When Life Imitates Reality

The Interview

Today I had an interview scheduled. I worked hard to get it. The interviewee has two jobs and a rough life. It is hard for him to find the time to give me.

He seems fragile and reticent and I know how important what I say to him is. Every word resonates, he remembers me saying things I have forgotten. When I tell him he is a very likable person and I know he will get that job he wants, I say it because it is true. But I realize he has a low self concept and does not think of himself as a compelling interesting person. He later repeats my words, reminding me that he got the job because they liked him, just like I said. I said that people liked him, he was likable.

I told him I’d call before I made the long trip from St. Pete to North Tampa where he lives. My plan was to have him set up – through the interview – footage we had shot earlier of him taking his driving test. I needed the viewer to understand the significance of a rite of passage that is increasingly mundane, the older we become. But for him, that test was life affirming and represented the biggest freedom he had ever had. The freedom to get a job and gain independence from a family that looked down on him.

I had my gear ready. I charged my batteries. I had one half-empty and one empty memory card. I made a release for him to sign. I had everything on a chair, ready to take to the car.

I called. When he answered I thought he had been asleep, his voice sounded rough and deep. Then I realized he was crying. He could not do it that day, he said. His aunt had died. He was grief stricken. I felt the depth of his struggles. I thought of my own family, too.

Every interview for a filmmaker represents a milestone in a documentary film. One more voice to round out the narrative. But while I wished I could have filmed the interview in order to push the film along, I had gotten to know him intimately and I knew this was not the only death he had experienced. I felt a deepness in my throat.

I can’t get his voice out of my head. I hear his tears.

There will be another day for my interviewee. My friend.

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