Language and Emotion

Interview of Roger Bermundo.

Before our 2009 trip to The Philippines I knew that some of the people to be interviewed would speak English but many would not. Many spoke just Bicol (the local dialect) or Tagalog (The Philippines national language), and sometimes a little English. Creating an emotional bond during an on-camera interview is a challenging art, one that is particularly complicated when the interviewer and the interviewee do not speak the same language.

During production I adopted different techniques as we went along, and tried to adapt to the personalities of the interviewees. With some I was able to ask the questions sitting next to the translator, with others I had to hide behind the translator so that the subjects’ gaze would not shift between the translator and I. Having the answers translated back to me proved undesirable as it broke the emotional concentration, so I decided to do without it and guessed the subjects’ answer by their body language, tone of voice and facial expressions. It was challenging at times but fun, and ultimately it worked.

Many of the interviewees felt comfortable and relaxed and opened up emotionally in front of the camera, which is not an easy thing to do even for professional actors. We got plenty of compelling testimonials once the emotional trust was created. That is partly what directing is about.

I believe in the power of language and in the specific words that we use to describe experiences, beliefs and sensations. And so we started the Herculean and time-consuming task of translating and subtitling over a dozen hours of interviews. This was necessary to be able to understand text and subtext, and to be able to do fine editing. I believe that this overall methodology allowed us to distill the emotion and depth that this topic deserves.

Tone, Style and Structure | The Role of Music | Production Notes | The Legend | Research and the Creative Process