Documentary filmmaker as historian

Jonathan Fein gave a talk with the screening of his film, “Objects and Memory,” last night at UMass.

The film showcases the concept of navigating through life via objects which trigger memories, and the preservation of objects we assign value to. The film showcases how materials of September 11th are used to document history and help people remember their lost relations.

The film makes me consider the role of the documentarian as a historian.

Some people kept ash from the fallen towers; a fireman his helmet; a ribbon with a scripture; a pocket book. These objects were donated to museums or held on to and talked about by their beholders.

The concept of saving and what to save is brought up by historians in the film. Professional historians and curators tend to document things from the past, rather than the present. Nonprofessional historians, like those who start ongoing memorials on fences, document the present and create ongoing memorials.

Documentarians can document history, or current events. The question of what to save and what is actually significant rises.

“Every time we go into a museum, we get a narrative and we don’t really think about that,” said Fein.

In documentaries, objects are specifically showcased to tell history and to trigger the memories of viewers conveying an emotional and sentimental connection to the film.

Most items are not valuable, but it is the value we assign to them that matters, said Fein.

The documentarian must pick and choose the objects and stories of the present and past carefully because they are preserving history.

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Filed under Culture, documentary, People

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