On the ground & behind the edit / by KirstenStudio

Sergio, the documentary, is based on the life, humanitarian work and events that lead to the death of Brazilian, United Nations diplomat Sérgio Vieira de Mello. He and other members of his staff were killed in the 2003 bombing of the Canal Hotel in Iraq. Mr. Vieira de Mello was working as Secretary-General's Special Representative in Iraq. From field work under the UNHCR in Bangladesh and Cypris during their conflicts of the 1970's to his involvement in clearing land mines in Cambodia during the 1990's, to serving as the UN Transitional Administrator for East Timor in the late 90's and early 2000's, Mr. Vieira de Mello's life reflected his strong belief in the importance of being on the ground and working with people. Remarkable and awe inspiring are words that come to mind when you start to comprehend everything one person packed into one lifetime, and one that was cut short.  It's easy to imagine what more could have been accomplished.  After all the film continually refers to him as a 007.  Brilliant and charming, Sergio got the seemingly impossible jobs done. People liked him.

The documentary, directed by Greg Barker, was based on the book by Samantha Powers (who also appears in the film).  Sergio was aired on HBO for a number of weeks earlier in the year and was available on On-Demand.  The film will be available on Netflix soon and Ms. Powers mentioned the filmmakers are working on a study guide for educational organizations.

I attended a United Nations Association of New York (UNA NY) screening of Sergio at The Tribeca Grand Hotel Friday night. I went because I was interested in the subject, Dr. Jamal Benomar, Chef de Cabinet of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was scheduled to speak afterwards (Ms. Powers was a surprise guest), but really the main reason was Karen Schmeer.  Ms. Schmeer was the editor on Sergio.  She lost her life earlier this year in an accident.  At still a very young age, she had already created a large body of impressive works. Sergio was no less so.

Karen Schmeer had a great ability to build tension in a story but also to provide relief by finding humor in areas where it may not be obvious that humor exists.  In Sergio, just when I thought I couldn't take hearing any more about painful bombing details, she gives us a little about Mr. Vieira de Mello's personal life and by way of her master editing, she had the audience laughing at Sergio's philandering.  Ms. Schmeer also found humor in a rescuer's frustration from Mr. Vieira de Mello's rejection of using a faith in God as comfort during the time he was trapped in the bombing rubble.  Those aren't subjects one would normally flag as potential scenes for humor, but the way Ms. Schmeer cut it together, they were indeed funny.  The scenes had the intended effect and they came along at the right time.  And it was the editing that made them funny and the right editor to see that potential in the raw footage.

Karen Schmeer also had a gift for using a combination of literal and abstract imagery to illustrate a story and that is a unique and valuable talent as an editor. She had a way of finding unusual shots and sounds to convey a particular moment in a story, whether to evoke empathy or laughter or any other emotion, she knew the magic combinations. She was and continues to be an inspiration.

Sergio is a documentary to see for many reasons.  If it's Sergio Vieira de Mello, Samantha Powers, Greg Barker or Karen Schmeer, there are many lessons worth learning and the process is a pleasure.