david dunkley gyimah

The wisdom of Eliot Rausch

Thanks to today’s technology, lecturer David Dunkley Gyimah, my class and I, were able to Skype with award winning editor, director and storyteller Eliot Rausch about what goes behind his intimate and humanistic style of documentary-making.

Eliot Rausch’s documentaries, including ‘Last minutes with Oden’ and ‘Pass the bucket’, are able to touch hearts, inspire and empower. His style of film-making has been described as raw, and tends to focus on people who would otherwise be ignored. He is addicted to trying to capture the human spirit, which comes alive in times of suffering.

Though he began his career in Graphic Design, and later taught himself to use Final Cut Pro and After Effects. He then entered the world of advertising and also began making music videos. The atmosphere of success that surrounded him led him into drug addiction. Throughout his struggle to get clean, Eliot was accompanied by Jason Wood, or Woody, who featured in Elior’s first masterpiece outside the commercial world – ‘Last minutes with Oden.’

Touching documentaries

‘Last minutes with Oden’ is a short documentary portraying the end of a beautiful relationship between Eliot’s friend Woody and his loyal dog Oden. The loss of such a loving creature was even too much for the crew, as their tears welled up while filming. After tens of thousands of views and likes, the piece ended up winning the 2010 Vimeo Awards for Best Video and Best Documentary, some of the greatest accomplishments in the online film community. But he explained how he was filled with an odd emotion afterwards, as if he had exploited a dear friend’s weak moment.

In terms of the creativity in his documentaries, he found many of the choices of shot, frame and subject instinctual. When initially brainstorming how to shoot Amy Purdy, a double-leg amputee, in an episode of ‘Pass the Bucket‘, someone had suggested showing her snowboarding. But Eliot found more beauty in the simplicity of showing Amy in her home environment, adjusting her prosthetic leg as a part of her daily routine. “Simplicity is more profound,” he says. The entire series of ‘Pass the Bucket’ focuses on the human aspects of top sport personalities’ and artists’ lives.

The key to a human story

When asked about the challenges he has faced, he told us how important it is to keep your initial aims and intentions alive. He had started off in the industry with a pure heart and the intention to create change in the world. And admitted that the spotlight of winning awards and earning a fair amount of money had caused him to temporarily sway away from that purity. “I don’t want to die with trophies in my hand, I want to go out knowing that really tried to make change,” he said in this video about his life.

He went on to emphasize how the key to documentaries like his own, is to be close to the people you are filming. Building a rapport or a relationship with them, will allow you to “get so close to their reality that it’s uncomfortable.” As a good listener, and trusting in his own footage and pre-visualisation enough to take a step back, Eliot is able to let his subjects breath. This is something needed in the kind of touching, human stories that he tells. “I am immersed in culture and relationships,” he says, “and when I’m connected with a story, the camera is secondary.”

Eliot used the money won in the Vimeo Awards to facilitate a project about the lives of three illegal immigrants in the US. He gave them each a camera, and asked them to document their own lives. Eliot’s edit of their footage can be seen in the film ‘Limbo, launching this June.

Thanks to Eliot Rausch for giving us a glimpse into the mind of such an honest and talented storyteller.