The documentary mode of an autobiographical film often explores the intricacies of the filmmaker’s experience and perspective. This mode in particular doesn’t find itself restrained by a set of common aesthetics, styles, structures, or methods. Instead, it can be found in other modes such as the performative, participatory, even observational documentary. Archival footage is likewise used a times. The autobiographical film is very telling about who the filmmaker is, as they become just as much a subject of the film as those depicted. These films serve as an account of the individual’s life. Autobiographical films, whether explicitly depicted or not, are nearly all very telling of who the filmmaker is; many are about the filmmaker and the subject; they can also depict the filmmaker’s personal perspective in very insightful ways.
Autobiographical films are not only about the individual subjects portrayed. Very often, this documentary mode explores the relationship the subject shares with the filmmaker. One such example comes from Deborah Hoffmann’s Complaints of a Dutiful Daughter. It is a powerful film where Deborah plays a key role in the narrative. As Nichols describes, Deborah’s “presence takes on a highly personal and sometimes poignant quality…[as she] struggles to cope with her mother’s descent into dementia…” (Nichols 142). She explores her personal feelings with regard to what her mother is facing and as a result, the film becomes a powerful reflection of the experience through Deborah’s eyes. Similarly, Allen Berliner’s film Nobody’s Business, about his father is notably dependent on Allen’s persistence to make the film. The film is an exploration of their relationship together and their paralleled stubborn natures. Many autobiographical narratives rely on the filmmaker’s presence and perspective, especially in relation to the other subjects involved.
Likewise, another common characteristic of autobiographical narratives is the influence and manifestation of the filmmaker’s perspective and experience on the film. Nichols describes it aptly when he explains that autobiographical films illustrate a “personal account of someone’s experience, maturation, or outlook on life” (Nichols 107). One prime example of such a portrayal is in Nanfu Wang’s I Am Another You. BYU recently experienced the unique privilege of having Nanfu Wang on campus, where she addressed the Media Arts program on a number of occasions. In relation to her documentary film I Am Another You, Nanfu explained that it wasn’t long into the film that she realized her key role in the film and how her personal perspective drove the narrative. It was her fascination with freedom that led her to depicting Dylan and his exploration of living such a carefree, transient life. The filmmaker’s perspective is explored in autobiographical films, and this often leads to powerfully thoughtful narratives.
My autobiographical documentary, Inseparable, is a profoundly meaningful film to me about my relationship with my twin sister Lindsey. As is seen in autobiographical documentaries, my voice and perspective as both a filmmaker and subject are poignant and clear as my spoken word guides the narrative. I play just as vital of a role in the film as Lindsey does. Likewise, the film, filled with archival footage, is very much what Nichols describes of being a personal account of my experience with Lindsey and our maturation together (Nichols 107). The film ends with a few shots of just Lindsey, each a clear depiction of my perspective of how I see and know her. These are prominent in their purpose and meaning as I reflect on my relationship with her and how much she means to me. Even the final shot of the film, of Lindsey turning around and my running up to her all depict in a very significant way my feelings regarding the topic, our relationship, and our approaching separation in life. The film, being autobiographical, is as a whole very noteworthy in its exploration of my experience being a twin alongside Lindsey, the feelings we have, and our sentiments regarding the future.
Autobiographical films regularly explore the filmmaker’s perspective in relation to their topic and the individual subjects within the film. They are powerful manifestations of who the filmmaker is and how they think. With the aid of archival footage, autobiographical documentaries depict the filmmaker’s experience. Whether autobiographical films state so or not, they are often very telling of who the filmmaker is, what their relationship is with the subject, and what their various perspectives are in life.
Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington Ind: Indiana University Press, 2001. Print.