“The Sapeh Keeper” beautifully illustrates the two kinds of dialogue found in most well-made mini-docs. The filmmaker Mariah Ahmad gives us scenes where her subject Mathew Ngau Jau is shown talking about the Sapeh, a lute played by traditional Malaysian musicians. These “talking-head” clips are then intercut with scenes in which Jau’s comments are played as voice-over narration.
The technique for turning onscreen talk into voice-over narration is simple. In the editing software’s timeline, you drop in visual examples, known as B-roll. While this is obviously effective with high accomplished subjects such as Mathew Ngau Jau, the technique can be just as impressive when used with less-well-known experts, for example, a student musician explaining how to play the saxophone.
Shot using an iPhone 7 Plus, “Keeper of the Sapeh” is an entry in the Thomson Foundation/RTE Mojocon Mobile Journalism Competition 2017. You can see more of Ahmad’s work on Vimeo and follow her on Twitter @A_Marea.
The Metropolitan Museum provides additional information about the Sapeh here.