Friday, June 25, 2010

Video Biographies: "What's the point?"

I had a wonderfully stimulating conversation with a wonderfully accomplished lady a few days ago. I have always admired the kind of person who devotes her own time and money to make the lives of others better, and well, this lady was one of those! Overwhelmed by the selflessness of the nature of her work, I spontaneously offered to create a complimentary video biography for her. She seemed to like the idea and her first reaction was to suggest using the video as an informational tool about her organization. Maybe upload it on to the official website and attract more members? I abruptly realized that even though she understood I was a 'video biographer', it didn't quite translate the same way in her mind that it did in mine. So I proceeded to explain.

"The focus of the video biography would be more on you and your life - rather than solely on your professional accomplishments."

"I get it," said she.

"So I'll be asking you questions to help you revisit your life from childhood onwards. What was it like to grow up where you did? What was it like to be young in a world your children would find hard to recognize as the same as theirs? Growing up, going to college, getting married... you know, offering your children the opportunity to hear how you used to be at their age. To learn about the journey your life has taken to arrive at this present day moment."

I could see from the look on her face that these questions were changing her perception of a video biography. She still seemed excited by the thought but it was now for different reasons. We talked through all the doubts in her mind - apprehension of being in front of the camera, doubts about how the conversation may not be interesting, skepticism regarding the wisdom of telling a stranger the story of one's life etc. In the end, she seemed satisfied and we parted ways.

A day later, she told me she had changed her mind. I wasn't going to force someone to document their life experiences or see the merit in doing so, but I was curious. What was holding her back? What downside could there possibly be to creating one's legacy? Had I mentioned it was going to be complimentary?

"I don't see the point in it," she replied. "At least with the video about my organization I know other people will watch it and learn more about what we're trying to achieve through it. But with a video just about my life... what's the point?"

I wished she would go through the experience as there was no doubt in my mind that the point would become amply clear once she did. At the same time, I don't quite think the value of it eluded her grasp. She wasn't ready. And there was nothing I could do to change that. So I nodded my head and hoped fervently that her children have good memories. That they committed to their heart every nuance about her that they loved and cherished... so that they are able to pass it on to their children. And the children after that. So that they will one day know that Grandma was so much more than just that.


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Video Biographies: Father's Day

So just around the corner is Father's Day. I would like to be equal opportunity and say that just as my mother got a special early delivery of her video biography DVD for Mother's Day, so will my father get his on June 20th but that would not be quite true. For the simple reason that he refused to sit in front of the camera the last time I visited them.

Don't get me wrong. He's all in favor of the idea of documenting personal histories and is quite generous with suggestions on how one can improve the experience for the people being interviewed, but when it came to be his turn, he suddenly became very busy. Knowing him as long as I have, it shouldn't have come as a big surprise but it was a little one nonetheless. This is a man who has visited 54 countries. Received an award by the prime minister. Earned his MBA by going to night school so that he wouldn't have to quit his day job. And who, 40 years later, left a lucrative international assignment to start a small business at age 60. How could he possibly feel that he had no stories to tell?

The truth hit me when I was taping my mother's interview. She was looking beautiful that day - all dressed up in a new outfit, matching pearl earrings; she had even sprayed her favorite perfume seconds before the interview began. And as soon as I pressed the red button to start, she was charming, smiling, articulate and emotional. I noticed my father slipping in to the room at several times during the interview; presumably looking for odd things but all the time, glancing at my mother from the corner of his eye. Leaning in a little closer to hear what was being said. And that's when I realized he was nervous of the camera. That this man who had given interviews to journalists about the expansion plans of his company and made presentations to investors and decision makers, was a little unsure of what to do when it came to speaking about himself.

Of course once he saw the finished product of the interview, and realized that my mother had quite enjoyed the experience instead of being scarred by it, he was more open to the idea. And I made an effort to point out to him that he wasn't expected to give a speech about his life for two hours during the taping of the video biography... instead, I hoped to gently lead him down memory lane with my questions. To draw his attention to events and memories that he may have forgotten he had. And revisit his life alongside with him. Not to interrogate or question. But to observe and learn. Well, when you put it that way, you're not going to get much opposition, his eyes twinkled at me in response. But it took a while to get him feeling this way. And that's why my Father's Day present to him might end up being made on his birthday or during the holidays which is when I'll see him next... but he got the gift certificate in the mail today and he's got 6 months to choose which suit he's going to wear for the occasion. There's no wiggling out of this one, Dad!