Gone Thispaper is about a documentary drama called “Gone”.
The film represents the traumaof loss and guilt. The short film is based on a true story, where a marriedcouple in Cairo, Egypt, Abdel Rahman and Lina, were on their way to celebratetheir first anniversary. Abdel Rahman was the one driving, and he was speeding,thus losing control over the car, and crashed.
The crash was devastating, and themarried couple were taken to the hospital. Abdel Rahman had multiple injuries, howeversurviving the crash, but Lina was announced dead due to the injuries beingfatal. Abdel Rahman lived in guilt and blaming himself, as he believes he killedher. “Gone” is a documentary drama that represents Abdel Rahman’s trauma. Inthis paper, I will be discussing the reasons of not making this story adocumentary, but a short film instead.
Thefilm starts by showing how the protagonist is celebrating his 5th anniversarywith his wife. It shows that he is in love with his wife, and how valuable shewas in his life. Then, the audience see that his wife is dead, and that he is traumatizedby her loss, and he blames himself for being responsible for her death. Cowie (2011) stated that adocumentary is an embodied storytelling, that provides the audience with visualsand sounds.
However, documentaries face problems between Epistemology and Ethicsespecially when there is a trauma presented. According to Piotrowska (2011), itis hard to tackle a trauma in a documentary because of the ethical implicationof what might happen to any of the subject if they had to re-live their traumain order to tell the story. “Is the element of exploitation a necessary evil inthese encounters, or are there ways that can minimize the emotional impacts ofrepetition of trauma for those who are called to speak up about theirsuffering?” (Piotrowska, 2011, p3). However, some people had different pointsof view.
The debate was divided into two points of view, according to Piotrowska(2011), the two camps about the relation between epistemology and ethics, someargues that getting the testimony is the more important than any possible ethicalimplication, but the other camp conversely advices caution at best when itcomes to sensitive topics, as it might cause harm and suffering to thesubjects. I’ve decided to use fictionalcharacters to present Abdelrahman’s story in “Gone”, as not to cause harm tothe participant. There was another method to get the testimony, which is tointerview him, and ask him about his feelings about this, but this would riskputting the subject in harm, as this might make him re-live the trauma. Anexample of subjects suffering from filmmakers is the documentary shoah (1985)made by Claude Lanzmann who forced Abraham Bomba, a barber from Treblinka, whowas forced to shave the female inmates in nazy camps before they were sent tothe gas chambers.
Lanzmann interviewed Bomba, and Bomba becomes emotional andrefuses to continue the testimony, as he was hurt and devastated by the traumahe had experienced, and re-living such trauma causes him harm. However,Lanzmann kept pushing Bomba to continue the testimony by telling him “You know wehave to do it”. This scene raised many ethical questions as Alan Rosenthal(1988 & 2005) mentioned that a filmmaker should always make sure not toexploit or disrespect his subjects and treat them in a way that would not causeany harm or suffering. On the otherhand, Omer Fast’s film “5,000 feet is best” (2011) tackled a trauma withoutharming the subjects. The film is about a drone operator whose job is to kill.The operator is seduced by the technological sophistication of the drone,however not realizing that this drone is a killing machine.
Fast didn’t breakany ethical code with his film although he was tackling a sensitive subject.The reason behind it was choosing not to show it as a documentary, but rather afiction, while he blurred the operator’s face giving him more freedom for histestimony. Fast didn’t record all the information, however he used many informationthat he gained from the operator offline.
This made the operator to open up to Fasteasier without any pressure. “Fast’s decision to abandon the documentary modeof representation therefore frees him to create a text which is both powerfuland truthful, painful and ethical”. (Piotrowska, 2016, p14).
In “Gone”, I didn’t want to breakany ethical code by putting my subjects into any harm, however, the story hadto be told. What were my options into getting the testimony without harming thesubjects? Krzysztof Kie?lowski stated in (1992) that there are somestories that documentaries shouldn’t attempt to tell. Things that are tootraumatic or intimate should either be left alone, or left to fiction. Accordingto Kie?lowski statement, I’ve made “Gone” a fiction. “Waltz with Bashir”(2008) by Ari Folman tackled a sensitive and a traumatic events, capturing the Lebanese– Israeli war in 1982. Folman decided to tell the story using animation, thisgave a powerful effect to the story, however staying ethical, and not showinghorrific footage to the audiences. Viljoen (2013) stated that in animation the audiencedoes not expect there to be any reference in the real world except the story initself.
The audience would understand that they wouldn’t face a crucial footage.A trauma occurs when a personexperiences a traumatic event that causes a psychological, emotional, physical,or spiritual harm. The traumatized person may not know how to respond, or wouldstay in denial for the event. According to Meiselman (1990), atraumatized person may usually have strong reactions emotionally, get a sudden dramaticmood change, denial, depression, the fear of the trauma happening once more, andother physical symptoms such as nausea and headaches. Some traumas are moresevere on specific people than others, Meiselman added. A traumatized personshould seek professional help when experiencing emotional outbursts, aggressivebehavior, or continued obsession with the traumatic event. The reason for me to work on “Gone”is due to the feel the need to tell the story of losing a loved one, and howthat can cause trauma.
