For my final MYP Design project, I created a historical documentary on the Chinese Cultural Revolution with two other group members who share similar family backgrounds. Each of us explored the experiences of our relatives during the revolution through interviews, and gained a greater appreciation for documentaries as a means of retelling their stories. You can view our final film, entitled “The Red Guard”, below:
The primary goal of our documentary was to raise the target audience’s knowledge and understanding of how the Cultural Revolution influenced the lives of our three central characters. I think we addressed this objective quite well, granted that some elements of the film were done better than others.
One aspect of the film that helped raise audience understanding was the way in which the interviews were weaved between narration to provide context. We did this so that the audience would fully understand the historical references in the interviews, but also so that they would not lose interest. Furthermore, as the film’s editor, I communicated with the scriptwriter to ensure that said narration followed a chronological order. The effectiveness of our narration was reflected in our target audience survey, with many respondents identifying it as an aspect that they particularly enjoyed.
The quality of the editing also contributed to raising audience understanding, as engaged viewers would naturally find it easier to absorb the content of the film. Minute details like using j-cuts to improve flow or varying the speed of the historical footage to stimulate interest all played a role in maximising audience retention. This was again reflected in the results of our survey, with 7 out of 14 respondents giving an ‘excellent’ rating for cuts and transitions.
However, one aspect that hindered the extent of audience understanding was our failure to include more details on the interviewees’ experiences. Many of the interview scenes provided cursory overviews of certain events in their lives, but failed to bring out the feelings and emotions associated with these events. For example, Wang Ji-xian’s story of being sent to work in a factory at age 16 was purely a factual account, since the audience learns nothing about his inner feelings while he was there. Some survey respondents pointed this out, and suggested extending parts of the interview to shift the focus from our narration to their stories.
In conclusion, though our film was sound from a purely technical standpoint, script-wise we could have struck a better balance between the narration and the interview scenes.