The ambient cinema of Oma by Jason van Genderen

“The first video we shared on Facebook because we felt it was a moment of pure joy amidst a sea of ​​pandemic drudgery,” Australian filmmaker Jason van Genderen says of the oft-asked question of know why post a video of his grandmother, who was living with her family at the time and in the midst of Alzheimer’s disease. “There wasn’t much joy on our small screens in April 2020, and the experience we had creating the home supermarket for Oma was just too magical not to share. Mind you, we had no plan or idea what this was going to trigger too… it was all completely coincidental.

The video went viral, aired on news channels around the world, and today we speak with Jason about his feature documentary Everyone is Omawho follows her family’s journey to care for their beloved matriarch.

A much-loved commercials, branded content and short filmmaker, and smartphone cinema ambassador, van Genderen recorded the whole trip, which had to be cut down to length, but there were other considerations as well, like he tells us.

“Our post-production team really cared about the safety and consent of our family. Among the more than 300 hours of footage, our editor Gavin [Banks] screened, we always weighed the inclusion of each scene against three values. 1 – Was this scene made with love or something else? 2 – Did this scene help educate about what life with dementia is like and the roles of family as caregivers? And 3 – how would Oma react to seeing the scene while fully cognitive? We absolutely had material that was too raw or too graphic to be shown with these filters in mind. Once we’ve illustrated a point, we’ve moved on to the next part of the story. We only show one ambulance trip in the entire film, there have been countless others, but showing a multitude of them does not advance the story. Once the audience has timed one conceptual part of the narrative, we move on to the next. Gavin was also a co-director on that, so if judgments were to be made that felt too close to me – because I was in the scene – then we would go back to Gavin’s vision. And Megane [van Genderen, Jason’s wife, producer and key character] ended up with the last word on everything. As the mother of our children, as Oma’s co-caregiver, as a matriarchal eye – she deserved this autonomy to ensure that the family story was created in a safe space.

Does your family get mad at you because you always shoot everything? Do you have any strategies for keeping the camera out of sight?

“Not so annoyed but more like ‘Oh, dad is filming everything again!’ Our whole family ended up getting involved in capturing story elements, it became both a creative tool in confinement as well as a cathartic way to video diary thoughts, feelings, complexities. Megan picked up the camera almost as often as I did, so we had a unified approach to the value of this documentation. The camera usually stayed out of sight because we were carrying it and standing behind it, it’s a hyper-real first person observation perspective. And we made sure to capture the hard stuff, not just the lighter moments. It was important to show the extent of the journey we were on so that we could also validate the lives and journeys of families all over the world who care for someone. Anything less would have been a neat, sanitized portrait.

The film touches on the major contemporary issues of caregivers as well as Alzheimer’s disease. What do you think you leaned into the most in the final film?

“Both. They go hand in hand. Alzheimer’s disease (and any form of dementia) requires a community of care. There are 1.5 million everyday Australians involved in the care of someone with dementia, and more broadly than that, 2.64 million Australians identifying as carers of any kind. This is by no means a minority representation. Yet it is rare to try to find real stories about carers and dementia who are tackling big issues head on. Everyone is Oma is a story about our ability to love more deeply than we ever thought possible. I think every family would take home something unique that reflects their own life in some way.

How hurtful were some of the online comments you received while caring for Oma?

“I haven’t met anyone who liked being trolled online, so yeah, it’s painful. But it’s also a reality to share a story in a digitally connected audience like social media. You’re not always in control. “place where people find your content. If they find you when you’re having a bad day, they’ll judge you on that. If they see you looking your best, they’ll take it too. The lesson I What I drew was to tell your story as fully as possible every time you show up on social media, you have to tackle the situational context. Facebook is a membrane, a two-way conversation… not a podium or a lectern.

Online is a community, which you mention several times in the film, but is that really the case? When you’re in the thick of it, they’re not really there, are they? Can you comment?

“No, they are absolutely a community. They’re there in the thick of it, but you tend to be more touched by critical remarks than compliments. Our followers of Oma’s Applesauce have been passionately advocating for us in responding to all of the trolling remarks, they have been supporting us. But a community – when it gets bigger – can become difficult to manage. You feel an overwhelming responsibility to respond to people who take a lot of time and thought to share their stories with you or offer ideas and support. When there are 50 to respond to, it’s achievable. When it’s 5000, it’s impossible to maintain that personal contact. But we’re doing our best and our community understands, they’ve been wonderful.

The film doesn’t really address all the Covid madness surrounding nursing homes. Are you able to discuss if this had an impact on your family and was there any consideration for including this in the film?

“I think the stress surrounding elder care communities during Covid was something already well reported in the mainstream news, and we didn’t feel it added to the family’s personal narrative with Oma. Yes, Oma unexpectedly endured 107 days of confinement the day after she was transferred to her community of care, but the staff were also incredibly supportive and creative in how we handled window visits. We were even allowed to bring Oma’s cat (Hailey) for weekly visits to Oma and the house ended up adopting her!

You have championed mobile filming for many years. What do you think of the current state of technology and its use by filmmakers? Do you hope that Everyone is Oma is a particularly progressive example for the filmmakers of tomorrow?

“I remain a strong advocate for movies to be captured on a wider range of tools. It’s not the camera that makes the movie, we all know that. But what a camera (like my iPhone) allows, it’s a unique access and infusion into an observational documentary like Everyone is Oma. When the tool does this, it deserves more serious consideration – because it’s an enabler of a style of story capture that isn’t achievable with more conventional cinematic tools. That doesn’t mean I don’t like other cameras of course, but it does mean I’m absolutely open to what I call “ambient” storytelling capture that an iPhone empowers creatives with. It’s immersive, fun, fast and forward… who doesn’t love a camera that ticks all those boxes? I hope future documentarians will see our film as an example of a new, liberating production aesthetic. He created his own style, and maybe what I call “ambient cinema” could create its own genre. »

Did you encounter any problems in the process due to shooting the movie with a phone camera? And can you discuss the technology used?

“I’ve shot commercials and high end content on smartphones using all the expected bells and whistles, we can accessorize with any number of high end aids to enhance audio, lens, necessary stability and lighting. However, shooting Everyone is Oma was a little different from that, in fact very different. I didn’t even have time to use third-party recording apps (like Filmic Pro) that give us very fine controls over the iPhone camera. When we were shooting this sighting story, the candor of the documentation meant that we literally only had time to activate our iPhone’s native camera app and hit record. Any longer than those spare seconds and the moment would have eluded us. That was the strength of the device…it was the only tool that allowed us that kind of immediacy and intimacy. We did of course encounter some technical challenges… the main one being how to conform and transcode footage shot over a 10 year window of iPhone clips… from iPhone 5 to 13? We had varying resolutions, codecs, frame rates – but to be honest, I think our post-production team did an amazing job creating a wonderfully consistent look through all those hours of viewing. I know our editor Gavin Banks wished I had filmed more coverage for key moments – but again, when you’re on the journey of capturing your own daily joys and dramas, it was all about being present in the moment, the camera had to come second. ”

And after?

“To be completely honest, I’m an open book right now. I feel the need to learn from this incredible experience of making the documentary and getting it out into the world. If it finds an audience that appreciates it and if it can contribute to meaningful change in the way we care for our elders, then there are more stories we need to tell.If we see our documentaries as long conversations that have the potential to reach those who most need to be brought into the room, then that’s a wonderful thing.

Everyone is Oma is screening at CinefestOZ and in theaters now