The subjective reason for choosing such a topic, isbecause I’ve personally experienced losing a loved one. In “Gone” the protagonist starts bysaying “happy fifth anniversary my dear”, which indicates that he celebrated theanniversary 4 previous times, however, according to what actually happened, thewife died in the first anniversary. This raises the question of how he iscelebrating the fifth anniversary? This shows that he repeats the same eventover and over, which is a sign that he is facing a trauma. In the psychoanalysisof Sigmund Freud, Afterwardsness (nachträglichkeit) is an effect from a traumathat occurred to the person in the past.
It is linked with repetition, as Freudmentioned that what can’t be remembered is repeated. We then see that the protagonist’sglass is stained with blood. The blood comes from his hand, as this shows that heis hurting himself. According to Prigerson (1997) a trauma of guilt usuallycomes with self-harm, as the patient is punishing himself for what he has done.
The protagonist show that his hand is bloody, this is a reference that he feelguilty as the phrase is “There is blood on his hand”. This shows that he feelsthat his wife’s death is on him. When the protagonist says “because you weregone” we find that the 180-degree line is broken, and he becomes on the leftside of the screen. This is symbolic, as before he says “because you were gone”audience would believe that the protagonist is on a date, and his wife issitting in front of him, however, when the camera turns and show that the chairis empty, this is when everything changed. It also serves the story, as he wastelling their story before she died, but then when she died, his life turnedupside down. We will also notice that his glass is broken. This symbols abroken promise, because he said that he promised that as long as she is withhim, she is in safe hands, then she died on his hands, thus he broke hispromise. We see that in the film, everything is black, even he is wearingblack, and we could barely see his body.
This shows how he sees the world,black. It also takes us inside of the protagonist’s head. The reason we barelysee his body, is to just see his head and hands most of the time. Seeing hishead symbols that what is going on is happening in his mind, and seeing hishands symbols his actions. Lastly, the shot when he was seen behind the chair symbolizedhim being trapped in his own mind. Ethical codes were followed duringthe make of the film, as no names appeared in the film or pictures of thesubject affected by the incident. The reason for not showing the subjectsinvolved in the story, is because the event is traumatic, thus might have negativeimpact on them, such as re-living the trauma.
As Žižek (2009) stated, thatthere are some topics that are better to be avoided, because talking about itwill necessarily bring pain and suffering to the subject, thus violating ethics.This was the first reason why I didn’t risk my subjects to re-live their trauma.On the other hand, I didn’t present any real pictures of the accident or themarried couple in the car crash, as this would be disrespectful for the wife,as she is dead, and it may offend her family and friends. On the other hand,the husband feels guilty for what he has done, so as many people who feelguilty would do, he might be afraid to go live and tell his story, as he isashamed of what he did. In the editing process, I’ve madesure that the story would go chronologically. The reason for doing so, is to tellthe story on how the protagonist saw it.
There were many decisions made duringediting aiming to share the experience of what is going on inside the protagonist’smind. This was applied by darkening the scenes, as it shows that his mind isfull of darkness. Also, there are many jump cuts during the editing, and thatis to show his state of mind not being stable. In the editing, I’ve decided notto show who is sitting in front of him on the table, as audience would normallythink that he is celebrating the anniversary with his wife. Later in the film, whenhe says that she was gone, the audience would understand that he wasn’t talkingto anyone this whole time.
I wanted to show that he was lying in empty space, hewas alone in the world after her death. The scene is meant to resemble what’sinside of his mind, and what was inside, was nothingness. Some of the challenges faced duringproduction included the lighting.
I wanted to give a romantic, yet dark setting.Usually I would adjust the exposure in the camera to get a darker feel to thefilm, however, when I did that, the flame on the candle didn’t look as if itwas lit and emitting light. The candle light killed the mood instead.
I had tore-adjust the lights in the location in order to brighten the exposure in thecamera enough in order for the candle to lit in the scene. Another problemfaced during production was that the microphones available to record the voiceon had a very poor quality. I had to get the microphone as close as possible tome, otherwise it would capture too much noise. In many shots, I wasn’t able tohave the microphone close enough, or pointed directly at me.
I’ve overcame thisby hiding the microphone from the frame as much as possible, and then in thepost production, I’ve enhanced the audio and removed the noise completely toget a clear voice and sound effects. Another problem faced was that the bloodstain wasn’t visible on the glass. I had to remake the fake blood to be thickerin order to be clearly visible on the glass, and in the editing, I’ve increasedthe saturation of the color with an unnoticeable amount, to keep the same lookof the film, in order to make the blood stain on the glass easily recognizableand visible by the audience. This experience taught me manythings. Most importantly, to have a freedom of speech, and to tackle any topicno matter how sensitive it is, but to handle it ethically without harminganyone from the subjects or audiences. I’ve covered what my project was about,discussed the difficulties of talking about trauma in documentary, as the epistemologyand ethics may contradict each other in many situations, however mostimportantly, how to overcome this conflict ethically. I’ve mentioned otherfilmmakers who faced the same ethical dilemma, and how they’ve approached it.
Myproject tackles a traumatic event that caused the protagonist to have a traumaof loss and guilt. I’ve explained how trauma occurs, its effects, and how tohandle them in a film. Then I’ve demonstrated how I approached my project interms of symbols and decisions taken. I’ve learned from the challenges faced,and I knew how to overcome it.
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