A documentary filmmaker has several problems, not the least of which is a set of ethical issues that arise during the process. What is the best way to portray the film’s subjects? What should you shoot and what should you avoid? How do you edit a film so that it stays loyal to its topic and subjects while simultaneously telling an engaging story to the audience?
How does a filmmaker represent individuals in a foreign nation or culture (or subculture) with dignity and sensitivity to that place, time, and experience? Most people who aren’t involved in filmmaking are unaware of the camera’s and editing’s ability to organize events in unexpected ways.
The relationship between the filmmaker and the subjects is at the heart of documentary filmmaking, and it’s not always a power balance. And, for the most part, the filmmaker is the one who decides how that will be handled.
A recent paper from American University’s Center for Social Media examined the ethics issue through interviews with 40 documentarians of all ages and backgrounds. The documentary, titled “Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical Challenges in Their Work,” has sparked a lot of debate in the film community.
The statement that there is a significant distinction between documentary filmmakers’ and news reporters’ work is one of the report’s main topics. According to the research, “Many documentary filmmakers work with people they choose and consider themselves to be custodians of their subjects’ tales. ‘I am in their life for a year,’ one filmmaker said. As a result, rather than a journalistic two or three hours, there is a more profound interaction.”
These guidelines were observed by filmmakers with well-acknowledged limitations. They did not feel obligated to defend persons who they considered had done harm to themselves or who had independent access to the media, such as celebrities or business executives with their public relations departments.
They frequently justified the manipulation of particular facts, sequences, and meanings of images concerning viewers if it meant telling a tale more successfully and assisting viewers in grasping the story’s main, and overall truthful, themes.
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