The Center for Social Media at American University has created yet another helpful and informative study examining the work of nonfiction filmmakers. This one is “Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Challenges in Their Work”; a report based on conversations with 45 filmmakers about the ethical challenges they face in the creation of their work and how they handle these conflicts.
The study looks at filmmakers’ relationships to their subjects, their audience, and to their own artistic vision and how these relationships are connected to a host of ethical issues including paying subjects, participation of subjects in final cut approval, using recreation, using archival footage, power differentials between filmmakers and subjects and more. What they discovered, given that there is no clear set of standard ethical guidelines for nonfiction (different than journalism), is that filmmakers deal with these issues on their own and in a variety of different ways.
As stated in the executive summary from the report: “When documentary filmmakers do have to make their own ethical decisions, how do they reason? What are their concerns? How much do their own reasoning processes correlate with existing journalism codes? As documentary production becomes more generalized, and as public affairs become ever more participatory, the question of what ethical norms exist and can be shared is increasingly important.”
Many of the filmmakers participating in the study remained anonymous, but those who participated publicly include Joe Berlinger, Sam Pollard, Gordon Quinn and LEF Grantee Steven Ascher; a true gathering of experience from the field!
I recommend a visit with this study as it explores some of the deep and troubling issues of the work of nonfiction, that we all, in good faith, try to wrestle with and reconcile in ways that are fair to ourselves, our subjects, and our viewers.
You can check it out here.
Thank you Center for Social Media for engaging in this critical work!