Priyanka Maharaj

Finding Inspiration : For Debbie


Finding inspiration for any project often requires to look upon existing pieces of work. In search for inspiration and often watching many documentaries I thought would influence me due to their credible directors often wasn’t the case; Michael Moore’s documentaries being among them. Surprisingly, well too me at least, it was the documentaries I watched purely out of pleasure that in turn turned on the lightbulb in my mind.

The first documentary being based on one of my favourite Australian football players;  Slammin’ Sam: The Sam Burgess Story (2013). This documentary was created by first time director and producer, Ryan Smith. As generic his name may sound, his work is far from the ordinary. Yes, there have been many sporting legends who’s stories have been engraved into documentary history; Muhammed Ali, Senna, Pele and many more. Whilst all of those documentaries provided an inside look into the lives of their subject, its the Sam Burgess story that I felt a personal connection with. Smith is able to capture a very genuine side of Sam that isn’t often portrayed in the media. The audience gains insight into just how hard Sam works to be one of the best, you gain a great understanding of his personality and character, through his interactions with family, friends and fans. The story structure is chronological also leaving the audience with a clear picture of who Sam Burgess is; setting up his rise to fame from his childhood to now. What I particularly admire is that Smith has been able to incorporate interviews with family/friends/teammates into the documentaries so seamlessly and what we learn about Sam Burgess through them is far more important and interesting than having Sam himself tell us. The documentary completely revolves around Sam and his story, it is narrated by Sam himself and he very much motivates the story which I really liked about this documentary. The interview styles feel personal and unique and only add to Sam’s character and what makes his such a great footballer. I love the interview with Sam’s mum in the beginning in which she says “Sam.. I don’t want to say was an ugly baby,” and “he didn’t start walking until later and when he did his first action was to go a kick a ball… his first words weren’t ‘Mom’ or ‘Dad’ it was ‘Ball’.”  The interviews are so personal and you can tell that Smith had created great relationships with all subjects in which he was able to get some great grabs. All these techniques and the nuances within the film left feeling like Sam was my “friend,” which I only hoped to translate with my story idea. After seeing this documentary, I wanted to make my project as warm, sweet and personal; I too wanted the audience to feel as though they could be inspired by my documentary subject.

The final documentary that I watched which evoked a form of endearment and at passion that which I wished to translate in my documentary was by Youtube content creator JacksGap and his documentary series, Following Heart – The Humanitarian. The subject matter was related to my idea about a big hearted humanitarian. A participatory documentary that brakes the forth wall and creates a highly engaging and intriguing story. The story itself follows the work of Ashley Washburn a woman in Tanzania that is making a change to the education system there. What I love about this creator is how he has put thought into the visual style of the doco; prying away from conventional interview lighting, creating lovely contrasting images and utilising the limited resources available. Jack, the creator, not only portrays the subjects personality but his relationship with the subject, without straying away from the documentary subject.  The documentary had such a small crew with the director being sound and DOP, but he manages to create well thought out and interesting story. What I find interesting is that unlike the Sam Burgess this story doesn’t go into discovering the backstory of the subject but we as the audience create a connection to the subject. This documentary creates a sense of joy and passion within me which I hope to evoke in my audience.

You can find inspiration in places you least expect; you may need to do a little searching. Small budget, big budget, big crew, small crew; in the world of documentary film making its not about what you are given such as money or resources, it’s about what you create with what you have.

References –

Following Heart: The Humanitarian –

JacksGap Blog Post; Making of –

Ryan Smith IMDB –

Slammin’ Sam: The Sam Burgess Story –

Sports Documentaries –

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