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The Smith Family

Premiere Date: June 25, 2002

   

Production Journal

The Smith Family is realized in mostly verité sequences. The verité sequences often document difficult and highly personal moments. Tasha Oldham talks about the challenges of shooting a verité film and the process she went through with each member of the Smith family.

POV: How did you get such intimate footage? How long did you spend with the Smiths?

Tasha Oldham: I spent just under three years with the family. It was a process built over time. Kim and I bonded upon our first meeting, but the family took some time to warm up to me and the camera. The boys thought I was insane to keep coming back and spending countless hours hanging out with their family. Eventually they realized I wasn't going anywhere and I became the annoying big sister they never had.

POV: Did you have problems distancing yourself as an observer when you were so close to them?

Oldham: The hardest part of the whole process was walking that line between being a good filmmaker and a good human being. A part of me always felt a little guilty that I was documenting such private intimate moments. I felt incredibly intrusive at times, but the Smiths never seemed to mind so I let them guide me, and they never refused us anything. They trusted me and I wanted to honor that trust, so I constantly battled with myself on whether I should turn the camera on or not.

POV: What was the most difficult scene to film?

Oldham: Without a doubt, the grieving scene when Kim is putting Steve's things away. I had heard Kim cry on numerous occasions, but this was different. This was a sob from the depths of a place I had never heard before. It was the one time, as a filmmaker, I felt I was violating something very private, I had to leave the room.

POV: Kim appears very comfortable and natural in front of the camera, not to mention extremely candid and articulate about her experiences. Did you have to work with her to get her to that place or did you two just click and develop a trusting relationship whose integrity is preserved on screen?

Oldham: Kim's comfort level with me was instant but on camera took a little work. In our first interview with her, she was a little stiff, until we turned the camera off, then she would come to life. So we got into the habit of telling her the camera wasn't on. Of course, she is a very smart woman and quickly caught onto our mischievous ways, but by that time she felt more at ease with the camera.

I have never seen anyone more comfortable with having a camera shoved in their face during an already fragile time in her life. I was continually surprised with her candidness, there wasn't anything I asked Kim, that she or anyone else refused to answer. She would be brutally honest, she shared things that even I didn't want to know.

POV: Were there guiding principles in what you chose to document or did you just follow the life of your participants?

Oldham: I was along for he ride in following their lives and where each new turn took them. The one thing I was sure of was that I wanted to tell it as Kim's story. There are many different stories that could have been told: Steve's, the struggle with the church, the illness, the betrayal, and so on, but what I found most compelling was Kim's choice to keep her family together.

POV: What was your strategy in documenting these sensitive interactions?

Oldham: I am from a narrative film background and I went into this project as a huge film snob. I wanted everything to be beautifully lit and shot. We began shooting on film with a crew of 6-8 people, and you could really feel the lack of intimacy.

We switched to DV, used available light, and the crew became primarily my camerawoman and myself doing sound. Often times, if I really wanted to be a fly on the wall, I would shoot and do sound (thus the less than ideal sound at times). It was easier for the Smiths to adjust to two women in their space and they really accepted us as part of their family. And in the end the only thing that truly matters is getting the story, the look became secondary.





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