Posted November 15, 2012 by Cooper Point Journal in Arts & Entertainment

Student Filmmaker Nik Nerburn Spills the Beans About His Artistic Journey

What type of film would you consider “Paul: The Secret Story of Olympia’s Satanic Sheriff”?

I would call it an experimental documentary. It’s sort of like a combination of an essay film – exploring an idea rather than a plot – and an historical documentary. There’s this filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky who said there are two types of films, ones that are based on pieces of writing, and ones that are based on looking at the world through the camera. Making “Paul” is my way of looking at the Paul Ingram story through the camera.

What made you so infatuated with this particular case?

I think that history is super empowering because it helps fight alienation. When I was younger I was a little more destructive and I wasn’t an engaged citizen. I didn’t care about public property and I wasn’t sympathetic to my community. I think that history is a way of helping people contextualize where they are and that the world exists outside of their own life and their actions affect other people. I’ve always had an interest in history and local history, because it’s really fun to know about these little secrets that are right underneath your nose. So I wanted to focus on the little histories that are right underneath our feet every single day, which are just as beautiful and illuminating as the grander things, but tend to be pushed aside and ignored.

How do you define ‘illumination’?

We can understand things on a cognitive level, but there is a type of knowing that is totally emotional and there are no words for it. You can’t just say what it is. It’s sort of like when a star is really dim and you try to look at it closely, but when you look to the side of it, it suddenly becomes brighter. Film, as a medium of art, has the most in common with poetry because it deals with metaphors. I think illumination is the understanding of things that there aren’t words for. In a way the film became more of an exploration of the nature of truth, but it also considers some broader issues like the nature of history itself and the nature of stories and narratives.

Explain your process

I framed it around five different areas in town that were central to the case: The Ingram house, the Church of Living Water – where the Ingram family went to church, the place of the supposed satanic ceremonies, the bible camp that the daughters attended, and the jail cell Paul occupied. I wanted to go to these five places and feel what these places were like. I did drawings and watercolors rather than a traditional story board.

Then I came across this woman, Carol Burns who had made a film for public television about the case. I called her up and watched her movie and she, out of some goodness that came from somewhere, gave me a box of her materials, which is where I got all the VHS footage, the audio from his interrogations and a lot of other materials. I shot a bunch of 16 mm, combined it with some digital stuff, and then I wrote and rewrote a script maybe 15 – 20 times.

How did you move forward after you realized that you could not make the documentary you envisioned?

I like to think of myself as a hard-nosed investigative journalist, but I’m not, and I kind of knew that all along. The process of the art always becomes central to the finished product for me. So I thought well, I can’t just go to these places where nothing is happening and point a camera and just simply film them. I decided to make it about my existential narrative crisis, realizing that if you can’t find the thing, make a story about how you couldn’t find the thing. That’s the way movies work. You don’t really make a film, you are just a medium for the film to make itself.

 By Melkorka Licea