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Life: The Documentary -- Writer's Poke #115

For Writers:

Linda and I watched a documentary on a Marla Olmstead, who is either a four-year old painting genius or the unfortunate victim of her father’s fraudulent representation. Director Amir Bar-Lev admits having his doubts about the art’s authenticity, but in the end, he leaves it up for viewers to decide. Admittedly, he suggests that he doesn’t really want to know the truth. He would rather just “believe” the Marla is the creator of the paintings.

Bar-Lev and Marla’s parents also note that the camera alters reality. Marla’s whole personality and approach to art apparently changes with the presence of the camera. This led Linda to observe: “What would a documentary maker capture if they made a documentary about your life?”

It’s an interesting question. I’ve never witnessed a nastier political race than the 2008 Minnesota contest for senator. The Republican candidate tried to brand his opponent, claiming: This 30 seconds represents the essence of the man running against me. Thirty seconds equals the character of a man? Who among us would want anyone to have the ability to edit 30 seconds (or even 2 hours) out of our own lives and claim that “this” is who we are?

If you made a documentary about your own life, what discoveries about yourself would you make? What scenes would you include and exclude from the film? And what scenes would make you uncomfortable for others to watch?

“Is this film more interesting than a documentary of the same actors having lunch?” – Gene Siskel


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