Tuesday, 1 October 2013
This short film shows Julia Wilson and her daughter Elizabeth. Julia had Motor Neurone disease, and was filmed with her family as part of the A Graceful Death Project. The film will be shown at the Brighton and Sussex Medical School on 3rd October when Antonia Rolls gives a presentation on the A Graceful Death project as part of the the school's medical ethics programme.
We made this film at the start of June: Julia was keen to take part in A Graceful Death and the filming was brought forward because her condition was deteriorating rapidly. We see her struggling to form words: shortly after this date it became impossible for her to do so. It is desperately painful to watch Julia's struggle, and her and her family's situation was almost unbearably sad. But I think this work is more than just sad - it represents a profound gift: a gift from a mother to her daughter, and to us.
Julia wanted to make the film in part because she was worried about her children and how they were coping. Julia's role in the family as mother was to soothe troubled souls, to nurture and manage and soften the jagged edges of life. One of the most difficult aspects of her diagnosis for her to bear was that she couldn't fill that role in the way she once had. She felt helpless watching her family, and in particular her children, struggle. I think she was very aware of the dangers of things unsaid, and the potential for unspoken words to haunt the children in future years. She used the filming to help her daughter give voice to some of her deepest worries, to help her face her fears, and to make sure that the most important things didn't go unsaid until it was too late. Painful as it is I think it was a very profound gift, a gift of strength and deep love.
And for those of us who are not her family but had the privilege to meet her, I think Julia helps us see how to deal with some of the most difficult things in life. And how do you do that? Well, I think you just do it: you put one metaphorical foot in front of the other, face forward and do your best. There is no need to pretend not to be frightened or sad, but nor is there much room for indulgence. If Julia can cope with what must surely be one of the most terrible conditions anyone can suffer from, maybe there is hope for the rest of us too. I feel honoured to have met Julia and her family.
I'm shortly going to a see two exhibitions looking at photography and representations of motherhood and may return again to Julia's story after that.
It feels almost wrong to talk about technical details in this context, but film is a highly complex process and the most powerful works of film art involve considerable craft as well as artistry. There will come a time where I don't explore how I've made work but I am still at an early stage on this learning curve and want to note what I've done and learned for my own benefit and that of any fellow travellers.
The Wilson living room presented many sounds challenges - most notably the huge tropical fish talk in the corner. I have managed to room a good deal of background hum from this clip, making voices a little clearer. However I haven't yet found a way to reduce the high pitched sound of the fish tank. I had two microphones during filming and have an additional audio layer with the microphone nearer to Julia and Barry, and I hope in due course add that into the mix with the aim of enhancing the voices further. I think there is quite a lot more that could be done to improve the sound of the film: that is currently well outside my technical knowledge but I will return to this again. I am very interested in the sound of film and can see how making good sound can be an art in its own right and would like in due course to explore this further.
Colour and light
Adobe Speedgrade defeated me (another learning curve ahead), so I relied on Premiere Pro's three way colour corrector for colour/light improvements. I know that I wanted to make the overall scene a little lighter and to slightly suggest a sense that things were at an edge, the edge of fading away, of the end of breath. The original scene had quite a lot of yellow in skin tones and walls and I wanted to remove this but without making a cold image. I moved the highlights and midtones a little towards red while at the same time lightening and desaturating a little. I darkened the blacks so some contrast was retained. Overall I wanted a very subtle effect so that the toning isn't the first thing you notice but that it impacts on a subliminal level.
Overall, I'm not unhappy with where I got to. I know that there is considerable room for improvement but feel that I got part of the way to where I wanted to be.
Something seems to have happened in processing the final film so that there is a slight loss of definition and sharpness. I don't think it's simply a consequence of uploading the video: I have a nagging feeling that somewhere in the workflow of codex and output options I made a small miss-step. It's relatively subtle but there is some overall loss of quality: I will look again at my overall workflow.
Posted by Eileen Rafferty at 20:33