By Fatmir Terziu
The challenge of filming on the boat of Little Venice was interesting even though the difficulties were present from the beginning of our filming. Our big anxiety was that the male character was going to turn up on the first day of shooting on boat, and there would just be gridlock and we would be surrounded by tens of people travellers who would prevent us from shooting. Fortunately that didn’t happen, we very well planned it and our presence on the boat was as user-friendly as possible for the people who travelled with us during the shooting that day. I think they were genuinely exited about having us filming in their journey, so they were terrific in their response.Of course the first was the question about the idea for a documentary. The idea came true as a source of an inspiration from real life and real nature, travelling by boat. We had had what we thought was a great idea, and started to do research on it, or shoot some bits of things, and then we acknowledged that it was not at all the thing we should be doing. It is the fact that then we get desperate, worried, and finally after the storyboard and shooting schedule was made by us we figure out what it is we should be doing.
When it came to choosing the setting for this documentary, which was called Sentimental Journey, I looked no further than my own doorstep. As a resident of Little Venice I thought this vibrant suburb an ideal backdrop to this story set against early traditions of travelling by boat in London. Later we find that Little Venice is an extraordinary mixture of nature. It is rich and poor and English and International and it seemed like a proper and realistic place where two characters from different worlds could actually meet and coexist. That female character would be walking there along the river that the male character would live there and that might think it was a groovy place to dwell. Little Venice is a melting place to set a documentary.
Although excited by the location of the documentary, we were presented with the challenge of filming in such a beautiful area. To film in the real journey by boat gives a fantastic tone to the documentary film. The challenge of filming on the boat of Little Venice was interesting even though the difficulties were present from the beginning of our filming. Our big anxiety was that the male character was going to turn up on the first day of shooting on boat, and there would just be gridlock and we would be surrounded by tens of people travellers who would prevent us from shooting. Fortunately that didn’t happen, we very well planned it and our presence on the boat was as user-friendly as possible for the people who travelled with us during the shooting that day. I think they were genuinely exited about having us filming in their journey, so they were terrific in their response.
It was a mammoth task. We couldn’t just go in and shoot and come out we where everywhere. In thinking about this documentary, we felt that something needed to be said about the feelings of the main character in the Sentimental Journey. Being a single man he travels in this journey to find his dream love. We were thinking that we would do a film about a man that has no sense of a family; we saw it as a kind of philosophical problem. In research we realized that we were looking for the story outside and elsewhere so the key to the story was now from within. We decided to tell the story from what we knew, through the life experience and through research about the theme. In fact it was that what Bruzzi (2000:101) called “…the act of journeying than of reaching a fixed destination”.
The character first appears sitting in a café where he is meditating which is presented in the first three shots when he remembers the moments with his ex-girlfriend. This sequence is build in similar way explained by Mitry (2000:31) when he pointed out “Images relating to other experiences are provided by memory” or as Bergson (2000:31) writes, “no perception can exist without being mixed up with memory”. The character starts his journey with a bunch of flowers in his hand. From the café to the boat were juxtaposition shots. We thought that this idea was perfect to create the meaning of the theme we were trying to make.
The journey moves on, from Little Venice along the River Thames. In this sequence we decided to create a sort of fantasy, by using the characters thoughts. The character is looking at the Oval Building and London Eye and they remind him of a nest and an egg. This was taken from a subjective point of view over the characters shoulder. This fantasy sequence was made up by very close up shots of an egg, and then shots of the Oval Building and an egg next to it. This sequence is similar to what Branigan (2000:101) revealed, “…the continuing adventures of a character, the events surrounding an object or place, or the elaboration of the theme”. The idea to hold an egg in a piece of turf and film to create the illusion that it was next to the Oval Building was interesting and created a beautiful frame. The sound of an egg frying brings the character back to reality. The egg symbolises his loneliness because it is the only thing he can cook.
After this sequence the main character is back to the reality, while the journey continues. Every object he looks at reminds him of something else. Mitry (2000:48) when talking about the image in the psychological sense said that: “The image of an object is identical to the object, to the extent that it establishes the existence of that object. The image thereby signifies what the object has power to signify”. We thought that this manipulation added depth to Sentimental Journey. The only problem we had during shooting this sequence was that we couldn’t agree on choosing what we were going to show in the images. Later we realised that the simplest thing was the best thing we could do. Little Venice canal is skirting Regent’s Park and providing a preview of some of the animals in the Zoo, which runs alongside the canal. Some of these shots we did not use in the final project.
