'The Silences': Process, Structure and the Development of a Personal Essay Documentary

Margot Nash


Part memoir and part meditation on memory, history and photography, ‘The Silences’ (Nash 2015)* is a 73 minute personal essay documentary. Drawing on family photographs, oral histories, my parents’ letters, documentary video footage I shot over a seven-year period and clips from my own body of work as a filmmaker, ‘The Silences’ investigates family secrets through an excavation of the repressed and hidden histories in my family, in particular the history of trauma and mental illness. In this article I reflect upon a discovery-driven, as opposed to a market-driven, creative development process and argue that it fostered a ‘brooding’ questioning space where old ideas were challenged and new ideas were nurtured. I explore ‘writing’ in the editing room with images as well as words, rather than setting out with a pre-ordained script. I share the discovery of an unconventional structure driven by theme, rather than chronology or structural paradigms and draw upon my research into literary, cinematic and psychoanalytic inquiry to build an essay film that ‘speaks’ in both pictures and words. I investigate the subversive power of the subjective and reveal how the gaps and silences in history were made visible when little or no documentary evidence existed.

* In 2016 'The Silences' received an Australian Writers Guild AWGIE Award for Documentary - Broadcast or Exhibition

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