"I wanted to show people what was actually happening."
When thousands of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, cameras were rolling like no other angry mob has encountered in the history of the world.
White supremacists, journalists, Congressional representatives, and bystanders alike captured the shocking events on smartphones and action cams from a thousand different perspectives.
So far, one filmmaker has already cut the unprecedented footage into a feature-length documentary. It's dark, it's treacherous, and it's nearly commentary-free.
First, here is the full-length documentary. It features a chronological layout of the Capitol riots. And due to the graphic nature of some of the events, you will need to spend an extra click to confirm with YouTube that you understand before you view.
Video is no longer available: www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6uSYhyFao4&bpctr=1611246189
Pagel incorporates the time stamp as the main method of organization. Below you can see the events captured in the documentary.
- 1/4/2021 - Trump's Rally in Georgia
- 0:00 - Rally
- 1/5/2021 - The day before the main rally
- 1/6/2021 - 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 - They break through the police line
- 27:17 - Congress begins counting the votes
- 32:12 - Storming the Capitol
- 38:47 - Congress evacuates
- 47:13 - The death of Ashli Babbitt (Viewer Discretion Advised)
- 59:02 - The battle in the tunnels
- 1:12:19 - The crowds begin to disperse as curfew comes into effect
- 1:13:08 - Trump addresses the mob
- 1:15:42 - Congress reconvenes
How to cull footage from a massive, unfolding event
Pagel started his YouTube channel NightDocs a few years back utilizing a true DIY, Robert Rodriguez-style of filmmaking. He writes his own music, shoots his own footage, hosts his own shows. Last week, he released a new mode of documentary filmmaking following the attack on the Capitol.
Pagel is motivated as a filmmaker by this idea: you should be making the content that you wish you could see.
“While I was just grappling with the trauma of what was happening, I realized I wanted to have a big picture look of exactly what was going on,” Pagel told No Film School. “What was the timeline? So I had this idea. I started grabbing footage from this guy, BGOnTheScene, who’s got some of the earliest and best footage of what happened out there. I downloaded everything that he had put out. Then I found a few other things on Twitter, and then on TikTok, and on YouTube, and just all over the place. And I was starting to realize very quickly, there is an unbelievable wealth of video evidence that people have shot during this.”
“I tried to get as much as I could from everyday people on social media. And I threw my regular style out the window completely. This felt like something that was so important. Where I would normally have some kind of commentary, the footage speaks for itself.”
One important tip from Pagel about how to work with this depth of footage? Organization. And for this video, time was a crucial element.
Pagel organized footage broadly by day, and then included the exact time on all clip labels so this would be a de facto method of organizing in the timeline.
Here’s a list of some of the sources Pagel cites in the NightDocs film:
Pagel did mention that a dearth or other footage has come out since he posted The Capitol Riot: As It Happened, and he is considering a second version of the film to account for the new material.
Why the artistry of some stories means... less artistry
YouTube is full of eye-catching videos that lure us to click because of their specific angle or perspective. A quick search for "Capitol Riots" will show you hundreds of videos with opinions broadcasted in the title. NightDocs does the opposite.
“Other than the very beginning and the very end, I really don't feel like I put any kind of artistic push behind it at all,” Pagel told No Film School. “I literally just wanted to put it all in chronological order with a timestamp, anywhere that I could, where I felt confident with a reasonable amount of certainty of what time things were happening. And then anybody else who watched it could use it as a reference point. In my opinion, this video is the most un-artistic one that I've done. I tried to not editorialize it in any way whatsoever."
Many notice this lack of editorialization.
"No matter what side of the political spectrum you're on, everyone can look at the same thing without feeling like I was interfering with the message that they could have received on their own," Pagel said. "I felt like anything that I could have said in that video might have damaged that goal. Whatever trench people were dug into at the time, they would just dig themselves even deeper and really doubt the sincerity of the video. But the footage speaks for itself, so I didn't want to get in the way of that at all."
Falling down the Internet Rabbit Hole
Considering many of the violent events of the day and the perspectives of the footage, taking on the task of collecting all the footage from the Capitol attacks is a dark one.
“I definitely wept a few times while I was editing it,” said Pagel. “And that happens a lot when I'm making my own videos. I'm just a person that feels very deeply. There's definitely a few parts that were really, really tough to get through. I've seen this footage so many times since then, that I can watch it and be fine now. I'm not trying to put myself on any kind of pedestal, because the real heroes are the ones that actually caught that footage."
Some of the footage is indeed hard to watch.
"You often hear about war photographers, that they are looking at the world through the viewfinder, because the minute you take that camera away, that's when everything becomes real," he said. "Here, what I'm seeing is often low-resolution images of footage somebody else caught. Some of it was really low resolution. So I ended up having to use like Topaz and stuff like that to upscale quite a bit. So it helped that I was a little bit removed from it, that I didn’t shoot any of the footage like I normally would have. But there were definitely a few moments where it got me.”
In this instance, Pagel is not a war photographer, but perhaps some kind of war filmmaker or war editor, and it's important: the person who watches all the footage and sees what story it tells.
Will documentaries ever look the same again?
Pagel’s 90-minute film is very much at the intersection of the technology powering media right now. Footage comes off TikTok and is interspersed with selected Tweets. News footage is used but also book-ended by Facebook posts and vertical smartphone videos.
Formally and technically, this is a mode of documentary storytelling that embodies 2021. In a way, Pagel’s methodology shows a much bigger picture than just footage, as including Tweets and Facebook posts are abstracted thoughts from participants, adding one more layer to the portrait.
"The biggest thought that I had while making this was, I wanted to be honest about it, and I wanted to show people what was actually happening," Pagel told No Film School. "I didn't feel like people were going to have an understanding of how serious and how unparalleled this situation was unless you actually were able to just see it big picture. And this was the only way I could think of to let people inside, other than let the corporate-owned news media feed them what they think of the footage they're showing you. Because they're just going to show the same kind of clips on repeat, and that's just a small piece out of a much larger picture."
Seeing the footage chronologically and in context does add a new layer of impact.
"When you watch it from beginning to end, there are a lot of things that happen that weren't covered much by the news when I first released it," he said. "And honestly, it gives you a much broader scope so that you can see how people were behaving from beginning to end. 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's happening in front of you.”
Advice on gatekeepers and becoming the storytellers of our generation
Pagel is a classic example of a self-taught filmmaker. He’s backed by his YouTube subscribers and Patreon supporters, who help him keep up his work but also prove some audiences dearly need his content.
“The biggest lesson that I've learned in this stage of my life is that you can't wait for opportunities to present themselves to you,” Pagel told No Film School. “A lot of times you're just going to have to do it yourself. YouTube is not the end goal for me. My ultimate goal is to turn NightDocs into a TV show. Do something on Netflix or Hulu. So right now, this is my resume. If the day comes where I get in contact with somebody that could help me network into making that a reality, I can say, look at this. This is something that I did all by myself without a budget, without a crew. You take it for what it's worth, as good as it is, imagine what I could do with a budget, and a crew, and people helping me to do this, making this as good as I possibly can."
As a filmmaker, what do you think of the NightDocs timeline perspective of the Capitol attacks?
Did you capture footage of these extreme events? As filmmakers, what is our role during and after volatile events of our times? Start a discussion in the comments.