Stories we tell — the fine line between truth and storytelling
Unlike other journalistic forms, no guideline or rules of ethics have ever been agreed upon by documentary practitioners, leading to various ethical interpretations of the genre, and a continuous debate over what really counts as a documentary film.
For many, documentaries represent an idealized space for the discovery of truth, and as such, they require the self-effacement of the director whose role is only to capture what happens before him. Because of this perceived indexical truth-value of documentaries—with claims of authenticity and objectivity always associated with the genre—such films may be criticized on an ethical basis for their manipulation and sometimes misrepresentation of the material to suit the narratives’ ends. Of course, many documentary directors have now moved away from this rather limited view of non-fiction filmmaking, especially considering that the mere presence of a camera will undoubtedly alter reality.
Though strict factual accuracy should be maintained, the material presented on film is inherently shaped and constructed—to varying degrees—by the director’s editing and stylistic engagement. Indeed, the documentary filmmaker, like any other communicator, makes endless choices, selecting topics, lens, angles, sounds, words that will ultimately be an expression of his/her point of view, whether he/she acknowledges it or not. Though eclectic in the themes they approach, the films selected this week all showcase the director’s storytelling and craftsmanship, and the ethical questions that go with it.