Staff Pick Premiere: “Say Something Intelligent” Pokes Fun at our Inability to Do So

In these Trumpian times of “alternative facts” and “fake news,” one of the few places we expect to be able to turn to for intelligent information is our family and friends. However, filmmaker Lewis Bennett shows us firsthand that they might not always be the most insightful resource in his hilarious, obsessively edited short documentary “Say Something Intelligent.”

Lewis refers to his film as a “documentary” since it’s technically a crafted assembly of his father Chris’ ’90s home videos. While perusing these tapes of yore, Lewis started hearing a strange sentence his father said over and over again. On camera, his father would ask mothers, brothers, cousins, kids, and colleagues to “say something intelligent,” and the response was usually the same: embarrassment, anger, bemusement, or “hello.”

Whether it’s the question “say something intelligent” or camera or the combo of both that causes the people to trip up is central to what makes the film enjoyable, familiar and empathetic. Even Chris himself, when put on the spot, is unable to answer his own question. Although, he can’t even give a good reason as to why he started asking it in the first place. He jokingly told me over email, “I wanted a little movement and audio for the video camera, otherwise you’d just have a bunch of frozen slack-jawed yokels. Sad!”

In Lewis’ supercut, which is pure good natured fun, the question itself still resides in the background: what about this situation prevents people from saying something intelligent? If you were asked, would you be able to respond? What’s intelligence? Facts? Poetry? Math skills? Or can you just say nothing besides the fact that you are “the most intelligent person” and people will believe you? Take a look for yourself and then scroll down for an interview I did with Lewis and his dad, Chris.

Vimeo: Lewis, do you remember your dad asking you to say intelligent things all the time as a kid?

Lewis: It’s a pretty notorious line from our childhood so, yeah, those three words are etched into my memory and even more so after editing this film.

Chris, was this something you only started asking once you got a camera?

Chris: Pretty much. It was easy to remember.

Why do you think so many of the people you ask respond simply with, “hello.”

Chris: Video cameras were more of a novelty then so people weren’t used to having a camera around like they are now, with camera phones. I likely caught them off guard.

Lewis, were you ever able to impress him with anything intelligent? Or were you just annoyed with him?

Lewis: In the video, my response to my dad is, “I’m happy!” and it looked like I was pretty happy so I don’t think I minded answering the question. I’m sure if I was a little older I would have been unimpressed or would have replied with a lot more attitude or with inappropriate language.

There were a few more “say something intelligent” responses that didn’t make the final cut and in all of that footage, the only person that got the thumbs up from my dad was my sister. She is featured at the end talking about dolphin sonar. Great job, Hannah, you big nerd!

Can you venture a guess as to why so many of your subjects reacted with humor or anger? What is it about this question that puts people on that spot so hard?

Chris: The camera put the spotlight on them. Some people were eager to perform, some preferred anonymity, some just weren’t ready (spinach in their teeth, hair uncombed, 40 pounds lighter).

What drew you to want to turn your dad’s home videos into a movie?

Lewis: I had been meaning to digitize all of our old home videos for years and I started doing that in December. I was having fun going through the footage and was trying to think of a theme that might work using only our home videos and I decided on “Say Something Intelligent” after it popped up several times. Post-production is by far my favorite part of the filmmaking process so making a film with all archival footage was a total gem.

The feature documentary, The Sandwich Nazi, that we made recently has been a fucking debacle so I’ve known for a while that I needed to make a couple of quick fun things to try to wash away the frustration of that project. We’ve also dumped a ton of money into the feature so I only want to make fun no-pressure DIY shorts for a while — the smaller, cheaper, and weirder — the better.

What was it like going through all of your family’s home videos?

Lewis: It was a real pleasure and especially nice to see and hear all my grandparents again and to take in their lovely mannerisms and tone. The way my grandmother says, “Now that’s enough” is just the best — very blunt and straight to the point but with a smile in her voice too.

I laughed a lot as well. God bless my brother, Tom, who is featured in the “submarine” scene and also featured at the end of the film, scowling at the camera as he walks away and closes the front door. I’ve probably watched those two clips 300 times and they still make me giggle. Poor little TomTom.

Was it hard to stay on subject? I imagine you’d get distracted a lot because of all of the memories.

Lewis: I watched the footage at double-speed and would stop whenever I saw something promising. It was a lot of fun to explore as I’m sure some of those tapes haven’t even been watched before. I mostly stayed on task but I did stop and watch our terrible Grade 9 attempts at doing comedy sketches of the Spice Girls and Hanson.

Do you still make home movies Chris or have you stopped now that all of your kids have grown up? I sure hope you continue to annoy people with your persistent questions!

Chris: No, I don’t make videos anymore. When the kids were small it was a little blip in time that needed to be saved. My dad did the same with an 8mm film camera in the 1960s and Lewis has copies of that footage.

What do you think of the movie Lewis made? Do you think it says something intelligent?

Chris: I love Lewis’ videos. Some make my toes curl, which I think they are supposed to.

And do I think his film says something intelligent? I was probably asking the wrong kids.

You refer to this movie as a “documentary” in quotes. Why are you at odds with that term in regards to your film?

Lewis: I used the quotation marks because my dad wasn’t intending to make a documentary back when he shot the footage. I think it only became a documentary after I edited it together 24 years later.

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Originally published at Vimeo.com