DOCUMENTARY EDITING with MICK MAHON
ISE hosted our second editing workshop; this time we were in Piranha Bar with Mick Mahon. Over the course of the day Mick took us through his work on Gaza, from first promotional cut to finished film. Alec Moore was there and wrote this piece for us.
GAZA is the kind of documentary that requires one to give themselves over to bearing witness to what can only be described as a tragedy. And while it is that, the story of GAZA is handled and told in a way that’s not heavy handed and offers an opportunity for greater understanding and empathy of an incredibly difficult situation in a conflict zone.
The documentary, directed by Gary Keane & Andrew McConnell and edited by Mick Mahon is told to us through the lives and experiences of people living in the city of Gaza through a series of vignettes. We meet people from a variety of socio economic backgrounds who are all trapped on a strip of land twenty five miles long and seven miles wide.
Mick started by telling us that it was decided early on that the direction of the film would not be political, but about the people on the ground who are living in a conflict zone that they can’t get out of, never asked to be a part of and wishing that they could move forward in their lives.
Mick spoke in depth about choosing to show what’s in the final film. From over a hundred hours of footage which he expressed, he would never want anyone to have to watch due to its graphic nature, he moved through it deciding when enough was enough. There is a lot of death in a conflict zone like Gaza, there’s no escaping that. Mick found ways to get that point across delicately, to allow for a complete understanding of it, without hitting one over the head with graphic image after graphic image.
The pace at which Mick edited the documentary works extremely well in giving us just the right amount of information at just the right time. Allowing for maximum impact in a viewing. Bringing an audience in gently on such a heavy and delicate issue is both important and difficult to achieve. One might be tempted to front load the opening of the film with all the information necessary going in just to hammer home how bad things can be in a place like Gaza, but this film takes a gentler approach which in turn helps it to have greater impact. Statistics on a tragedy can be numbing for many people and difficult to grasp. Witnessing the effects of a tragedy on an individual or a smaller group of people negates that statistical numbness.
Mick spoke in great detail about the use of sound and music in the film. Laying down sound effects early on,
knowing that they may not be used in the final mix. He did this for his own viewings and for his collaborators, to help to establish a sense of style, pace and emotion. Music was also used early on for the same reasons.
Mick also offered up his experience of being in Gaza city, editing the film. Being physically present, meeting the people of the city, allowed him to be in a position of greater understanding. Ultimately lending itself to the story and pace of the film. One anecdote Mick offered was that while in Gaza, he had two edit assistants who were from the city. Trained and highly educated people who were thankful to work on the project so as to have a sense of purpose in a place where everyone is stuck in life. No one can move forward. One’s life is being squandered and their time taken due to no fault of their own.
All in all this was a fascinating insight into the job of creating such an intensely moving documentary. Combining human stories with graphic images of conflict was always going to be a challenge for an editor, and spending a morning seeing how the film evolved and came together was a real pleasure.