Hello readers, I have an apology to make.
I have mentioned in several blogs how generally off-putting I find first person narration in a documentary, particularly when the narrator is the filmmaker. I believe that I was in error. Particularly after watching the vastly compelling Dear Zachary, which is narrated in first person, I feel that I must grovel a bit and apologize to first person narration.
Lately, I have been forced to admit that several of the films I most loved since starting this blog involve first person narration. I enjoyed Kurt and Courtney, which was entirely narrated by filmmaker Nick Broomfield. Bigger, Stronger, Faster gets you to care about steroids due to the personal story of the filmmaker. And while Living Downstream wasn’t narrated by the filmmaker, it was narrated by the author on whom the film was based – and I loved it.
But the most poignant and touching use of first person narration is definitely Dear Zachary. I don’t think I can properly explain to those who have not seen this movie how effective it is. The personal voice of the filmmaker lets you experience the unfolding of tragedy along with him, and leads you to care about the characters in such a personal way that at the end of the film you feel as if it has happened to you. It was an extremely effective way to frame the story, and I don’t think a third person narrator would have done the same job.
So I feel that I need to make an apology to first person narration. I am sorry that I doubted your usefulness. I was being an idiot. Early in my documentary career I was exposed to films that used you poorly and that wasn’t your fault.
My eyes have been opened. You are a useful dramatic and structural tool in a documentary filmmaking arsenal. I look forward to seeing you used by talented filmmakers in the years to come.
–Kathleen (Katy J.)