, and my first video project that is longer than five minutes!
A little background: Matthew Mitchell, an artist living in Amherst, MA, wanted a way to connect to a distant and extended conflict: the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every day he heard it reported in the media, but his understanding and connection to the information was tenuous. He began a journey to better understand war with a single portrait: a posthumous image of a soldier who committed suicide due to PTSD after returning from deployment. He reached out to the soldier's family, and they shared stories of their son, his life, and shared words of his experience at war. It was a profound experience for him, and he knew it was the start of something bigger.
That first portrait spawned the “100 Faces of War Experience” series, 100 portraits of a cross-section of the Americans who went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Demographically reflective of the Armed Services, and including five portraits of civilians involved in the conflict, and 10 posthumous portraits, to reflect the percentage of soldiers killed overseas. For ten years, Matthew worked on these images, inviting participants into his home and studio to talk to them and paint their portrait. It was an incredibly intimate experience, and many were able to share things with Matthew that they had not been able to share, even with their own families.
Below is a short piece I produced for the BBC as I work on my longer documentary.
His dedication to this work, and the responses of the participants, their families and friends, and the public, has been profound. Last year, the complete series of portraits was displayed for the first time together at the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago on Veteran's Day. Watching soldiers and their families see the portraits and read the personal statements, one could see so much recognition in their faces, recognition of the experiences the people in the portraits faced. I think it's hard not to appreciate work like that, work that speaks to something personal, but also universal.
When I'm feeling my momentum run low, and when I get bogged down in my day-to-day, or scared by the size of this undertaking, I'll need to be reminded to think back to that moment last year, watching people in the gallery. Or I just go to Matt's website and look through the faces again, reading their words for the millionth time, because, frankly, they always move me, and remind me why I want to finish what I started.