Ken Wardrop is a bit of a demi god to me. When I was in college making my own documentary shorts, his style and filmic approach were a major influence. Simply structured,  his short documentaries  sing with Irish identity and Wardrop’s own creative charisma. His work, I believe has taught me two important lessons in documentary film making. And they are lessons I had hoped and still hope to translate in my own work.

The Herd

The first Wardrop documentary I want to share is The Herd. It has won dozens of awards both here and aboard. And for good reason. In its endearing humour, the short is incredibly revealing. At first it seems to document a bestial identity crisis; when a deer befriends a herd of Limosin cattle. However, as it progresses through comedy and observational material the director reveals an underlining tension between the mother and son featured. In an interesting twist these are in fact Wardtop’s own mother and brother!

However, the short is important to me because it teaches the importance of relationships in documentary film making. It is essential that the film maker has a good relationship with those he/she films, and has the ability to reflect those relationships on screen. When you watch the short you’ll see that both mother and son express themselves to Wardrop, and not to the camera. They are speaking to a son and brother, not to a camera and audience. This difference is subtle but powerful, as it results in a short that is funny but also revealing about Ken Wardrop’s home life.

Useless the Dog

A number of weeks ago I was teaching documentary skills to TY students and I showed them this short. Needless to say they enjoyed it! It once again features Wardrop’s brother, with another animal he is less than pleased with.

The reason why I showed this short to the TYs is because of the lesson it taught me. It proves that all around us there are interesting stories to be told. All one must do is observe the life around us, and find creative ways to best tell and display the truth and interest in those narratives.

It’s also bloody funny!

Lorna Buttimer

Any thoughts? Comment below or email me at lorna@disfmf.ie

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