“Folk”

Author: Stephen Rogers
Date: 27 November, 2015

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My mother had two catchphrases when I was growing up.

Her first “It’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice”  I later discovered was stolen from a famous wig-topped game show host. Her second “There’s nowt queerer than folk”, whilst not entirely original, I now know to be very true. The words may be very old fashioned and not massively politically correct, but what she was trying to tell me was that if you’re looking for surprising, original and engaging stories you never have to look very far.


“There’s nowt queerer than folk”


TV Producers figured this out fifteen years ago, which resulted in our sitting rooms being dragged through the now tired and heavily manufactured era of “reality” television. Documentary filmmakers on the other hand, have known this for decades. The great documentary makers have consistently held a mirror up to “everyday folk” and their engaging struggles through life’s ups and downs.

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From the truly original ‘Up Series’ where director Michael Apted followed the lives of a group of children from aged 8 in 1971 to aged 56 in 2014, to ESPN’s inspirational 30 by 30 series; the documentary form has always engaged their audiences on a wide variety of subjects. Why? Because the themes explored are universal and relatable. Love. Hatred. Success. Failure. Fear. Courage. War. Peace… to name just a few.

This work and many more examples are the reason I am obsessed with great documentaries. After attending a short documentary course in the Irish Film Institute, I decided to open my eyes, strain my neck and look around to see who’s stories I would be interested in helping to tell.


they’re also known as human directionals


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So that’s what led me to direct my very first documentary short, with some close friends, called “Signs of the Times” (6 minutes and 55 seconds long to be exact). It’s essentially a conversation with some of the young men and women dotted around Dublin’s city center, that hold advertising signage on the main shopping thoroughfares (they’re also known as human directionals). They struck me as invisible people. People that thousands of Irish shoppers walk by every day. People that we don’t think about. People I was intrigued to talk to.

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These people ended up having names – Sandeep, Houston and Felippe. They surprised me with their unique stories, aspirations and fears for the future. They were also a fascinating perspective on modern Ireland and its people. It doesn’t sound like rocket science I hear you say, but I think it never usually is. It’s the simple questions that usually deliver the most interesting answers.

Luckily in my day-to-day job as an art director, there’s also been an unquenchable thirst for real, genuine and authentic stories. Social media has forced brands to be more open, honest and transparent and nothing says ‘this brand is for realz’ (that’s not a typo) more than the warm glow of honest folk and their stories. This is also led by the huge demand for message infused brand content and that’s why brands are increasingly turning to the documentary form. Brands that have embraced this recently with great effect are the likes of AIB, Dove, Go Pro, Patagonia and Shredded Wheat.

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So, I’ll finish with another of my mum’s favourite phrases What in God’s name are you talking about Stephen?” What I’m trying to say is that, if you’re looking for a good story you may not have to turn to Netflix, instead you might find it in the folk sitting next to you on a bus, or serving you a coffee in your local cafe… or standing right in front of you, on a street, holding a sign.

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Further reading:
espn.go.com

theguardian.com

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