The 2015 Twin Cities Film Fest may still be 10 months away but periodically, the organizers run an awesome Insider Series event for film fans to enjoy. Next week, they are featuring a special screening of a thought-provoking and fascinating documentary, 112 Weddings (more info here).
Filmmaker Doug Block is a documentary filmmaker (51 Birch Street, The Kids Grow Up) who does wedding photography on the side for some extra cash. Initially he didn’t really set out to create a film that examines the institute of marriage, but after having shot several weddings over the course of a couple of decades, he often wondered whatever happened to those couples years later. That curiosity sparked the idea for this film, and so we got an intimate and personal look into the lives of about a dozen couples who candidly share their marital stories for the film.
As the poster tagline says, happily ever after is indeed complicated. And real-life love stories can often be more intriguing and dramatic than whatever Hollywood concocted and that’s what I found when I was watching this film last week. Each couple’s narrative is as varied as their weddings themselves, and it’s clear that marriage is a tricky journey in which there are no shortcuts. One couple is dealing with a child’s debilitating condition, another is dealing with crippling depression and so forth. It’s also surprising to learn which couples stay together and which have ended in divorce, as the film starts with the original wedding footage first. It’s also interesting to see the perspective of a same-sex couple and what marriage meant to them. One of those couples said that marriage sort of ‘solidifies our relationship as a team.’ One older couple decided NOT to get married initially, though they still have a celebration to mark their union as a couple. But later on, after their kids are grown, they did decide to officially marry.
Some of the couples featured in the film
The documentary is only 95-min long and it’s quite well-paced. Though each only have a few minutes to tell their story, you still get a glimpse into the intricacies of their lives. There are poignant and heart-breaking moments, as well as funny moments. One rabbi said the funniest lines that couldn’t be more accurate:
“Weddings are easy… just throw a lot of money at it & liquor. But marriage is hard. If you throw a lot of money at it and liquor, usually it doesn’t end up very good.”
I commend Doug Block for tackling on such a project and as someone who’ve been married for over a decade, it definitely makes me reflect on my own married life. Early in the film, Doug asked one of the couples ‘What’s your biggest fear that your marriage will turn into?’ and that’s really a thought-provoking question that I’d think every couple would have to face at one point or another. It may seem at first, to me anyway, that the filmmaker seems to have a rather pessimistic view on marriage. He asks ‘What does it say when the most hallowed institution ends in failure half the time?’ He also quipped, ‘It’s one thing to take a gamble on a marriage, it’s another to have as much of a chance of success as flipping a coin.’ But overall it’s a sobering & honest look at the subject that presents things as they are, no sugar-coating it. The film actually ends in a hopeful note with a young couple walking blissfully following a festive outdoor ceremony, and it leaves me wondering how things would turn out for the happy couple years down the line.
I had the chance to chat with Doug via email about his film. Read below on the filmmaking process:
Half were couples who popped right into my memory bank as lively and interesting. Others were picked by way of contrast, and to obtain as much diversity as I could within the parameters of who hired me. Finally, I deliberately tracked down two divorced couples, as I felt that aspect of marriage needed to be represented. Needless to say, those were the toughest couples to find and secure interviews with.
How long did it take you to make the film? I’d imagine it involves a pretty grueling editing process?
It’s something I had thought about for many years, for almost as long as I’d been shooting weddings. But once I actually began in earnest it only took about two years to make altogether, which is relatively quick for a feature documentary. The first year was spent not just interviewing our main couples but viewing as many of the 112 weddings I shot as I could to find moments to use interstitially throughout the film. That was done simultaneously with the fundraising. The second year was primarily devoted to the editing. It was actually a lot of fun to edit because I love collaborating with my amazingly talented editor, Maeve O’Boyle.
Out of all the couples that stood out to me the most were Sue & Steve and the interracial couple Yoonhee & Tom who met on a plane. Could you elaborate a bit on the process of filming either one of the two couples and how that came together?
In all cases, not just with those two, I simply called the couples and explained what I was doing. I also told them upfront that I was making the film in partnership with HBO, so that they’d be aware that this was something that would eventually be seen widely. As I say in the film, when I shoot a wedding I form a pretty intimate bond with the couple very quickly, as I’m with them at close quarters on perhaps the most extraordinary day of their lives together. Many years later, they all remembered who I was right away and, I’m happy to say, quite fondly. So I think I had their trust from the beginning. That became very clear when I did the interviews, which, like my weddings, I shot by myself without a crew. At times I was astonished at how open and candid they were with me. It was almost like they mistook me for a therapist
What have you learned from the experience of making this documentary? Not knowing what your view is about marriage, did it alter your opinion in any way?
I hope it will get them thinking about marriage in a deeper way, and hopefully lead to some lively discussions. I think too often people conflate marriage with the wedding day. Their fantasies are usually directed at the dress and the cake and what it will be like to walk down the aisle. But weddings are just day one of what will theoretically be a lifetime commitment.
So I hope it shows marriage in an affectionate but much more realistic light. As someone says in the film, happily ever after is complicated.
Check out the trailer below: