Thursday, April 7, 2011

Found in translation

Marije, Thorsten and I had an interview today with a man named Birger (pronounced Bee-wa).

He's 62, he has receding orangey-brown hair and a scar above his left eye. He has an interesting energy to him - a very serene and charismatic presence that makes you feel like you've known him for years. His eyes are constantly smiling, and you can just tell that the lines on his face are the result of 101 stories.

Birger's wife has alheimer's disease.

For our 4th assignment, we have to tell an "eye-level" story, which means we have to explore a topic/present a problem, etc. through a case study. This type of reportage is more of an "inside-looking-out" story that focuses more on emotions instead of hard news story that is driven by facts.

Emotion is what we got today.

In the middle of the interview, when he was asked how he goes on with life with a wife who doesn't recognize him, Birger started tearing up. The line where his skin and eyes meet began to glisten in the hazy afternoon light coming in from the window across from him.

The same thing happened to me as I stood behind the camera, watching him break the deafening silence of the room with a cough as he searched for the words to say.

What was interesting was that I had no idea what he was saying. He had told us that he preferred to do the interview in his own language, so Thorsten conducted the interview in Danish. It was such a strange feeling, welling up with so much sympathy and sadness for Birger without even understanding his words.

I think that says a lot about human emotions. When you really feel something, you don't need words to describe it. Your tears, your laughs, your face just says it all.

Here was a man I had only met a few hours ago, opening up and telling us a story in the most genuine way. It was the stillness of the house...the life captured in the picture of him and his wife...his calm spirit that illustrated the story so purely. I didn't need english to comprehend what he was trying to say.

Before we left, Birger offered us coffee and ice cream, which we ate in a sun room filled with cool chairs and a vine overhead. But even with a stomach full of sweetness and the remains of lighter conversations, we still left feeling heavy and quite emotionally drained.

How do experienced journalists do this all the time? How do they shut off their emotions and just "do the job?" I can imagine that switching "on and off" like that would be exhausting. Then again, maybe it just becomes part of the routine of being a journalist...either way, THIS is the kind of journalism I want to pursue. I want to take the time to delve into stories with soul - the ones that affect you on a personal level.

We're going back to Birger's house on Saturday, and then to the nursing home with him to see him with his wife.

I often stress about getting the golden shots.

I hope what we film on the weekend captures the emotions we want to will be so cool if we can tell it as genuinely as it was told to us.

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