The Art and Growth of Interviewing: Why Interviews are SO COOL

Interviewing is a challenging and rewarding process. Until recently, I didn't fully enjoy conducting interviews because it was exhaustingly demanding and somewhat daunting, particularly in Spanish. However, and this may seem obvious, so many people have so much to share if you simply ask the right questions. There are morsels that pop up in interviews that may never arise in a day to day conversation and those tidbits are beautiful, raw pieces of humanity to witness and learn from. While interviews may be nerve biting and awkward, interviews are also SO COOL. (Keep reading!  Click 'read more' below)


To contextualize, we are now in our last three weeks of filming for the documentary.  This means we finally interview all the people we have gotten to know the best and with whom we've built the strongest relationships. We plan out the lighting and the sound parameters, brainstorm our questions beforehand, and jump in. Now we are immersed enough (averaging six a week), that Arthur and I are really starting to fall into a rhythm. Arthur films, I ask the questions, until about two-thirds of the way through I panic and can find no suitable question, and then Arthur chimes in with the perfect in depth question that I was searching frantically to find. Good teamwork, through and through.


As mentioned in our previous blogs, we always ask interviewees how we can be better neighbors. Often, this question is two fold. How can we, being from the US, be better neighbors to Mexico? How can Guadalajara, contaminating pueblos downstream, be a better neighbor to the affected communities, specifically to El Salto and Juanacatlán?


The other day we interviewed our friend and experienced water rights researcher and activist, Cindy McCulligh. Cindy previously worked with IMDEC and researched with Iteso, and knows a lot about water management and the state of the watershed.  The interview was fruitful and rich in sound bites we were missing. Our favorite part, the part we keep discussing, was the end of Cindy's interview. Although originally from Canada, Cindy has been living here in Guadalajara for ten years and speaks Spanish fluently, worlds better than us.


We conducted the interview entirely in Spanish, until the very end. When Cindy began to answer our better neighbors question, she spoke so passionately that she switched, mid sentence, to English and finished her answer in English speaking with great conviction. At the end, Arthur and I were so touched, we just said Amen and clapped. I'll save her whole response for the documentary, but the gist was that if we don't see the other as an equal and value their lives the same as ours, then no action will be honorable nor fair.


If you are still reading, below are some recent observations and ongoing questions. As always, we'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions.


A few of our observations so far:


  1. People always speak quieter when they begin interviews, so if we set the levels based on the beginning they are almost always too high once the interviewee gets more fired up.

  2. It is difficult to find anywhere in Guadalajara and the surrounding area that does not have noise disruptions: from loud stereos to diesel cars to gas, water, and corn purveyors announcing their fare in the streets (with microphones), we are going to have to do some serious audio filtering and keep our fingers crossed.

  3. You can see the most incredible sides of people if you facilitate an interview well. They light up and share things you have never heard in daily conversations and at that very moment you know why you are doing what you are doing.


Internal questions we keep returning to:


  1. How do we make people comfortable?

  2. What questions open people up and allow them to speak their mind while also guiding the interview in the direction we would like to head?

  3. What questions put people on guard and break the trust we are slowly building between us?

  4. How do we maintain some uniformity while remaining spontaneous and guiding the interview as it flows?

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Good questions - I wonder

Good questions - I wonder also how the simple fact of recording is putting people on guard? Obviously you are conducting these interviews for a documentary so it's not especially avoidable, but I've recently been discussing this a lot with a friend who's doing interview-based research here. She's found over and over again that her most rewarding interviews are with those people who don't let her record their voices (cause? effect? don't know). Frustrating of course - but maybe worth considering as another factor in building/breaking openness & trust?

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