Truth and Power 2: the Ethics of the Documentary Filmmaker
While governments worldwide attempt to undermine the credibility of journalists, filmmakers and groups working to expose their mythmaking, it’s never been more important to safeguard that credibility. Meanwhile, several of the films in our 2017 programme push at the boundaries of standard documentary ethics. Filmmakers drawn to compelling subjects are often obliged to meet difficult topics head on, while juggling their ethical responsibility to the individuals involved. In this second of two connected strands, we consider the dilemma facing filmmakers who risk their integrity to deal with contentious issues.
A journalist with no scruples and two comedians travel to North Korea with a mission – to challenge the conditions of the smile in one of the world’s most notorious regimes. On the pretext of being a small theatre troupe on a cultural exchange visit from Denmark, The Red Chapel was given permission to travel to North Korea with the objective of performing at special events for selected audiences. But in reality the small troupe was comprised of a group who had no such intentions.
Presented in collaboration with Matchbox Cineclub.
Midway through the filming of a documentary about his life as an anti war activist, Mayer Vishner declares that his time has passed and that his last political act will be to commit suicide – and he wants it all on camera. Now the director must decide whether to turn off his camera or use it to keep his friend alive. Left on Purpose is an award-winning feature length documentary that confronts the growing issues of aging, isolation and end of life choices through an intense character driven story of the relationship between filmmaker and subject. With humour and heart, it provides a rare cinematic look at what it means to be a friend to someone in pain.
Documentary filmmakers claim the right to present their subjects however they see fit, free to manipulate, to skew and to lie to make their point. When speaking for the subject, what is documentary filmmaker’s artistic license? The greater good? And how do filmmakers respond to attacks on their artistic licence, in producing, presenting and defending their work and within the work itself? How do filmmakers first of all police themselves, self-censor or otherwise anticipate and adapt to an increasingly hostile environment?
In a classroom in Sicily, just inside the walls of Fortress Europe, recently arrived refugees receive lessons from a teacher who has some rather unbalanced traits. One moment he mercilessly rejects the refugees – the next he embraces them. A plea that borders on the immoral; a welcome charged with a guilt complex; and the compromise between these, made policy. Operating at the intersection of documentary and fiction, Stranger in Paradise is an unflinching film essay investigating the power relations between Europe and refugees.
We Are Humanity is a film about a way of life under threat. An emotionally-driven documentary that takes you on an immersive and revealing journey into the seemingly utopian lives of the Jarawa people. Living on the Andaman Islands of India, the Indian government are attempting to forcibly assimilate them into modern society. The Jarawas are treated like animals in zoo by tourists and Indian scientists attempting to “educate” them.
We Are Humanity deals implicitly with the issues surrounding representing the Other, an Other with no access to a means to represent themselves. Through this film we come to understand not only the destructive effects of global capitalism, but also the complexity and commonality of the human experience.