Documentary Dilemmas: The Neverending Stories

Before I shot a second of A Life’s Work, I grappled with the documentary dilemma. How do you end a film that doesn’t have an ending? (How do the Maysles end Grey Gardens? They show us a looming change of season.) I think I resolved that problem in a way that shows that the film may end, but the stories don’t. But that begs another question: how do I know when to stop filming, and telling, the stories? (Michael Apted’s remarkable Up series has solved this problem by filming his subjects every seven years, and he expects he’ll be doing this until he or they die.)

I was reminded of this last week when Eric Ames, Curator of Digital Collections for Baylor University Libraries, wrote about A Life’s Work (A Sisyphean Task, An Unending Passion: A Life’s Work and Its Connection to the BGMRP). The post concludes with this:

Stephen Bolech at Baylor University
BGMRP’s audio engineer, Stephen Bolech. Photo Courtesy Baylor University Photography.

One update for our readers regarding Darden’s concerns about keeping someone in the position of audio engineer is worth noting here. Since the interview with Darden was conducted in 2010, the Electronic Library has added a full time staff member – Stephen Bolech – to work with audio-visual materials, including materials from the BGMRP. In addition, we are contracting with Tony to continue his work digitizing materials from a major collector in the Chicago area (where Tony now lives and works). To answer Darden’s quote from the clip, “I need more faith,” we can respond with a hearty “praise the Lord and pass the reins to Stephen” – the BGMRP will go on, and Darden’s fears of the project languishing can be laid aside.

Since I declared production was over, a few major events have happened. Jill Tarter and Paolo Soleri retired from their official positions, the Milarch’s took the Champion Tree Project’s shingle down and reopened their project, with other principals, as the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive.

Events like these will happen until the day I die, and I don’t intend to keep shooting until then. But what A Life’s Work shows is that all these long-term projects go through times of smooth sailing and stormy weather. If I rushed out, camera in hand, every time a project encounters a shift in the wind, I’d never make it across the sea to finish this film.  (And now I will put the nautical metaphors away.)

However, I intend to interview Jeff Stein when he is in NYC, and I would like to catch up with the others as well. So …

Big giant thanks to Eric Ames, Curator of Digital Collections for Baylor University Libraries, adjunct lecturer in Department of Museum Studies, Baylor University.