05 May 2011

Dawn Mikkelson's SMOOCH


I'm standing on Rick Vaicius' lawn in Pepin, Wisconsin, eating a brat and drinking beer when he asks what the next project is.

"Oh, it's this documentary in Minneapolis about kissing."

"You mean SMOOCH?"


"That's not about kissing."

Such is the tenuous grasp I sometimes have on what these films I'm working on are about. I get the gist of it and I usually remember part of it. Anyway, what's important is that I show up at the right place at the right time. Beyond that, I don't really need to know what's going on. It doesn't affect what I'm going to do anyway.

Anyway, Rick was right. SMOOCH is not about kissing. And I was right, it sort of is.

You see, there's The Smooch Project, a "heart-lifting effort to collect 10,000 photographs of the affectionately-inclined from around the world." Go to the webpage. There's lots of cute pictures.

full room

An off-shoot of that is Dawn Mikkelson's documentary SMOOCH, a film that aims to show "stories of reconciliation, forgiveness and healing from some of the most conflict-ridden nations in the world."

I'm in town for the documentary part.

The team for the day (other than myself) is pretty small: director (and proud backer) Dawn Mikkelson and interns Monte Swann and Heidi Tungseth, and that's probably for the best because we're in the storage unit of an apartment complex. Yes, the storage unit.

As people come through the building's art crawl to get their Smooch pictures taken, we tell them about the documentary and try and convince them to come back into the scary room to talk about forgiveness on-camera. It's pretty simple, really. The trick is just convincing normal people to do something like this.

heidi and dawn

Once we've loaded in, there isn't a whole lot to it. The talking head interviews are pretty straightforward. As long as people stay on their marks and don't do anything weird, it's just a matter of capturing emotions and asking the right questions.


It was all pretty basic stuff--fodder for the YouTube channel--and then a middle aged woman in a wheelchair rolled in and blew us away. You could feel the film exploding all around the room. I don't want to get into the details, but it was a powerful, powerful story. You could easily do a whole film on her. And that's awesome, but it doesn't really fit with the narrative the film has been following.

So what then does a documentary do when the world it has built implodes? I guess we'll see.

Filmmaker Lucas McNelly is spending a year on the road, volunteering on indie film projects around the country, documenting the process and the exploring the idea of a mobile creative professional. You can see more from A Year Without Rent at the webpage. Follow him on Twitter: @lmcnelly.