Monday morning reflections: Who am I and where am I going?

So over the last few days, I  have been having a bit of a “who am I?, and what the hell am I doing?” imposter syndrome kind of thing.  Between now and mid January I need to work through exploring the current industry, taking advice from my Raindance advisor and mentor, and most importantly looking inwards to determine the way forwards in my Masters.  I selected the Raindance program as I want to become a legitimate filmmaker adding my voice and the little piece of Clare to my works; rather than just the mechanics of filming, editing etc. which multiple shortish courses offer.  Now that I need to start making some decisions though, it can feel a bit overwhelming.  Do the decisions I make now which may shape my Masters also shape my future?

What am I going to achieve?  I know I want to make documentary films focusing on healthcare research and issues which bring both the researcher and patient perspective but there is much beyond that to determine what kind of filmmaker I am going to be…  Through the ‘my influential film’ exercise that we have just completed, my peers and module leader have helped me to identify that I like the character driven type of documentaries. Looking at back at some of the films I have watched, it is definitely true.  I think that painting a picture of the person creates a sense of empathy and you become engaged in their story, their success and their failures.  This revelation was kind of sitting uneasily with me, however, inline with what I want to achieve in advancing knowledge translation in the healthcare research arena.  I don’t think I want the focus of my films to be patient voice led, I want it to be the researcher or healthcare professional sharing information that could lead to ‘real world’ change in practice whilst telling a personal story.

I was mulling this over this morning, reading recent news articles in University of Alberta website and identifying some stories which could feature in my films when I flicked over to Facebook.  My friend Ryan had shared a post about the documentary Vital Bonds which has recently aired on David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things (

I meant to watch a couple of minutes then carry on with what I was doing.  50 minutes later with slightly tear-stained cheeks I am writing this post…

First, being a non-Canadian living in Canada, things which other people seem totally aware of completely pass me by.  The Nature of Things was one of these but now I know of it’s existence I will watch more.

Vital Bonds directed by Edmontonian Niobe Thompson and produced by Rosie Dransfield focuses on the important topic of organ donation and following a few different stories of people successfully receiving organ donation as well as a family having to make the difficult decision to offer their dying son up for organ donation. It is definitely a heart wrenching story and I hope it airing will result in people making their wishes about organ donation known to their loved ones.

I loved a lot of the cinematography including close-ups of the surgical equipment, cast aside diseased organs and those which focus on the donated organ in situ working in harmony with the recipients body.  I like the sense of movement showing the importance of brevity when an organ becomes available and the contrast of that staying still and focusing on a characters face and portraying the raw emotion which is felt.  I personally found the music a little overpowering and unnecessary in places; the documentary already felt dramatic without the need to add further drama.

As I sat gripped watching this documentary and resigned to the fact that this was how I was going to spend an hour of my morning (not originally my plan), my head again began to swirl with questions about who I am going to be as a filmmaker.  How do I tell a story, and through what lens will I tell it? Niobe is a successful film maker and a 50 minute tv documentary is well beyond my current aspirations but as I sat watching, I began to think a little about how I might tell the same story differently.

The film was definitely successful in rousing emotion and, particularly with the parents of the newborn baby waiting for a heart transplant, and the parents of the son who will donate his organs at the end of his life; it is hard not to feel empathy.  However, to an extent, this emotion is a given.  Everyone in that situation is going to be highly emotional.  What interested me more was one of the surgeons, Jame Shapiro that is featured in the film.  Within the film he briefly discusses the responsibility of organ donation in honouring the life of the donor.  It is apparent that he is hugely technically skilled but also has a great commitment to organ donation and has strong feelings associated with it.  Thinking about my wish to create character driven films, he would be my character and the film would be told from his perspective.  I would explore more his backstory into the world of organ donation, as well has his drive, enthusiasm and commitment.  Patient stories would be interweaved illustrating his story.  My hope would be to create something, that through demonstration of his passion and commitment would illustrate the importance to others.

Obviously I am not going to make this film it has just been done; but I found it a useful exercise in thinking about how I might tell a story keeping impact but making more of the type of film I love. So thank you Ryan for posting…


A little footnote:

Upon doing further internet research, I have discovered that this tv documentary is the result of a longer feature film The Gift around transplantation and I have put it on my list to watch.  As I have not seen in the full length film or The Nature of Things before, I do not know how much of the flavour and style of Vital Bonds was set by the Director vs. the requirements for airing as part of this series.  I also do not know whether the feature is told from the same perspective or whether there is greater balance on the team responsible for transplantations.  James Shapiro who I would focus on is on the poster for The Gift so possibly he has a greater role…


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