"I wanted to show people what actually happened."
When thousands of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, cameras rolled like no other angry mob in the history of the world.
White supremacists, journalists, congress representatives and spectators captured the shocking events on smartphones and action cams from a thousand different perspectives.
So far, a filmmaker has cut the unprecedented footage into a feature-length documentary. It's dark, it's treacherous, and it's almost free of comment.
NightDocs' Jym Pagel spoke to No Film School to explain his process, like The Capitol Riot: How It Happened, and Why It's an Important Portrait.
First, here is the full-length documentary. It has a chronological order of the Capitol Riots. Due to the graphical representation of some events, you have to do an extra click to confirm with YouTube that you understand before viewing it.
Pagel uses the timestamp as the main organization method. Below you can see the events recorded in the documentation.
- 04/01/2021 – Trump's rally in Georgia
- January 5th, 2021 – The day before the main rally
- 2:19 – Rally with Alex Jones, Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos
- 4:58 – Go out on the street
- 01/06/2021 – The day of the march
- 10:21 – The day begins
- 14:02 – The rally with Donald Trump Jr., Rudy Giuliani and Donald Trump
- 17:00 – The march to the Capitol
- 18:11 – You're breaking the police line
- 27:17 – The Congress begins with the counting of votes
- 32:12 – Storm the Capitol
- 38:47 – Congress evacuated
- 47:13 – The death of Ashli Babbitt (viewer discretion recommended)
- 59:02 – The battle in the tunnels
- 1:12:19 – The crowd will start to disperse when the curfew goes into effect
- 1:13:08 – Trump speaks to the mob
- 1:15:42 – Congress is meeting again
How to select footage from a massive, unfolding event
Pagel started his YouTube channel NightDocs a few years ago with a real DIY Robert Rodriguez-style film. He writes his own music, makes his own film material, and hosts his own shows. Last week he released a new way of documentary filmmaking after the attack on the Capitol.
As a filmmaker, Pagel is motivated by this idea: you should create the content that you would like to see.
"While I was just dealing with the trauma of what was happening, I realized that I wanted to have an overview of what exactly was going on," Pagel told No Film School. “What was the timeline? So I came up with this idea. I started taking shots of this guy, BGOnTheScene, who has some of the earliest and best shots of what was going on out there. I downloaded everything he put out. Then I found a few other things on Twitter and then TikTok and YouTube and everywhere. And I realized very quickly that there was an incredible amount of video evidence that people were shooting during that time. "
“I tried to get as much as possible from everyday people on social media. And I threw my normal style completely out the window. That felt so important. Where I would normally have a comment, the footage speaks for itself. "
An important tip from Pagel on how to work with this depth of footage? Organization. And for this video, time was of the essence.
Pagel largely organized the footage by day and then added the exact time to all of the clip labels, making it a de facto way of organizing on the timeline.
Here is a list of some of the sources Pagel cited in the NightDocs film:
Pagel mentioned that a shortage or other footage has come out since he released The Capitol Riot: As It Happened, and he's considering a second version of the film to explain the new footage.
Why the art of some stories means … less art
YouTube is full of eye-catching videos that make us click based on their specific angle or perspective. A quick search for "Capitol Riots" will bring you hundreds of videos with opinions aired in the title. NightDocs does the opposite.
"Aside from the beginning and the end, I really don't feel as though I have put any artistic push behind it," Pagel told No Film School. “I literally just wanted to put everything in chronological order with a timestamp wherever I could, where I felt reasonably certain of when things were happening. And then anyone else who saw it could use it as a reference point. In my opinion this video is the most inartistic I've ever done. I tried not to edit it in any way. "
Many notice this lack of editorial staff.
"Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you are on, anyone can look at the same thing without feeling like I am interfering with the message they could have received themselves," said Pagel. “I felt like anything I could have said in this video could have damaged that goal. Regardless of the trenches people were being dug into at the time, it would only delve deeper and deeper the sincerity of the video really doubt it. But the footage speaks for it itself, so I didn't mean to stand in the way of that at all. "
Falling down the internet rabbit hole
Given the many violent events of the day and the perspective of the footage, it's dark to take on the task of collecting all of the footage of the Capitol attacks.
"I definitely cried a couple of times editing it," said Pagel. “And that often happens when I'm making my own videos. I am just a person who feels very deeply. There are definitely a few parts that were really, really hard to get through. I've seen this footage so many times since then that I can watch it and I'm fine now. I'm not trying to stand on any pedestal because the real heroes are the ones who actually recorded this footage. "
Some of the footage is difficult to see, in fact.
"You often hear from war photographers that they look at the world through the viewfinder because as soon as you take that camera away everything becomes real," he said. "This is where I often see pictures of low-resolution footage that someone else took. Some of it was really low-resolution. So I had to use it like Topaz and the like to improve a few things. So it helped that I was a little bit away from that that I didn't shoot footage like I normally would, but there were definitely a few moments when I got it. "
In this case, Pagel is not a war photographer, but maybe some kind of war filmmaker or war editor, and what matters is the person who looks at all of the footage and sees what story it tells.
Will documentaries ever look the same again?
Pagel's 90-minute film is currently at the interface of the technology that drives the media. The footage comes from TikTok and is interspersed with selected tweets. News material is used, but also booked from Facebook posts and smartphone vertical videos.
Formally and technically, this is a type of documentary storytelling that 2021 embodies. In a way, Pagel’s methodology shows a much bigger picture than just footage, as tweets and Facebook posts are abstract thoughts of the participants and add another layer to the portrait.
"The biggest thought I had was to be honest and show people what actually happened," Pagel told No Film School. "I didn't feel like people would understand how serious and how unprecedented this situation was, unless they could actually just see the big picture. And that was the only way to let people in. Aside from that Corporate news outlets tell them what they think of the footage they show you. Because when it is replayed, they just show the same clips, and that's just a tiny bit of a much bigger picture. "
As you view the footage chronologically and in context, a new layer of effects is added.
"If you look at it from start to finish, there are a lot of things going on that weren't covered in the news when I first published it," he said. "And honestly, it gives you a much broader scope, so you can see how people acted from start to finish. So you can come to your own conclusions because you have the evidence right there and you have the scope and you have the context of everything that happens in front of you. "
Advice to gatekeepers and storytellers of our generation
Pagel is a classic example of a self-taught filmmaker. He is backed by his YouTube subscribers and Patreon supporters who help him continue his work but also prove that some viewers are in dire need of his content.
"The biggest lesson I've learned at this stage in my life is that you can't wait to introduce yourself to you," Pagel told No Film School. “Often you just have to do it yourself. YouTube is not the ultimate goal for me. My ultimate goal is to turn NightDocs into a TV show. Do something on Netflix or Hulu. At the moment this is my résumé. When the day comes I get in touch with someone who could help me network to make this a reality I can say take a look. I did it all by myself, without a budget, without a crew. They take it for what it's worth, as good as it is, imagine what I could do with a budget, crew and people to help me with it, and do it the best they can. "
As a filmmaker, what do you think of the NightDocs timeline perspective of the Capitol attacks?
Did you take pictures of these extreme events? What role do we play as filmmakers during and after the volatile events of our time? Start a discussion in the comments.