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Six O’clock News

A good example of point of view at work in McElwee’s films is in a 1997 film he directed for the PBS Frontline series, Six O’Clock News, wherein he explores what it is like to encounter his subjects verses observe them from afar. In the film, McElwee attempts to understand the people involved in the events he sees on the news and decides to travel to newsworthy events to meet them himself. He seeks out the husband of a woman who was murdered in a salon and the area decimated by Hurricane Hugo. He spends time with a man who was trapped in a parking structure in Los Angeles after the Northridge Earthquake. In each situation, he encounters news crews dutifully gathering their footage for the Six O’clock News, flocking to events like animals at a feeding frenzy, staging their interviews and gathering their b-roll, but then, just as suddenly, vacating the premises in order to return to the news room to get the footage on the air. Meanwhile McElwee stays behind, in an attempt to get to know the subjects. He even stays with them as they return to their living rooms and watch themselves on the Six O’clock news. What we learn from the film is that there is a kind of true knowledge of the other that comes in relationship, not necessarily with mere information. In the film, one gets the sense that the news reporters are, for the most part, only interested in the facts or information of the story. Meanwhile McElwee represents another path for a documentarian, as he highlights the personal encounters he has with those same subjects, getting to know more personal things about them, and connecting with an intimacy that is not possible with the callused approach of the news media.

– from the upcoming book “How to Film the Truth: The Story of Documentary Film As a Spiritual Journey” to be released in the Spring of 2018 by Wipf & Stock