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Still from Subject

ReFrame Review: Subject

Written by
Bethanie Dusome
and
and
January 20, 2023
ReFrame Review: Subject
Still from Subject

Subject is a documentary that was released on June 11th, 2022. It is one of the films being presented as part of the ReFrame Film Festival this year. This documentary incorporates multiple viewpoints of the people needed to make documentaries possible. It allows the "Subjects" to tell their story that they otherwise may not have been able to talk about in their original documentaries, their experiences working on those previous documentaries, and what happened once it was finished. Subject was fascinating to watch because it gave you a look behind the scenes at what you do not usually see or hear. It did not focus on the bad parts but instead showed the real possible outcomes in the lives of those involved in these documentaries, and those whose stories are used. It also does not solely focus on one particular documentary. Even within the multiple documentaries represented in this film, they still include various viewpoints. Some are more than one "Subject," others are the "Subject", and those  who were part of that project's team.

One of the main parts that stuck out to me was when Margie Ratliff talked about her experience with The Staircase, which is a docuseries about her dad, Michael Peterson, around her mother's death. She spoke about how all she wanted to do at the time of filming and her dad's trial was to protect her dad, but the experience as a whole, even presently, is brutal. Ratliff mentions that it hurts going over it every time because it feels like she is living through everything again. She talked about how being part of The Staircase was technically a choice, but she and her sister were too young to decide whether they wanted to or not. 

Michael Peterson mentioned that it felt like a reality show because the cameras were always there. That being said, Ratliff mentioned that part of the harm caused r was because of those cameras. She noted that she became self-conscious as people were constantly analyzing her sister and her facial expressions, and people who thought her father was guilty would project that guilt onto her. However, her father felt the opposite. He wanted people to see him and to watch their docuseries – he wanted to show everyone that he was innocent.

It was interesting to see the multitude of filmmakers' and non-subject’s thoughts on everything. A few talked about the rise in demand and popularity of documentary films and series. Valerie Complex, a film critic, was the first to mention it in the film claiming "they're becoming a part of pop culture." They also talked about why they were so popular and why people would put themselves through being part of such a difficult thing. Filmmaker Kirsten Johnson talked about how filmmakers reveal what they understand about the world, which put it in perspective for me. 

Subject explored so many people, ideas, and stories. Some of the stories were similar to the accounts of those involved in The Staircase as they talked to other "Subjects" and shared their views on their own documentaries, such as those from The Wolfpack, Hoop Dreams, The Square, and Capturing The Friedmans. Other elements of the film were about the documentary subject's pay or lack of payment, if putting the "Subjects" in front of the camera will change the way they act, if ordinary life is possible after being part of them, the Sundance film festival, and reminders that these films are about real people and real stories.

The 2023 ReFrame Festival runs from January 26th-February 3rd. A list of films, tickets to events and screenings, and more information can be found on the Festival Website.

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