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January 06, 2007


Note: There's one more broadcast of Subdivided on PBS station KERA this Tuesday Jan 9 @ 11PM.

There's a criticism that has now reached the the status of a cliche of calling documentaries someone does not agree with "documentaries." It is put in quotes supposedly to imply that it is not a "real" documentary. A "real" documentary, if I can hazard a guess at what these people believe, is one that presents "facts" in a way that is agreeable to whatever political persuasion is acceptable to them. I've most often heard this leveled at Michael Moore's films from the right for example, though its also been leveled at conservative films from the left. The problem with this is that its yet another mechanism by which people are able to dismiss something by giving it a label - like calling someone liberal or conservative or whatever. Once labeled, they no longer have to deal with the subject or the person in any serious way. How convenient. They can ignore the arguments, the "facts," the research, hundreds of years of history, etc. How lazy. More importantly, they misunderstand documentary and non fiction film in a fundamental way.

They are assuming that actual Truth and therefore Objectivity can be embodied in language and media. Well, they can't, even if there were such things as "Truth" and "Objectivity." My working assumption is that there are only perspectives, and to pretend otherwise is dishonest or delusional. The worst kind of documentaries are the ones that do just that: they pretend to have presented everything fully and objectively. "Balanced." Well, balance itself is a matter of perspective. Just because there is an authoritative voice and a major news organization logo attached doesn't mean it's any less perspectival that a YouTube video. The "voice" of the film is a disembodied, corporate voice. It's daddy, or god, or whoever. Don't fall for it. See it for what it is. The problem with documentary is not that it is has an agenda and a perspective, it's that people - both viewers and producers - like to pretend that it doesn't.

In Subdivided, because its personal, each issue is distorted and magnified and colored through a lens. Some issues take on more prominence, others are not even present. This is done on purpose. The journalistic conceit of presenting "both sides" is not credible because not only are there an infinite number of sides on the on hand, there is often only one that matters. Slavery for example. And even if an attempt is made to present the major views on a subject, these are also relative to what is considered acceptable conversation and debate and is highly contextual. In many circles there are things you cannot talk about, assumptions you cannot question. That's not balanced or objective, and you see it every night on the evening news and every day in the papers.

So with all this in mind, Subdivided is consciously a personal perspective. It is a wash of images and views and ideas that have filtered through my head for three years and come out as a particular kind of statement. It's not intended to be comprehensive, completely logical, or bulletproof. If I wanted to attempt something like that I would have written a book (and it still wouldn't have been comprehensive, perfectly logical, or bulletproof!). Subdivided is a film essay. Of all the media pieces that I gathered, these are the ones that resonated with me and made, in my view and from my aesthetic, an interesting and pleasing sequence of images and sound.


Posted by Dean Terry at January 6, 2007 10:32 AM

I am Thunder. I put in the link for your documentary on FOL. Frisco is an extremely conservative town and I am a well known and somewhat controversial liberal on the forum. It’s quite possible that this alone is responsible for the heavily negative reaction as much as the content of the show itself. In fact, I’m surprised the thread wasn’t deleted by the forum owner since he is a popular real estate sales rep in town. If you follow the forum at all you quickly see that the Frisco dwellers staunchly defend their right to a Mc Mansion, the largest SUV they can find and a very conservative community.

I grew up in Europe and came to live here as a young woman. I spent the majority of my time living in Florida. We relocated to Frisco a few years ago for my husband’s job.
We live in a standard cookie cutter home in a subdivision built by a volume builder. I could touch my neighbor’s brick home by opening the window and extending my arm out. I have noticed the lack of concern that people exhibit, the coldness and the total lack of interest that have in their community. We have an HOA meeting twice per year, typically about 12% of the folks show up!

I am a walker and long distance runner. The sidewalks are practically non existent. The Mc Mansions are being built (I call them “Chậteaux de la Loire”) all over town. We live with mud, construction, barrels, traffic, cement, and very impatient people. The whole picture makes me want to take a deep breath, close my eyes and forget I live here!

I enjoyed your documentary very much. I am very glad you brought up this subject. I think it is crucial that people start to question their way of living and the impact it has on the environment.

Thank you so much.

Posted by: Anna at January 6, 2007 12:29 PM
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