Finding the Story Through the Viewfinder


Written by: Stephen Neshe
In the small lecture room that is the Mazzaferro Center, a small group of undergraduate film students sit eagerly awaiting to learn about a woman who’s had a lasting impact on three of their film professors here at Fitchburg State. Mary Jane Doherty, a film professor at Boston University, was one of the guest speakers who participated in the Communications Media Lecture Series sponsored by the Ruth Butler grant. On March 28, Doherty was here on campus to present a screening of her new documentary, Primaria (2016).
Doherty’s film tells the story of three young talented Cuban dancers trying to survive in the competitive world of the Cuban ballet system. Doherty follows these kids throughout four years of their elementary ballet training. These three kids, along with the rest of their classmates, hope to make it into the world-famous and cutthroat Ballet High School of Cuba.
Doherty is unafraid being up close and personal filming these young kids dancing. She says technically she has to be up close and personal to her subjects due to the microphone being mounted on top of her camera. The other reason for being so close is she “gets lost in the viewfinder.”
This is a problem she seems to have every time she holds a camera in her hands. Doherty gets so lost in her art that she forgets she isn’t just watching a film unfold,but is actually creating the film before her own eyes. She says the Cuban people don’t mind her invading their space because they themselves “drape their bodies over you,” unlike here in the States where people are very conscious of others invading their personal space.
Doherty works alone, in that she is both the camera and sound operator.  Her process is very different from other filmmakers. She doesn’t like going into a project knowing the story. She lets her camera capture the events that unfold in front of her lens and allows the camera to define the story.
Doherty is a charismatic and passionate filmmaker who wakes up every morning loving what she does. “Where I am now, I’m just beginning,” Doherty tells the small crowd of undergraduate film majors.  Her wit and humor show why she means so much to the film students she has taught.
Kevin McCarthy, a film professor at Fitchburg State, remarked that watching Doherty speak “felt like a refresher course.” While McCarthy studied at Boston University’s graduate film production program, he took Doherty’s narrative documentary class (or “Nardoc” as Doherty likes to calls it). He says Doherty is one of those “good teachers you create a bond with and you hold a special place for.”
Doherty and her work will no doubt inspire other young filmmakers to follow their dreams and make films. The Communications Media Lecture Series allows communication students the chance to ask questions and hear stories of passionate people like Doherty who, like them, love sharing their passion for storytelling in their respected medium.
Mary Jane Doherty currently teaches film at Boston University. Her work has been screened at such film festivals as Toronto, Venice, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Women in the Director’s Chair, and the National Poetry Workshop Festival.  She is currently working on a project about the Boston Children’s Chorus and the mystery of sound.
To learn more about her latest film, Primaria, check out the film’s website: