Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

Located in Portland, Maine, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies offers a 15-week immersion program for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in documentary writing, photography, or radio.
This blog is an update of current Salt students insights and musings.


...Now go, children!!!

Here at the SIDS, or the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, we are told that what we are doing somehow has some sort of pervasive edge to it, and I'm inclined to believe it, but to a degree. We create cultural journalism, something like the stuff you might you hear on NPR. Do you listen to NPR? Yeah, I could probably benefit from more listening, but for right now, we're learning how to talk to people. That's right. It's one thing to converse with your friends, but another to research a story idea-or person, as I like to call it- and get them to divulge, over time, little details and visions of the past they share with few other people. Of course, I'm inclined to believe, as someone close to Salt intimated today, that people are into themselves and would love nothing more than to sit down and talk about themselves. Just visit your average idiot's Myspace page; people write mini-diaries, disclose their favorite movies, music, books they've never read, because they'd love for you to believe that they're way more intelligent than they really are. Either way, we are selfish creatures, and listening objectively is something that takes patience and tolerance, virtues many people refuse to implement into their daily lives.
What we have to do is be respectfully forceful with our subjects: bug the shit out of them in a knowing, self-conscious fashion, keenly aware that though your subject of choice might love the idea of talking about themselves endlessly, they might also experience something with the semblance of annoyance or aggravation. It's a thin line, and we get to toy with both sides, all while trying to perfect our craft. Our dialogue must be formal but casual, friendly but not cloying, interested but not over-analyzed. At the moment I am following two filmmakers for my first story; I've found this particular story of special interest, as I am complete cinemaniac. However, ethically, I can't let that passion get in the way; my subjects own interests are first and foremost, and I'm OK with that.
Part of me believes that if you've got a story, you should just tell it yourself. There's an axiom in the documentary studies that suggests that you are giving a voice to the voiceless, but if people are so inclined to talk about themselves, why wouldn't they just do it on their own? Doing so, of course, might result in something reeking of pretension, but I believe that no one can tell your story better than yourself. Maybe that decision comes from the somewhat nerve-racking process of finding your story in the first place, but it is something I think about everyday. What we do here..Do we really, over the course of three months, spend quality time with our subjects? Cultural journalists who work within the framework of the documentary approach might spend a year, sometimes more, gathering up enough information to accurately portray an engaging, emotionally rich story with depth and character. At times, I wish the program at Salt were a full year, and then I realize that, very soon, I'm going to be spending fifteen hours a day logging twenty hours of tape in order to create a six minute story. It's exciting, but a kind of demanding situation I'm not completely prepared for. I've been working in a natural and organic foods Co-op for three and a half years; my subjects drink wheatgrass and think dessert is great when its a pile of oat groats sitting in front of them. Still, it's a testament to the power of people that there might, or will, I should say, always be stories available for others to tell.
That's all for now. I should be logging tape, but I've got an absolutely awful slasher movie to watch.

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