The History of "Passing the Camera"
"Passing the Camera" is a unique but simple shooting technique that documentary filmmaker Jennifer Fox developed for her new film FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN. How it came to be is rooted in Fox's own life experience. Fox found that in her 20s she wasn't really interested in talking to women and instead gravitated more towards men. But as she reached her mid 30s, she realized that it was her conversations with women that were holding her life together. What was so special about these conversations? Fox wanted to find out. She noticed that these talks had a particular quality and were unique to they way women communicate. They were open ended and circular conversations. They didn't have a goal in mind and weren't trying to solve a dilemma through a linear process. Nevertheless, they were essential to working out problems. These were conversations that could last for hours over one cup of coffee, where both women listened and shared and often went away feeling lighter or with a lot to think about. Jennifer wanted to find a way to replicate on film how she and her friends talked - the circular quality of the conversations as well as the impact of this intimacy and how it allows for news ideas to be discovered. Because intimacy is an activity that requires the presence and vulnerability of at least two people, Fox quickly realized that a traditional interview - where the director asks questions from behind a camera - could not be used. While there is certainly a role for the classic interview, it creates a one-sided power dynamic where one person remains safely in hiding behind the role of "observer" and the other person, in the role of "observed", is asked to expose herself/himself. The subject is always aware of being observed by the crew and is placed in the role of "performer" in his or her own life. Even if there is no crew and the camera is simply placed in a third position on a tripod, the sensation and effect of being observed remains.
"Passing the Camera" eradicates these traditional roles of the "observer" and the "observed" because it makes both participants equal in their exchange - just like between friends. The camera becomes a tool to indicate who should be the speaker and who should be the listener at any given moment. Following the natural flow of conversation, the camera is passed constantly and the roles are always changing - giving no one person the control of the dialogue. So when Fox started to pass a camera back and forth with her friends and family while they sat in kitchens, on planes, in cars, in gardens and bedrooms - and talked about the things that mattered most to them - women talked openly as if they weren't being watched and the camera became a non-threatening and a neutral presence. But Fox quickly found that something else was happening that she hadn't anticipated: the camera not only didn't detract from the conversation but actually had a positive effect. Yes, "Passing the Camera" was able to capture the way women speak, but Fox observed that it actually encouraged women to delve deeper and pay more attention to what they were talking about. Through "Passing the Camera", the camera became a tool that profoundly focused the listener's awareness on the speaker and also heightened the speakers consciousness of what she/he was saying. Fox names this quality "presence" and knew that she had something special when precious moments of intimacy were achieved between her and women she had only just met. This presence is the reason that the women in the film can be so forthright and even vulnerable - each woman is able to hold the camera and equally direct the conversation. FLYING: CONFESSIONS OF A FREE WOMAN shows that "Passing the Camera" creates a new honesty in film - capturing the way conversations naturally ebb and flow while creating a space for intimacy and revealing the secret world of "womenspeak".