Author: jenna.kay.houston

Wrapping Up

August is already one week in, and I’m finishing up my documentary work for the summer. I have been editing a teaser-trailer video and gathering as much feedback as possible most recently, while continuing to film. Some stills from this are above. I also have a lot of new footage from healthcare providers that focus on a feminist model of care, emphasizing patients’ decisions over their own bodies. I have selected a protagonist, Lena, to follow as a main thread in the film throughout weaving between interviews and treatment shots. Lena is very engaging during interviews and is willing to show all facets of the condition on film.

Looking forward, I will be traveling to Chicago to interview a patient about her Vulvodynia, which began after an episode of obstetric violence during her child’s birth. I also will continue to refine the teaser video while beginning to put together larger edits. As I move into the fall, I am excited to keep filming Lena and find new individuals to speak with.

Learn more about my project.

Found Footage

Recently, I’ve been working through some TV / Media coverage of Vulvodynia for my documentary. There’s a lot of work around utilizing found imagery in your work, like working out copyright agreements and finding out how to merge different aesthetics. Currently, I have watched and taken notes on MTV True Life, specifically the episode about painful sex. They focus Vulvodynia around sex instead of a lifestyle chronic pain condition, which increases the stigma against the condition. I’m interested in taking this found footage and critiquing it as part of a larger systemic problem that prevents many individuals with Vulvodynia from seeking medical help.

The other work I’m interested in watching includes Sex and the City where Carrie, a main character, has Vulvodynia and then takes antidepressants for her “depressed vagina,” which pokes fun at the condition. Another show, Private Practice, cures Vulvodynia overnight, which is also unrealistic. Last, I plan to watch the Dr. Oz episode on this condition and integrate facets of that into the documentary. Hopefully soon I will have a comprehensive collection of found footage to pull from and integrate into my systemic critique of how the media and television portray vulvar pain.

Filming

The past three weeks I’ve been traveling in Los Angeles, meeting with individuals who have Vulvodynia (chronic pain of the vulva discussed in last blog post). I managed to spend the day with two different women, filming interviews, the spaces they live in, and self-treatment related to the condition. Above you will find five stills from some of the raw footage, which I’m still working through. The biggest question I’m thinking about so far is how to connect the stories of these individuals, working in unique facets of each narrative while still revealing aspects of the overall healthcare system and Vulvodynia treatment. Moving forward, I’ll be focusing on meeting with individuals in Pittsburgh and NYC to film parts of their experiences with Vulvodynia.

Learn more about my project.

Starting a Documentary

Chronic pain is extremely misunderstood. No, it doesn’t just affect older individuals. No, there is not one straightforward treatment. No, its not just in the individual’s head. Yes, chronic pain can be disabling, but no, it is not recognized as a disability by the government. Chronic pain conditions are as complex and nuanced as those who deal with them, something that is often overlooked when discussing the disorders. ImagineĀ on top of the stigma above, for particular women dealing with chronic pain of the vulva, an added biasĀ because of gender and the location of the pain.

As I begin my thesis project, I am out to explain and examine the various stigmas surrounding vulvodynia, a severe chronic pain condition of the vulva. Why is it underreported and under diagnosed? How does it affect regular functioning? What are treatment options? Why are they so limited and archaic? Why isn’t there more research? Once laying out these specific topics and questions, I decided on a video documentary as the format of my thesis. It makes the most sense because I have been working with imagery, still and moving, for several years now, and I feel I can incorporate both information and emotion. Emotion matters for chronic pain discussions; severe pain creates drastic emotion. Information is important because it will inform my audience about what is going on systemically, and what actions they could take to impact that.

There are many factors to consider when beginning to create a documentary video: whose stories get to be included and why, how the individual narratives are woven together to create a larger systemic critique, what topics are key to emphasize, what bias I bring to the film, what footage should be sought out and more. Hopefully in the coming weeks as I begin interviewing both individuals with vulvodynia and healthcare providers, I will start to uncover some answers and have greater clarity on the direction of the documentary.