The structure of this documentary is the most valuable aspect of it’s success. It loosely resembles a frame narrative by opening with simple commentary from the subject, then transitions to the bulk of the film which discusses the history of the subject, and ends with a conclusive statement about how the opening and bulk concepts are related. This narrative is supported by the editing and B-roll footage that create the visual path of the documentary.
A Place Like This opens with a fade from black into a sunrise. This a clever way to start any film, and is used quite often in the industry. If you think about it, many movies and documentaries open with the colorful skies of a sunrise; it implies a new day, and with that a new idea or story.
After the title exits the first frame, the subject of the documentary begins speaking (an elderly man). He talks about his desire to have a garden in his early years and how lack of time and space permitted him from having one. Throughout this discussion the B-roll transitions between a few shots of close-up elements in a garden; it is understood that he has developed this garden later in his life. His discussion about the importance of water to generate healthy vegetation is emphasized by footage of a burbling fountain in the center of his garden. A circling shot looking up from the base of a tree hints to the spiritual growth of the man and the physical growth of the garden.
The body of this documentary focuses on the man’s experience as an officer in the Royal Australian Air force, beginning at the young age of eighteen. This discussion shows more footage of the man (Alex Jenkins) than of his garden, specifically close ups of his face and hands, but includes elements of the garden as well. Many of the images of the garden still align with the the stories Jenkins speaks of—a damaged spider web when he discusses disintegrated aircrafts and the tragic results, and the cloud-speckled sky when he tells of men free falling twenty thousand feet from a malfunctioning aircraft.
The documentary closes with more discussion about the quality of life in Jenkins’ garden in contrast with the thought of his own death, indirectly relating the garden to heaven. The final scene shows Jenkins walking into the depths of his garden with a fade into black. This is a powerful and fitting ending to this work, summing up the message of this documentary beautifully.