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  • Writer's pictureMaria Tran

Documentary Filmmaking as a Spiritual Experience

Making films that collect the human experience found me during my years of studying Psychology from 2003-2007. I was always fascinated by the profound aura of film and subject in real-time and how the maker’s behind-the-lens empathetic nature shapes the course of what is captured.

To date, I’ve interviewed over hundreds of subjects on a bunch of community commissioned projects, and almost the majority was a run and gun set up, which requires tremendous energy to match the energies of the subject, set the environment, and strike with the right questions at the right time.

There were a bunch of dos and don’t that I’ve learned that every documentarian should know, but the biggest component of all cannot be learned and it requires the filmmaker to tap into their spiritual calm, be reassured that they are doing the right thing, and being open to sensing the interviewee on an energetic level.

Being able to read people’s emotions, what they say, how they say it, and whether those energies match are all guides to the spiritual filmmaker.

I’ve seen subjects who (aware or not) try to appear in certain ways - say the right thing, sell you on something, and yet you don’t feel it’s aligned with their true inner self.

Hence, your role is to break that spell and connect with the subject matter on a much deeper level with your true empathetic self.

Consider this: the subject tells you they are excited about the project, but shows nervousness. Another tells you the importance of change but sounds scripted. Some say they are happy about a result, but look bored.

Basically, whatever vibe you get from the person conveys where they are at in the present. Most people are not intentionally misleading - they are just aware of what they project. Your spiritual role is to eliminate the roadblock (it could be a distraction or a fear of being judged) and give them space to speak freely.

How to do that without major upheaval is through the power of the questions you ask and how you ask them.

For me, documentary filmmaking is one of many facets of who I am. There’s acting, teaching, speaking, and the occasional home renovations I do, but with everything, my underlying core essence of empathy, collaborative creation & the trust that we are all building towards something amazing.


Anyhow, I’ve currently been commissioned to make a historical documentary on Fairfield’s community resilience during the pandemic. There were no subjects to interview today. It was just my solo self and the environment. Still, the spiritual sense is a powerful way to guide you to important messaging the environment can aid your storytelling.

Just a nice meditative stroll through the neighbour led me to capture this:

I would love to know what you think these images mean?


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