“What’s the real story?” “How do you get the skeletons out of the closet?” “I want to know all the dirt.” I’ve had several discussions over the past few weeks on this topic and I think this is something important to weigh in on.
I view myself as a video biographer. My job is to tell a visual story. My client is usually the subject, the children of the subject(s), or someone who has hired me to tribute the subject. There is a story there, and my first job is to figure out what it is, and then tell it using video, music, photographs and voiceover, so that the viewing audience can understand it. The work I do is pretty specific in that my ultimate goal is to create knowledge, understanding and honor inside of a video biography created for future generations.
Does this include the dirt? Maybe. Sometimes people have to come to terms with dark and troubling things that have happened in their lives and feel free to talk about it. With other people, the wounds may still be too fresh and painful to discuss, and for some, they just want to spare their family the pain of hearing about these incidents.
A few years ago we worked with a holocaust survivor whose children had never directly heard her accounting of her story. Even though she was a guest lecturer in schools and organizations, she preferred to spare her children directly hearing the story. When we recorded her, her son-in-law sat in the room. He said this was the first time he had ever heard her speak about her experiences. She was ready for her family to hear it from her and she had long-ago come to terms with what happened and what it meant in the big picture. It clearly altered her life and forged her identity for the rest of her life.
Most recently, I was talking with one of my technicians who is working on an oral history of his own grandmother. Apparently, he knows that she didn’t care for one of her children’s spouses. He was asking me for some guidance on how to get that story out of her. What I suggested was he ask her if she was comfortable talking about her relationships with her children’s spouses. If she was, then that was someplace he could go. But it was also important to recognize that if she wasn’t comfortable discussing it, for whatever reason, that was her choice and one that needed to be respected.
My feeling is that ultimately, it doesn’t really minimize the rest of the story. We biographers are not investigative reporters. We realize that our goal isn’t to expose the truth, but to get the story and the details that are important to pass on. Does it ultimately matter if a parent didn’t approve of her child’s wife? Probably not, and forcing someone to explore something like that may only open old wounds and cause further hurt.
When we create a video biography, I have key family members preview an assembly of initial video choices. This is their opportunity to review what will be included and make decisions about what to leave out, or what may not have been covered. Recently a client asked me to remove some comments his father said about two of his siblings. They were innocent comments but were just subjective enough that my client knew his siblings would be hurt by them. Did it alter the story? Not in my opinion. I just heard from the family this week. They all gathered over Easter weekend to watch the video and everyone loved it and was so happy with the results. That is what I want for my clients. Am I sugar-coating their story? I don’t think so. It’s their story, and they get to tell it how they want it.
Stefani Twyford is a personal historian and video biographer sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.
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