12/02-2012

Read about my process of making this film

In terms of research and how I found my subjects, I began researching networks, websites and organizations and one site led me to another. Blogs like http://www.rolereboot.org and thenewmale.com were very useful for me to approach the topic and help me formulate questions. I contacted authors that were referred to several places and a lot of Facebook networks for men, and finally Owen Marcus1, a writer and “sculptor of change”, got back to me. He put me in contact with a few people working in New York City, and I got in contact with a men’s group in New York City in spring 2011. I filmed that group just one time and a short film was the result of that meeting. Unfortunately, that group was not interested in being part of a bigger documentary project, but I was very determined to make a feature length documentary film about a men’s group after experiencing this one in New York City. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to make contact with other groups in New York City, I reached out to Owen again, and he invited me to come and film his group in Northen Idaho. To this point I had been conducting several interviews with men working within men’s work, such as a professor, a mentor for young men, businessmen, and a shamanistic priest. Those interviews played an important part in my research and preparation for going to Idaho to meet this specific men’s group who had agreed to be the center of my film.

The reason the Sandpoint Men’s Group 2.0 had such an inviting attitude toward the film originally, without having even met me, is due to the founder Owen Marcus, who is working on a large scale, for incorporating men’s work as a coach, a rolfer, an author and speaker. The Sandpoint Men’s Group 2.0 also has Michael Welp as a member, who is the founder of the organization White Men As Full Diversity Partners and co-founder of Men Advocating For Real Change, and his political and professional position inspired the group as a whole to be open to being part of a film. Another three men from the group are Waldorf teachers, and use similar methods to the men’s group’s with young people in the alternative school structure. For those reasons, the group was originally interested in expanding their personal work to inspire larger communities. Through email correspondences, they expressed to me how inspired they were by my project and how it made them realize the importance of letting the whole world see what powerful work they are doing.

The group spent several months preparing for the filming process both practically and psychologically, fully aware that the decisive protocol of the meeting would be stretched regarding the rule that everything that is said in the room stays in the room. However, when we arrived to film the meetings, we agreed to this rule even though we all had signed release forms stating that all material was subject to being used in a film with the purpose of being distributed potentially all over the world. This situation specifically points to the ethical considerations we all as subjects and filmmaker had to make around such a personal and secret phenomenon as a men’s group. The group filmed themselves for a month to get used to the presence of cameras in meetings before I arrived, while using the footage as a tool to reach deeper into their own personal development. In that sense, the group was already a natural part of the filming process, and a few of the men acted as decision makers, assisting the planning and conceptualization of the film. One of the men from the group also wants to be a filmmaker himself, and is currently making a film about fatherhood. Even though the men’s group might be one of the more developed, serious and professional men’s groups In the US with all of these qualified individuals, the film is sending a rather opposite message: that these men are simply average men with average life situations.

In New York City I met with the men’s group member Michael Welp, who was at a conference a few months before I finally decided to go to Idaho, and that short meeting was all the group relied on in terms of agreeing to let me make a film about them. I raised money for the trip through an online fundraising campaign based on a video where I included the men’s own home video quality footage. My only knowledge of the group at this point was based on this footage they had sent me of one meeting, email correspondences and a few phone conversations. As a filmmaker, I was limited from the beginning in several ways. It was difficult for me to plan almost anything regarding the shooting and story, and on request of the group, I was asked not to bring a crew. Thus it was only me and my boyfriend who flew out to live among the men for three weeks in the summer of 2012.

This was partly an anthropological project due to the fact that I lived in the house of one of the men from the group and was completely welcomed and integrated into the small community of Sandpoint. I became friends with all the men, which was definitely necessary in order for me to make this film. The men were open to having people from the local community assist with the filming and they were very attentive to ensuring that the process went smoothly and professionally. Two local young men became part of the crew, assisting with filming the meetings. Unfortunately, there was no time to involve these local men in the idea of the film, and they were spontaneously thrown into the project with no expectations or technical guidelines. One of those men experienced a minor shock, since he was completely unaware of the phenomenon of a men’s group and was overwhelmed by the emotionality between the men. However, he felt very inspired and was incredibly thankful to be a part of the film process, and is now considering becoming a member of a men’s group himself.

The men took time in the meetings to discuss the presence of the film crew and cameras, and they all had the experience of forgetting all about the cameras and not feeling limited by the filming process. On the other hand, they all recognized the influence of my questions and presence along with the film crew, which they took in and evaluated with the purpose of making sure that no one felt uncomfortable and recognizing how my presence became part of theirs. Their genuine interest in the film project meant that they were open to my outside perspective as a Danish woman and curious about the dynamic I might bring into the group. The men and myself quickly found that the fact that I am a woman and from another country did not have any negative influences on the process, because they trusted that I would do my best to represent their group and their personalities. The group’s concern was that the power of the work they do would be impossible to show on film, and they believed that such work would only be fully understood if it was experienced physically in real time.

I have tried my best to make the atmosphere of the living room where the meetings took place come through in the film, so that an audience will come as close as possible to feeling like they are in the room with those men. Experiencing the meetings was incredible for me, because I felt the energy and love from all the men and how powerful their presence and work with each other was, even though I was behind the camera and excluded from the process in that way. The crew would stay behind that line and never communicate with the men in the meeting, but simply acted as flies on the wall for the four hour long meetings. Before and after each meeting, we would socialize with them all and talk a little bit about the film process – again as if the men themselves were just as much part of the film crew. On the final meeting I was there filming, the men asked me to put the camera down and enter their circle. Suddenly I was a potential character in my film, asking to take on the role of a member of the group, which I attempted to do. This experience made me realize how difficult it is to let your guard down and simply express your vulnerability. Crossing the line as a filmmaker and becoming part of the community of my subjects was very powerful, and it completed both my and the men’s experience of the film process very much in the spirit of the men’s group. They gave me a ring as a totem that they all have symbolizing their membership of the group, and I am now the only proud female owner of the Sandpoint Men’s Group 2.0 totem.

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