Saturday, April 9, 2011

Behind the camera lens

Today was filming day at the nursing home.

Marije was feeling sick, so Thorsten and I made the trip by ourselves. We first went to Birger's house, then got in his car with him and drove to "Caritas," the place where his wife has been living since 2009.

I told you in my last post that I stress about getting great shots. I always get anxious before going to a shoot because I tend to want to capture ever single thing I see! I always want to make sure that we have enough images to put over our voices and that what I film is done at the perfect angle with the perfect lighting with the perfet sound bites...haha, I guess perfection is impossible. (Hugo calls me "Polanksi" for ignoring this fact.) Still, whenever I have the camera in my hands, I get in the zone - in the deepest sense of the phrase - and just keep my eyes on the view finder as I attempt to grasp a story visually.


The shots we got were great.

I wanted to get more sequences of Birger doing things in his house. It couldn't have worked out more perfectly. He offered to show me around. He let me linger in each room to film the details on the shelves. He even walked out his front door twice for me so I could film it from different angles. I was pretty satisfied when we got in his car to proceed to the second part of the shoot. I felt confident that we had some good images to work with when it came time to edit.

But then we actually got to Caritas....I really don't think I'll need many of those pictures of Birger's house.

We weren't allowed to film any patients other than Annette, (Birger's wife), so Thorsten and I waited in a little common space inside the building while we waited for Birger to go get her. That was a hard moment as a journalist. Here we were, surrounded by SO many great visuals for our story, but we weren't allowed to record any of it. Honestly! I completely understand the ethical ramifications of my craft, but saying "NO FILMING ALLOWED" to a journalist with a camera is like denying a young child a piece of their birthday cake.

"Calm down Kimberly," I said to myself. "There is time. There will be shots."

About 5 minutes later, Birger came into the rom with Annette on his arm. We had attached a wireless microphone to him before we left his house, so today wasn't really about conducting any formal interviews. We wanted to just let him walk around and talk to his wife and let the natural sound speak for itself.

I switched into work mode.

I got an establishing shot of Annette's name tag beside her door. I filmed the two of them standing inside her room. I got a close-up of Birger helping her put on her coat. I put the camera on the floor to get a POV shot as the couple walked down the long corrider to the door outside. I even stuck the camera into the crocusses to get a more interesting perspective of them as they looked at them.

The whole time, they were indeed communicating with each other, but Annette was just repeating the same sound the whole time. It sounded kind of like, "Nye Nye Nye Nye." Her face looked distraught...really gray....there was an deep melancholy to her eyes. But she held her husband's hand when he took hold of it, and at one point, she smiled! - and he smiled! - as they hugged each other!

A few times however, she would just leave Birger and walk aimlessly down the hallway.

"She's just forgotten about me!" Birger said, waving his arms up in the air.

But he didn't say that with sadness. It was said more out of frustration and bewilderment, with a tone of defeat. He told me that you have to get used to that feeling...the realization that someone with Alzheimer's WILL forget you - if you want to be able to cope. I asked him some more questions.

"Is this how all your visits are with her?"

"She used to be so smart...I can't understand what she says."

"How do you feel right now?"

"Sad. I feel sad."

He didn't need much prompting to speak. At one point, he just started talking to me. To keep his words workable for our story, I held the camera with one hand and had him look at my other hand a I filmed, as if he were talking to an interviewer. Thorsten stayed in the common space, so I instead had Birger pretend he was there. He started to speak in English, but I interrupted him and told him he could continue in Danish if he wanted.

The whole thing felt really fake and constructed, but he was saying some golden quotes and I wanted to be able to use them in our story.

Over the course of the shoot, Annette, Birger and I went outside and inside and I, with my camera, zoomed in and out and up and down and I never took my eyes off the view finder. I also never stopped recording since Birger had the wireless mic on him. I wanted to get every sound bite we could.

After about half an hour, I decided it was ok to press stop.

I took off my headphones and told Birger he could take off his microphone.

I'm not sure if I was expecting it, but that's when all the emotion I had just supressed for the last 30 minutes came out.

Yes, I felt some sadness when I was filming Birger's eyes as he told me how sad he was while holding his wife, but I was too focussed on the lens on the camera, the angle of the shot and the stillness of my hands holding it to really hear what he was saying.

When the recording stopped, my earsw opened up. I was suddenly able to see the whole situation through my own eyes instead of the camera's.

I choked back tears as I thanked him.

I told him I couldn't thank him enough for being so open with us...for sharing a story that truly came from his soul. I told him that I wanted to tell it just as purely as he had told it to us and that it meant so much that he supported that.

He walked Thorsten and I downstairs to see us off. With tears in his eyes, he said something to Thorsten in Danish. Like yesterday, I didn't know what it meant, but I knew what it meant. We said thanks again, and he gave me a hug.

"Thorsten, I think we need to sit down for a second."

And then I just sat on a rock and cried. Sobbed, really.

I tried to figure out why I was so upset.

I knew a main reason was because this story has relevance in my own life.

My Nana has Alzheimer's. She's not in the final stage yet like Annette, but after getting lectured about the disease by a neurologist yesterday, I know she will be eventually...

That's a really scary thought. I know now what's happening in my Nana's brain, and there's no cure for it! It's so unsettling to picture her stuttering in the hallway of a nursing home in some years. I am dreading the day when she won't remember reading "Round the Back" to me at Christmas time. Maybe a time will come she won't even remember my name.

That is so mind-boggling to me. How is it possible that a person who has known me all my life will suddenly not know who I am??

So I cried about my connection with my Nana.

But I also cried about my connection with Birger and his wife.

I know I have no personal connection with Annette at all, and I just met Birger 2 days ago. But I think that may have been another reason I was so upset this afternoon:

Who am I to shove a camera into a stranger's face while he's holding his wife who doesn't even know who he is? What gives me the right to intrude on someone's deepest emotions to create a journalistic news piece?

After filming inside the nursing home, I felt like a vulture. I felt like I had manipulated Birger to make good TV - that I had just briefly walked in and out of a situation that has changed someone's life.

I remember being lectured back at Ryerson about Kevin Carter, a journalist who killed himself after taking a picture of a starving child sitting beside a vulture in Sudan. I know my situation is not nearly as intense as this, but I DO understand more now why he committed suicide. I think I feel just a small percentage about what Kevin felt after taking his picture, but it's a sensation that I have never felt before, and it took a big toll on my this afternoon.

But Thorsten said some good, true things that made it a little easier. (Thorsten is really great by the way. I'm excited for you to meet him when he comes to Toronto in the fall for exchange!)

Thorsten told me that Birger WANTS us to tell this story. He wants people to know about it, and that he believes it's pointless not to talk about his wife and what she and him have been through. We ARE doing this for a school assignment, but I know in my heart that we want something deeper out of this than just a good grade. We want to do Birger's story justice and transmit his raw emotion without twisting and turning what he wants to say.

Man. These last 3 days have been such a whirlwind! On Wednesday, we didn't even have a case study. Now, we have an intricate story that I have become emotionally attached to.

When Thorsten and I finally got back to school, I felt like I was on the low end of an adrenaline high. I could have actually fallen asleep across 3 of the swivelly black chairs in the classroom. But, this story is due on Monday. So I switched back into work mode. We uploaded the footage and started editing. It's 11:30 now, but in about 9 hours, we'll all be back at school in a race to meet our deadline.

I'll get you a link somehow to the final product!

Hmmmmmmmm I'm excited to get into bed in a few moments and just hug my pillow.

Big things on an April day.

I'll talk to you soon.

Sleep well tonight.

Remember to tell someone you love them!

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