Short documentary, long disability

Gary Barling
Between 2009 and 2010 a short documentary film was made about my life and disability. It is called Something to tell you. Making the film was hard work for me. Filming went for a few months longer than I expected. I was also trying to start a new relationship. There was a large amount of filming. I felt it was intruding on my life. When I saw the finished film I was happy with it. The film has been a success. It has been shown many times. It has won awards. It is showing this Friday in Melbourne.
Posted by: 
Gary Barling on 24/05/2012
A profile shot of Gary Barling wearing headphones.
Gary Barling image Something_To_Tell_You_2

Gary Barling in "Something to tell you"

Documentary filmmaking isn't all it's cracked up to be. That goes for the filmmaker and the subject alike. In my case, as a subject who was unprepared, it was hard work and stressful for much longer than I had expected. The project started out with lively discussions and grand ideas. However, at some point I felt that I was losing any say in the direction of the film. However, the completed short film is something with which I can be happy.

Making the film

We thought it would be interesting to show the impact of physical disability on my day-to-day life. It coincided with my attempts to begin a relationship and this became the main focus of the film. The filmmaker, Pete Gleeson, and I were friends and as a result the initial agreement was a little vague. It was rushed and a concrete timeframe was not specified.

Filming was disorganised and arduous. It also went on a few months longer than I expected. This situation in addition to other changes in my life was a drain on my energy. As people with disabilities are sometimes the subject of such documentaries, I think the inefficiencies of filmmaking and potential for exploitation of people with disabilities are important issues. There was a great amount of filming and discussion that intruded on my normal life.

While Pete was making and even screening the film, there were long periods without real communication between us. I found that discomforting and I thought that he was being reticent. Being separated by geographical distance didn't help the situation.

Eventually I saw Pete's final version of the film. It was a little confronting, but I did not object to the way I was represented. There was protracted persuasion about using extra footage for an expanded documentary. I wouldn't agree to that though. After lengthy conversations and more words in emails between us than all the words I've ever written for DiVine articles, we decided to finish the project.

As Pete congenially puts it, The process was just as much of a drama as the outcome.

Something to tell you

The eight-minute documentary Something to tell you is the culmination of all the work. It represents a small snapshot of a point in my life two and a half years ago. Simple in format, it shows a very concise video of the difficult process of getting myself into bed. In a voice-over I narrate an email where I reveal my disability to a possible date. It is powerful in showing one tiny fragment of my day. It is effective in showing the predicament of someone with a disability like mine having any romance.

Unfortunately, I appear semi-naked in the film. Regardless, I think the film is still an overwhelmingly positive representation of someone with a chronic disability. Both Pete and I are very proud of it.

Something to tell you has received awards for Best Short Documentary at the 2011 ATOM awards, Best Script (my writing) at the Bondi Bay Film Festival, Best Documentary at two other Australian film festivals, and an honourable mention at the 2011 Canadian International Documentary Film Festival.

It has been screened at Picture This... International Disability Film Festival in Canada. Another 12 festivals have screened it including ones in San Francisco, the United Kingdom and St Kilda, Melbourne.

Coming to a screen near you

Something to tell you is appearing at ACMI in Melbourne on Friday night in the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival, where it is nominated for Best Australian Short (film) award. From the beginning this is exactly the sort of forum I hoped it would be presented in.

I definitely have no future aspirations in the film industry, but I am positive that another film could be made about the making of the film.

Readers comments (8)

I went looking for the documentary online and found a trailer for it on youtube. Unfortunately the Divine spam filter does not see to like me putting the URL address in this comment.

Hi Graham,

The film isnt online at the moment. It is just winding up its festival run at HRAFF and we are deciding where to place it online after that. In the meantime, I will pass on the details to view it on a private Vimeo link to Gary himself.

To be honest, the preview is not something I am happy with. I find it a little demeaning -- more like a guy being crucified, than my story. So I am not disappointed that divine can't give the URL!

Hey Gary - Pete here (the filmmaker).

Just an update to say that since your article, STTY has been awarded Best Australian Short at the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival (HRAFF) in May, so congrats again!

In regard to the trailer, Gary - I agree it certainly doesn't represent your whole story. What is is designed to do is rouse an audience's interest and to hint at where the film might take us. It's certainly not meant to sum up a person, their situation, attitude, etc.

I personally dont see the demeaning/crucifixion angle - mainly because the only hypothesis expressed in the trailer is your own, regarding the attitudes of other people. (Admittedly this is only at a single moment in time, and so cant ever be fully representative of everything you feel - but I think an audience gets that.)

Having said this, I'm not you, nor the subject of a film, so I fully respect your opinion on it. However my hope is that when people SEE the film - should they hold any "demeaning" attitudes, that the experience would prompt a thorough rethinking of those attitudes.

Anyway, thanks for all your patience along the way. I'm glad to have finally read your article about your experience.

Also - if you would like people to see the film (the 8 minute film, STTY) let me know and I will send you a link to post. I'd love to hear people's thoughts on the film itself...

I stand by everything I said in the article - both positive and critical - regardless of a film makers view .

Thanks for your article Gary. This issue is relevant. Presenting the point of view of the subject of a documentary and film is something that should be in the public eye more often. Just because the subject (Gary) might not know the lingo and techniques of the film maker, should not mean that his opinion is not valid.
This issue of people with a disability in film is relevant, particularly when they have limited energy and time in the day.
I have had a look on the Internet for information on the documentary 'Something to Tell You' and found a disproportionate amount of comments from the film industry and film maker and no comment from the subject of the film: Gary Barling, except for Gary's article here.  Isn't Gary's view more important than Peter's. I say, leave this site for the issue of disability, and not for the film maker's comments about himself.

Hi Leonie. I must say I largely agree with you - apart from the part where you attempt to shoo me from this forum, of course! (I think the right of reply when having material written about you is fairly self evident so I wont waste time defending it here.)

I do think it is important to keep in mind that offering one's own perspective (i.e. me explaining my intention when constructing the film's trailer) should in no way be taken as an attempt to invalidate anyone else's opinion - especially Gary's. This would run counter to the purpose of the film in the first place.

In terms of reasons why there are more comments online from myself and the film community than from Gary - this is largely down to Gary exercising his own choices.

There have been many opportunities for Gary to contribute to Q&As, interviews, attend events, etc which I personally have encouraged and offered - as they would only enrich the conversation I hoped to encourage with the film. While physical and time constraints of course must be taken into consideration, I would say the amount of public commentary from Gary is in the most part a reflection of his own prerogative as to where and when he wishes to express himself and the level of privacy he wishes to maintain.

But thanks for your observations and for keeping us evil self-obsessed filmmakers honest!


I think it's positive that both sides are discussed openly and honestly here, even if there aren't similarly balanced discussions elsewhere!

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