From Documentary to Fiction and Back

From Documentary to Fiction and Back

From Documentary to Fiction and Back Mieke Bal & Michelle Williams Gamaker Beginning with Documentary   In 2002 we encountered a situation that demanded action – cinematographic action, that is. The neighbour of one of us, an undocumented immigrant in France, suddenly found himself being treated unfairly by such an anonymous power as juridical bureaucracy. He didn’t know where to turn. It all got sorted, but while it was happening, a bunch of friends tried to find solutions to an impossible situation. We decided the best thing we could do was bear witness. We got together to film both the frustrating and anxiety-raising situation and the festive aftermath, when it had all been resolved. Five of us, all more or less beginners in the documentary-making trade, formed a collective we called Cinema Suitcase – an appropriate name since the topic of this first film was what we came to call “migratory culture.” We set out to make a documentary based on the culmination of a story full of trauma and shock, the memories of which impinged on the joyful outcome: the wedding celebration. But how do you document the inner truths of memory, where memory is notoriously the biggest liar of all? The first thing we ran up against was the question of narrative voice. From our perspective, the film was so closely situated in inseparably overlapping cultures that it seemed impossible to “give” it a single voice – to attribute, implicitly or explicitly, the narrative to a single speaker. Instead, the story asked to be multi-voiced. Yet, for potential viewers it was precisely that situatedness and the resulting...