Unfortunately for many, the word documentary immediately
conjures up memories of sleeping through fifth period history
class. But today, non-fiction film is beginning to take shape
around subjects other than the Civil War.

Julie Pannuto
Although Ramey and Murray both graduated from the University, they first met as professionals in California. (Courtesy of David Murray and Rachel Ramey)

University alum and documentary filmmaker Rachel Ramey said that
what drives documentarists is “an innate curiosity about the
world and about the people around you.” It is this curiosity
that led her and partner David Murray, also an alum, to make
“Livermore,” a look at suburban sprawl in a unique
northern California town.

Ramey was a communications and English student during the late
1980s when she took a senior seminar class called American
Documentary Film and Video taught by Buzz Alexander. “I
realized, this is it. This is a combination of all of my
interests,” she said. “I was bitten immediately by the
documentary film bug.” After graduating, Ramey moved to San
Francisco where she worked at a media arts station and the public
television station. Since then, she has worked at the Center for
Investigative Reporting and has produced broadcast
documentaries.

Murray was an Art and Design student at the University and
became interested in documentary film after taking an experimental
film class. Presently, he works as an art director at a
postproduction facility creating graphics and animation for various
projects including corporate trade show videos and TV commercials.
He has produced a few films on his own including a short film
called “God’s Little Birds,” which he has adapted
into a longer version entitled “Lonestar Swan.” While
Murray enjoys the freedom of working solo, he said working with
Ramey has been very helpful and provides an often-needed reality
check.

The two filmmakers didn’t know each other when they were
at the University, but found that common bond was one of many.
Their similar interests in artistic style and subjects made them a
perfect match for creating the interesting story of
“Livermore,” which revolves around a town’s lost
centennial time capsule. The documentary seeks to show the changes
in the community as a result of suburban sprawl. Its
residents’ inability to find the time capsule, while
humorous, also serves as a metaphor for Livermore’s loss of
identity. The documentary aired on PBS last November.

“I don’t think that anyone imagined when we called
them up and said we wanted to talk about the Livermore time
capsule, that this would all end up on national public
television,” Ramey said. “The people were very open
about talking about the events in the town. They are proud of how
unusual their town is and they’re glad that someone came
along and recognized that they weren’t just another boring
suburb along highway 580.”

After filming 40 hours of footage with Livermore citizens over
the course of a year and a half, Ramey and Murray edited the film
down to 60 minutes. Aside from the music direction, the pair
completed and funded the entire project on their own.

This is an important aspect of documentary film that Murray
would like to share with aspiring filmmakers. “Don’t
wait around for anybody to be giving you money,” he said.

“No one is just going to hand you a directing job,”
Ramey added. “So a lot of times what you have to do is make
the project happen yourself.” This method worked well for
their Livermore endeavors and allowed the filmmakers to learn more
about the business for future projects.

Right now, the two are working together on a documentary about
music. Ramey is interested in exploring American culture and
different ways to tell stories in her films. She and Murray also
pay attention to the visual aesthetics and the music. “Film
is a visual medium of course, and I think a lot of documentary film
makers don’t make that a priority,” Ramey
commented.

While many documentaries are about social issues, Ramey finds
that she likes the filmmaking just as much as the subject matter.
She said frankly, “I always figured that if you really want
to save the world, I’d be working in a soup kitchen. I think
that you still have to have a love of filmmaking to make
documentaries.”

“There are lots of different approaches, just like with
fictional films and documentaries are the same way,” Murray
added. “People are still feeling out the different directions
that they can go in. For so many years, there was this idea that it
had to be historical or something about a social message, or
something like National Geographic.” Like his partner,
Murray’s philosophy is to “explore what directions you
can go with the documentary instead of worrying about trying to
change the world with it.”

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