David Zeiger’s SIR, NO SIR is undeniably a gripping story about the suppressed and extensive GI rebellion during the Viet Nam war. In an era were home made and commercial video documentaries abound, this production is also an opportunity to learn the craft of making an exceptional documentary film.
Santa Cruz, CA May 3, 2006: David Zeiger’s SIR, NO SIR is undeniably a gripping story about the suppressed and extensive GI rebellion during the Viet Nam war. In an era were home made and commercial video documentaries abound, this production is also an opportunity to learn the craft of making an exceptional documentary film.
There are reasons Zeiger’s 85 minute film embraced the Del Mar audience of 450 viewers into a state breath-holding silence and surprise eruptions of passionate emotion – amazement, laughter and tears. A powerful story is exquisitely enhanced by an exceptional mix of extensive research, technical and aesthetic excellence, and attention to the minutia of editing that propels suspense and drama.
The availability of recording and editing technology has generated a gush of well- intentioned ideological documentaries that lack potency and are, unfortunately, boring. Talking heads, difficult-to-read archive stills and repetitive clips of marches and raised fists – enough already. It’s time to take the leap and struggle with the craft.
Immediately after viewing the film I scribbled out the below list of NO SIR’s notable production features. Reviewing the list, Zeiger declared it accurately identified of critical filmmaking goals and struggles too often omitted by careless documentary producers..
* TELL A STORY: The film is a compelling unfolding of crisis, awareness, action, organization, impact and consequence.
* TECHNOLOGY ENHANCES STORY: Story is enhanced, never dominated by technology or filmic tricks. Technical tricks (from camera pans to slow motion and graphic manipulation) are only used when it enhances story and content.
* PERSONALITIES ENHANCE STORY: There is no single hero or “star” this film; there are many heroes and many heroic actions that combine to create the big story – certain rebellion.
* EXTENSIVE RESEARCH: Thorough, extensive almost compulsive (data & film archives) research provides continuous, surprising and gripping exposure of depth, breath and texture for any single comment, issue, topic, point.
* INTERVIEWS FROM THE HEART. No Q&A-style interviews. Individual telling their own stories from-the-heart are enhanced with natural lighting, artistic framing, environment and editing to maximizes the drama of physical movements, facial expression and emotional especially the potency of pace and pause.
* QUALITY SUPPORT DOCUMENTS – film, photos, news clips, print, posters, still photos – are cleaned up and graphically tweaked to provide a consistent quality level for visual manipulation and viewer comprehension (I can read it!).
Zeiger emphasized that “I did not come to this film as an historical documentary film maker. Right from the start I knew that the biggest problem would be -- how to tell the story through a lot of interviews. We paid a lot of attention detail, all the way down to the framing. And, when I do interviews I don’t ask questions – no Q&A. I engage in conversation.”
The “big mistake” for many documentary film makers” says Zeiger, “is to let the material [historic clips, interviews, documents] determine the film rather than let the story determine the film.” For instance, “There’s a lot of material…that is not in the film because it would have dragged the story out. The minute you start to repeat yourself…it is a big problem….[The film] becomes a flat thing rather than a progression.”
Regarding ‘story’ he explains: “I did approach it as a nartrative, as a story in three acts with an epilog. Act 1 is the emergency of individual resistance in the military. Act 2, I call it ‘all hell breaks lose.’ And act 3 is when the conflict becomes unbearable for the military to find ways to get out of it through ultimately ending the war and defeat. The epilog is the [government] spin -- how the story has been buried and lives in this kind of underground state in a very dangerous kind of way. That’s the classic arch of story. And for me it was really crucial for this film!”
Why my passion about this film?
Well a few of my photos are in SIR – the 1972 San Diego Constellation Vote sequence. I like to see my photos used with TLC and potency. Zeigler meets this criteria…and adds heart!
And yes, I am a GI Rights and draft alternatives counselor – “get ‘em out, keep ‘em out.” is my daily work with the Resource Center for Nonviolence. Because the general public is accustomed to quality media, communicating with not-the-choir about life-and-death military enlistment issues requires equally compelling media to tell the other, the hidden story. NO SIR will reach diverse audiences including enlisted military and their families.