Documentary Site started as an outlet for my interests in documentary 15 years ago. Since then, my presence has expanded to writing, managing Twitter fans, and connecting with makers, promoters, and fans of documentary. Probably three of the coolest things to come from this endeavor are being invited to write for POV, visiting Kartemquin studios, and leading a discussion after a screening of The Trials of Muhammad Ali. My current project involves watching and writing about 365 documentaries in 2014. Feel free to send along your suggestions via Twitter @documentarysite!

#365Docs: Tell Me and I Will Forget (25/365)

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I’m watching 365 documentaries and writing about each one in 2014. Tweet your suggestions to @documentarysite, or send an e-mail to hmcintosh@documentarysite.com. Read more.

Note: This post may contain spoilers.

While Justin Salerian’s Tell Me and I Will Forget offers an interesting look at South Africa, the 2010 documentary suffers from the burden of too much voiceover narration.

Tell Me and I Will Forget attempts to show South Africa through the eyes of emergency workers employed by both public and private companies. The picture reveals a depth of violence and lack of safety divided along racial lines. Traveling shots contrast the country’s natural beauty and its devastating poverty, and interviews with emergency workers and others personalize the violence happening there.

The voiceover explains too much, especially when other conventions can convey the same information more efficiently. Sometimes the voiceover doubles information from an interview. For example, the voiceover states, “EMS workers often lock away their stories. In many cases, it was a traumatic experience that catalyzed their interest in emergency services to begin with.” In the next shot the interviewer asks off camera, “Why did you get into EMS?”, with the subject replying at length. The subject’s reply gets the point across well enough on its own.

Other times the voiceover offers information that a title can do better. For example, the voiceover states, “Emmanuel is a new basic medic for Netcare at Pretoria East Hospital,” as Emmanuel appears on the screen. A title appearing with Emmanuel would remove the need for that sentence.

Still other times the voiceover offers general explanations when more specific wording would have served better. For example, the voiceover states, “A putrid smell fills the air.” Instead of “putrid smell,” why not just identify what the smell is?

While Salerian’s documentary feels like a passion project, the excess of narration indicates a problem of too much information and not enough focus on the documentary’s intended message. While they could have been interesting, the perspectives of the emergency workers get lost among the recounting of South Africa’s history going back 40 years, the American-focused archival footage, and the other voiceover explanations.

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Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh
Heather McIntosh started Documentary Site as a resource for documentary media and has greatly enjoyed the connections it has fostered over the years.