In this sequence the content is the representation of the fact. When the character is looking at the objects, we tried to reveal him meditating by using the camera to show him with his eyes closed. At this moment he is back to his fantasy world when he remembers times he spent with his girlfriend. Mitry (2000:41) writes “this mental process, relying on intuitive logic, is merely a kind of “instantaneous judgment”, extending and justifying perception”. During this meditation he dreams about his love. We filmed some sequences of the male character having a pillow fight with the female character in the bedroom to give more sense about his meditation.
In the final sequence we tried to present the end of the journey. At first we had the boat stopping, but this was not a very good ending. So, we improvised and decided to ad a bit more. When the boat stops the male character leaves, but now he is still walking. We showed very close up of his feet walking until he arrives at a park. While he is walking away from the camera we decided to use the female characters laughs, reminding the male character of the fun times they had together. In this point these images and the laughing contribute to create more drama tension and bring to the viewers’ attention the fulfilment of the meaning of the documentary. That is the end of the documentary. We tried to structure the end of the documentary based on the point of Brian Winston (2000:100) who notes, “A journey film ends with the end of the journey”.
During the process of shooting the things we focused on to remember was “macro and micro” and the rhythm. The first was easy to practice while the later was a little difficult to understand and to realise. Mitry (2000:120) explained, “Rhythm can then be similar to that of a fugue or a particular symphonic movement”. It can be said that the system of understanding this process is in similarity of sequences in the films by Robert J. Flaherty such as Nanook of the North, in what Mitry (2000:120) explores that the films “include sequences of this type, and we can imagine long passages (evocations, dreams, memories)…”. Leaning on this theory we then found it easy to create the sequence when the male character is meditating.
Exploration of the figure in the landscape was another process of learning during all the time we spend practicing, shooting and editing. In Sentimental Journey we used mental images to create the full meaning of the figure in the landscape. The mental images we created were not what Mitry (2000:33) called “attenuated sensations”. Sentimental Journey with its figure in landscape encourages the viewers to think more deeply about the places they have been and to understand their cultural history. The figure certainly dominates the landscape around. It was much easier to see the boat from the road almost along the river than it is from close up.
During the shooting from the boat we understood clearly the meaning of the travelling (or tracking) shot. It describes a moving shot, one, which records the nature along the canal from a moving boat. The camera was in the boat in a fixed position and moves with the boat on which it was fixed. To record from many different points of view we used the position of the main character as reference, dividing the space up into planes perpendicular to the axis of the camera. The field of view was created by the closer the shot, the narrower the field of view.
Music too played a key role in the making of this documentary. The song by Patrizzio Buanno, The Man Without Love, contributed in the meaning of the theme. The words of the song were as a type of narrator to the documentary. We tried to create a clear relationship between the images and the music. However we found it hard to find music to represent the meditation. Finally we managed to find one.
At last, we realised that editing had to be characterised by collision, as Eisenstein (1979:85) said “by the conflict of two pieces in opposition to each other” which spark off new ideas. So contrary movement to followed movement of the boat towards the left the right and conflict lie in the rhythm of the shots. As the boat is moving along the canal, repeated cutting between next two shots creates in the mind of the viewer the irresistible connection that the canal, whose waves seem visibly to propel the boat forwards.
In conclusion, I have analysed this documentary as a real documentary. I have tried to explain what the origin of the idea was and how the idea was developed. Further, I have explained what the interrelationship of form and content is. Sentimental Journey could be seen as a geographical journey, but it also has elements of a psychological and emotional journey.
Bergson, Henry-Louis (2000) Quote in Jean Mitry’s book: The Aesthetics and
Psychology of the Cinema (1st Ed) Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press p. 31.
Branigan, Edward (2000) Quote in Stella Bruzzi’s book: New Documentary: A
Critical Introduction (1st Ed) London & New York: Routledge p.101.
Bruzzi, Stella (2000) New Documentary: A Critical Introduction (1st Ed) London &
New York: Routledge, pp.101-105.
Mitry, Jean (2000) The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema (1st Ed) Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press pp. 31-120.
Winston, Brian (2000) Quote in Stella Bruzzi’s book: New Documentary: A
Critical Introduction (1st Ed) London & New York: Routledge p.100.
Nanook of the North, (Robert Flaherty, 1922, USA).