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April 04, 2016 | posted by Lara Klaber in Filmmakers
“Buried Above Ground” director Ben Selkow hadn’t planned to be a documentarian when he enrolled in film school; he was hoping to be the next George Lucas. He even wrote his application essay on “Star Wars.”
For a while, it seemed as if he was on a path to achieve that dream. “After college, serendipitously, I met Harrison Ford and he gave me my first job on a film set,” he recalls. He had the opportunity to work on productions helmed by Sydney Pollack (“The Firm,” Out of Africa,” and Robert Zameckis (“Forrest Gump,” “Romancing the Stone,”), but he remained far from the center of the creative process.
“I thought making a documentary,” he explains, “I would have more agency and be in the cut more. I didn’t have any idea how thick it really gets as an independent documentary filmmaker.”
Sixteen years later, Selkow’s IMDb resume is populated with fascinating projects, including the two feature-length documentaries where he has served as writer, director, cinematographer, and producer. “A Summer in the Cage” (2007) chronicled a friend’s struggle with bipolar disorder. “Buried Above Ground,” in turn, follows three sufferers of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) over a six-year period as they struggle with managing their illness.
Selkow is in awe of just how much his subjects let him into their lives. “For all the challenges, their courage, trust, and perseverance to battle PTSD everyday and then allow a 6’2” dude to be in their homes, cars, or therapy sessions to document it, was very humbling … ultimately, I was granted permission to enter the most vulnerable arenas of their life. What a gift.”
Community, he found, is a crucial element of functionality, and something that PTSD sufferers are frequently denied. He became acutely aware of how, “at various stages, they had little or no community, intimacy or support,” in contrast to the supportive network of friends, family, and colleagues that surrounded him, he says.
“The best part of directing is forging these dynamic and rich collaborations and relationships with your subjects of course, but also the DP [director of photography], producer, and especially the editor,” he points out. “Sharing the rollercoaster with all the key partners, as opposed to being a one-man band, is the great joy of filmmaking.”
That kind of shared journey is often denied to PTSD sufferers. “To borrow from the irrepressible journalist and author Sebastian Junger, there is a crisis of connection that needs disruption.”
He hopes the film will provide that disruption, by helping to facilitate the understanding needed to rebuild those connections. “Restoring the eroded trust, rebuilding relationships, and crafting a community are the keys to survival and recovery.”
Selkow has partnered up with Mental Health America, the Carter Center, and NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) Greater Cleveland to work on ways to use his film as a touchpoint for igniting conversation about PTSD. For both sufferers of the disorder, and those who love them, he feels it’s important that they know that “there is hope, light, and possibility on the other side of all the despair, darkness, and pain that can come with a mental health condition.”
Photo: Missy Chambless
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Film update: #CIFF43 alum Roll Red Roll Doc will broadcast nationally tonight at 10/9c as the season opener of PBS's POV program. Full info: http://www.pbs.org/pov/
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