Review: onBeing

Jennifer Crandell’s onBeing is a series of short videos featuring residents of Washington, DC. Explaining the project beyond that becomes difficult. For that reason, I’ll let it define itself first:

onBeing is a project based on the simple notion that we should get to know one another a little better. What you’ll find here is a series of videos that takes you into the musings, passions, histories and quirks of all sorts of people. The essence of who they are, who we are.

As that summary suggests, it is essentially an exercise in documentary. Not stodgy documentary, but the short innovative kind. In this way, the web-only project has a great deal in common with Hometown Baghdad.

onBeing logoonBeing is essentially a series of three minute documentaries that feature little more than people speaking directly to the camera against a stark white background. In this lies both its magic and its potential shortcomings.

In general, I love onBeing. It’s mission statement “that we should get to know one another a little better” is one of my own firmest convictions. And it succeeds brilliantly at showing people with all their quirks, pretensions, and charming honesty.

The people interviewed and the topics they talk about cuts a wide swath. There’s Anne Elizabeth, a twenty-something nun who explains how answering the call was the most rewarding choice that she ever made. There’s thirteen year old Max Bigdeli, with his mother, talking about spelling bees. There’s Sunan Assavarungsrikul, a Thai immigrant, who explain how she’s had a hard and lonely life. There’s Ron Daniels, an HIV-positive man, who talks about his journey out of hopelessness.

I’ve only suggested a few of the many varied stories that onBeing tells. All of them seem genuine, all of them remind us that the world is bigger than our own enclaves, and that others are not so unlike us. These are important things that I am glad to be reminded of, as much and as often as I can be.

But the visceral honesty and simplicity of onBeing is also its potential weakness. One possibility is that some people are simply more compelling than others. This isn’t a real problem in the aim of the project, but as entertainment it makes onBeing less assured of a bright future.

Also, to stay near three minutes, the video sometimes make unexplained leaps in the guest’s narratives. Usually, one can follow, but not without some curiosity about what has been cut.

These minor quips, however, are little compared with all that onBeing does. It’s an interesting and fun project. And, as an added bonus, the series is currently taking a–short, I hope–break, a great opportunity to catch up.

In general, I would recommend the series heartily to anyone with an interest in the burgeoning field of internet-only video projects. For that matter, I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in being alive. If that sounds like you, please go give onBeing a look.


One response to “Review: onBeing”

  1. What an amazing site. I got a chance to look at about four of the clips. This site will do more to showcase our ‘sameness-es’ than our differences. Thanks, David.