Excess Voiceover Overwhelms ‘Tell Me and I Will Forget’

While Justin Salerian’s Tell Me and I Will Forget offers an interesting look at South Africa, the 2010 documentary suffers from the burden of too much voiceover narration.

Tell Me and I Will Forget attempts to show South Africa through the eyes of emergency workers employed by both public and private companies. The picture reveals a depth of violence and lack of safety divided along racial lines. Traveling shots contrast the country’s natural beauty and its devastating poverty, and interviews with emergency workers and others personalize the violence happening there.

The voiceover explains too much, especially when other conventions can convey the same information more efficiently. Sometimes the voiceover doubles information from an interview. For example, the voiceover states, “EMS workers often lock away their stories. In many cases, it was a traumatic experience that catalyzed their interest in emergency services to begin with.” In the next shot the interviewer asks off camera, “Why did you get into EMS?”, with the subject replying at length. The subject’s reply gets the point across well enough on its own.

Other times the voiceover offers information that a title can do better. For example, the voiceover states, “Emmanuel is a new basic medic for Netcare at Pretoria East Hospital,” as Emmanuel appears on the screen. A title appearing with Emmanuel would remove the need for that sentence.

Still other times the voiceover offers general explanations when more specific wording would have served better. For example, the voiceover states, “A putrid smell fills the air.” Instead of “putrid smell,” why not just identify what the smell is?

While Salerian’s documentary feels like a passion project, the excess of narration indicates a problem of too much information and not enough focus on the documentary’s intended message. While they could have been interesting, the perspectives of the emergency workers get lost among the recounting of South Africa’s history going back 40 years, the American-focused archival footage, and the other voiceover explanations.

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