Our research encompassed a range of sources, including academic texts and other documentary films. Although our film ultimately didn’t focus so heavily on the practices and beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, we thought it was important to have a basic understanding to inform our conversations with Ian and to ensure we handled to topic of the religion sensitively.
Zoe Knox’s Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Secular World: From the 1870s to the Present gives an overview of the religion’s historical roots and present-day practices. Knox traces the origins of the Watch Tower society, the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ governing body, to the turbulent religious debate in the mid-19th century US. She describes how this expanded internationally, with their unusual beliefs (particularly conscientious objection from military service) often leading to persecution from individuals and governments. She suggests that this persecution is a key element of many witnesses’ identities and has led to many important legal debates about religious free speech. This persecution is often a result of their intense evangelism which allows them a greater public presence than other religious minorities and is often the public’s main interaction with the religion. Knox also notes the lack of impartial historiography on the religion, with many of their own publications being heavily biased. Knox’s more objective look at their organisational structure provides a good starting point for our research.
Kyria Abrahams’ I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed: Tales from a Jehovah’s Witness Upbringing gives a more light-hearted account of the author’s experiences of isolation growing up as a Jehovah’s Witness. This gave us an understanding of our subjects’ experiences, particularly Eddie’s discomfort at being separated from his peers and being forced to participate in evangelical door-knocking.
In addition to these sources, Ian was unsurprisingly eager to share information about the religion from his point of view. This was useful in helping us understand his logical, philosophical approach to theological debate and gave us a sense of the elements such as community worship which are particularly important to him.
We also looked at several relevant documentaries which influenced the style of our film. I saw Bruder Jakub at EIFF, a documentary which looks at how religion strains the relationship between two brothers when one of them converts to Islam. I particularly admire the film’s gentle, uncritical tone and focus on how the two brothers can still find commonality and love despite their disagreements. Through our interviews, it became clear that this would also be an interesting focus for our documentary, challenging our audience’s preconceptions of Jehovah’s Witnesses as being isolated and unaccepting of religious differences.
Stylistically, our film drew influences from Fish Story and A Map with Gaps. Both tackle the challenge of visually portraying memories in creative ways, using reconstructions, props and animations to give the viewer a sense of the past despite the absence of archive footage. I think we effectively adapted these light-hearted styles and combined them with more conventional reconstructions to illustrate the blend of pleasant childhood memories and traumatic experiences which our film contains.
Even though Amy, our Director, is related to the film’s subjects, we still thought it would be best to talk to Ian and Eddie to give them a sense of what the filmmaking process would involve. Myself, Amy and Eddie travelled to visit Ian in Fife. This conversation was important in establishing Ian’s boundaries for the interviews and allowed both brothers to feel more comfortable talking to me and Amy. In addition, talking to the subjects and looking through their archive photos gave us a better sense of their story so we were able to prepare more focused and relevant questions for their interviews.
Other preparations included gathering props and securing a location for the tracking shots of the community hall. We were very lucky to find Bellfield hall in portobello which looked very similar to the community hall shown in their photos. Overall, our research was successful in establishing a factual and stylistic foundation for our film, allowing our production phase to go smoothly.