Intimate radio documentaries – the CBC Doc Project.

I was interviewed by Canadian producer Michelle Macklam for an article she wrote for the CBC’s Doc Project titled When the personal becomes public: the art of making intimate radio documentaries.

After producing her beautiful documentary Longing To Belong  about an adopted woman who reconnects with her biological parents – Michelle had questions about the different approaches and experiences of radio producers who work with these kinds of personal stories. My own PhD research is exploring these same questions, so we had lots to talk about.

There are also interviews with some of my favourite radio producers – Neil Sandell, Mira Burt-Wintonnik, and Tally Abecassis. I really liked the way the article came together. It’s so nice to have all these thoughts and perspectives in one place.

 

macklem-blog-headline

International Radio Conference

I recently presented the creative practice component of my PhD at the International Radio Conference at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. I led a 90 minute listening session and discussion which featured my 2 part radio documentary Murder in a Small Town.

It was a slightly terrifying but incredibly valuable experience to listen to my audio work in a room full of people and receive feedback.  It was also great to unpack some of the ideas I’m exploring in my research. After completing the creative practice component of my PhD I’m interested in a closer examination of the relationship between the producer/storyteller and subject/storyteller, how this shapes the documentary process, and in turn, the final documentary product. I feel very lucky to spend more time with these ideas and I’m looking forward to digging deeper over the coming years.

 

Utrecht conference presentation

 

 

While I was overseas I also visited and interviewed Danish radio making legend Rikke Houd. This recording will contribute to a series of research interviews I’m collecting about the different experiences of radio producers who work with personal narratives in their documentary work. I’m drawing on Rikke’s award winning radio piece Woman on the Ice. There’s a particular sensitivity in this style of radio that I deeply admire, and I loved spending time with Rikke and learning more about her storytelling approaches.

 

 

Murder in a Small Town- radio documentary

My 2 part radio documentary Murder in a Small Town is now online.

I’ve been working on this project for over a year. It’s the creative practice component of my PhD and a story that’s close to my heart. It’s about the murder of my school friend Veronica’s mother back in 1990. Irene was stabbed to death on their family’s farm just outside The Rock, the small country town where we grew up. It was a horrifc crime that was witnessed by her two youngest sons aged 20 months and 3 and half. I was 10 years old at the time and I remember how the event sent shock waves through our community.

 

Irene with 4 kids
Irene with her 4 kids.

For the documentary I went back to The Rock and spoke with people from the town. I got a better understanding of what happened and came to realise I wasn’t the only one who has been haunted by that time.

But the most incredible part of this project for me was reconnecting with my friend Veronica who I hadn’t seen for 25 years, and hearing her and her family’s story.

birthday party
Veronica (left) and me (right) at her 7th birthday party. Such cute hats.

Since the programs have broadcast I’ve heard from a lot of people from The Rock, and childhood friends.  I haven’t had contact with most of these people for over 25 years, but I think the story tapped into a collective memory and perhaps a suppressed grief that most of us haven’t accessed for a long time. It’s been a very moving experience and such a privilege to work with such generous and beautiful people.

‘RadioDoc Review’ publication

I recently wrote an article for RadioDoc Review about Masako Fukui’s documentary Will Kate Survive Kate. This piece broadcast on ABC Radio National’s 360 Documentaries program and won a gold medal at the New York Radio Festival Awards.

The documentary tells the story of a young woman Kate and her struggle with an eating disorder. It’s a deeply personal piece that has intimate audio recordings with Kate and her family. I was particularly struck by the generosity of the storytellers in this work and was curious about what motivated them to share such a difficult story. We don’t often hear from the storytellers after they have shared their story on the radio, so I decided to interview Kate and her mother for the article. It was really interesting to hear their perspective and to think more about how radio and sound were important for this particular storytelling experience. You can read my article here.

 

girl illustration

New York- research interviews

On the back of Third Coast I’ve spent a week in New York doing some more reserach interviews with radio producers and radio storytellers. I hung out with The Heart’s Kaitlin Prest and interviewed her in her bedroom closet- possibly the coolest sound-recording studio I’ve ever been in. With lace fabric hanging around us, we chatted about getting personal with interviewees, finding boundaries in an interview, and how at times- she nudges up against them. Kaitlin’s an incredible producer who deals with personal stories and matters of the heart. She’s also doing really pioneering creative audio work which you can listen to here. This is another interview I can’t wait to to transcribe and dig through more.

kaitlin prest

In keeping with my reserach on the experience of people who’ve shared their story on the radio, I’ve also chatted with some of the audio diarists from the Teen Diaries and Teen Diaries Revisited series. These started back in 1996 when Joe Richman gave a group of teenagers from around the US tape recorders and asked them to record their own lives. Then 16 years later, Joe followed up with 5 of the original diarists and produced the Teen Diary Revisited series.

I spoke with Melissa who was a teen mum back in 1996, and Josh who was struggling with his Tourettes. Talking about their original diaries there were some similarities to LeAlan Jones - they felt their audio documents captured a youthful innocence and important moment in their lives. It was also interesting to hear how keeping diaries as adults was perhaps harder because they were more self concious after the success of the earlier series and had a greater appreciation of the broadcast outcomes. I highly recommend listening to both pieces. They’re great examples of how hours of audio can be expertly crafted into short audio documentaries. Joe Richman is a master and the the whole series is fantastic. My interview with him also gleaned some insights from a man seriously dedicated to his art.

I also went to a Teen Diary Revisited event hosted by Joe Richman and the legendary Robert Krulwich from Radiolab. It was a great night and so interesting to hear Josh, Melissa and Amanda (another diarist  from the Revisited series) chat about their audio diary experiences. A video recording of the night is available here.

radio diaries event
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Research interviews- LeAlan Jones

I’m in Chicago at the moment doing some research interviews and gearing up for the Third Coast Conference this weekend.

On my first day in the city I met up with LeAlan Jones who shared his personal story in the seminal radio documentary Ghetto Life 101. In 1993, LeAlan (thirteen at the time) and his friend Lloyd Newman (fourteen) collaborated with public radio producer David Isay and produced audio diaries of their life in Chicago’s notorious South Side public housing projects. The boys’ candor, humor and honesty provided the listener with a direct perspective of the harsh realities of poverty and violence in their neighbourhood. Ghetto Life 101 won numerous awards and to this day is considered a significant work in the history of radio documentaries. Along with LeAlan and Lloyd’s follow up piece Remorse: the 14 Stories of Eric Morse (1996), these works championed a new style of self-authored storytelling on the radio. 

My conversation with LeAlan is a part of a series of interviews I’m doing for my PhD research into the experience of people who share their story as part of a radio documentary.  LeAlan and I chatted about how he feels listening to Ghetto Life and Remorse today. I was curious about how documenting his story all those years ago may have affected his life. One thing that came up was how LeAlan negotiates his youthful perspective and insights recorded in the documentaries, with his 35-year-old self today.

” the most difficult thing for anybody to be, is to be honest with them self. And for me, my life is disciplined by the voice of that 13 year old, and the honesty of the 13 year old”

I got the feeling that LeAlan’s story, eternalised on the public record, has been a check point for him throughout his life, and one that he is immensely grateful for. LeAlan also talked about how sharing his story gave him a stronger sense of his own “voice” and the importance of his own narrative:

“The voice is consistent [and] documentation is what allows humanity to evolve….. growing up I was very fascinated by ancient Egypt, [and] more importantly, I was always fascinated by the writing they had on those tombs …. So for me, the microphone is my ability to document my tomb. I mean I’m going to die one day, but I’m going to live forever through my voice”

 

LeAlan in park 1