Arriving at the Horizon: Finishing Editing & Plans for the Final Months
This time last year, Katy and I were planning the beginnings of the film, buying plane tickets, and working out a production and research calendar for the following months. It is somewhat unnerving to be approaching the year anniversary of heading out to El Paso to begin this adventure!
Revised plan for the project, and a new timeline
Our first and longest video will be focused on Lomas del Poleo and the testimony and lives of those residents who remain after many years of a complex and highly-contested land dispute. This film is interwoven into my independent study for the semester, and thus will be completed by the end of the semester (May 3).
With our footage from the north side of the border, we hope to add more short films to the two we currently have up from the summer about Ofelia and José. These snapshots (5-10 minutes) will paint a tapestry of life in the colonias, focusing especially on the efforts by community leaders to bring electricity and water to their communities. These short El Paso videos will be hopefully completed by the time we arrive in El Paso for our final visit in the end of June of this year.
Further reflections on editing
Since our final, vivid reflections on the production process, and our inspiring return in January to the El Paso / Ciudad Juárez region, we have been inundated with the rest of our lives: classes, internships, jobs, and the looming specter of graduation. Everything piles on, and different commitments shift around, float to the top, or are relegated to the miscellaneous corner of the mind (not entirely unlike our dining room table). Editing the film in a midst of this mess was both a challenge and a gift for me. The chunks of time necessary to re-immerse myself in the footage were scarce, and even when I did find the time to dedicate to editing and the study of documentary, I sometimes felt like a blind architect, wading through an unfamiliar process with very little guidance. In short, my lack of formal training in the art of documentary editing keeps me eternally humble. I have to give a shout out to the many online discussion boards that helped me find the right editing tool in Final Cut Pro, and want to thank Andréa Schmidt and Ellie Walton for their encouragement and incredibly helpful feedback. Both have also been there from the beginning of my interest in documentary film. Thanks, y’all!
Overall, I have been learning about the two main stages of constructing a video: building a narrative (what is being “said” by the piece – not only through the interviews and spoken content but also the images and moments of pause) and then – for lack of a better way to say it – making it beautiful. After telling the story with the most accuracy and completeness possible, you have to smooth out the edges of the narrative, and wade through footage for not only the most ‘accurate’ shot but also with the best composition or color or angle; a fleeting but illuminating portrait of a subject when they glance at the camera. It is subtle, time-consuming, and a lot of fun.
What about distribution?
Many people ask what we’re ultimately hoping to accomplish with the project. One important lesson that I learned from this work was to try to work backwards from this question, and yet also be flexible enough to arrive at a new answer. In our research process before production, we asked people from the area what they would like to see from these videos – what could potentially be accomplished? Residents prioritize the videos reaching the right audience: those who, on a local level, make decisions about colonias and could perhaps use further education on the communities they are being asked to serve. These kinds of bodies would include local city governments, community centers, advocacy non-governmental organizations, and academic departments that do research in colonias. Above all, we hope that the community partners in the films ultimately view the project as something relevant and useful, and thus a lot of our energy in June and beyond will be focused on a localized impact.
Beyond the local, we have also come to see how many of the stories of this project have great relevance to the United States and Mexico as communities: They not only speak to the experiences of the residents of colonias, but to the experience of poor, rural communities across the continent. In addition to having all of the material freely available online, we have mused about ways to make the contents of the film further accessible: We would like to find pieces that would work as short radio documentaries; we could transcribe much of the testimony to be published in written form; film stills could be a wonderful photography exhibit. Among the many beautiful things about video, the versatility of its original form, with layers of visuals and audio, is one of the things which most impresses me.