Tuesday, August 21, 2007

the ethics of filmmaking

It's an onus few of us really take the time to stop and grasp - the ways in which we are portraying another person's life to the rest of the world.

Essentially, this is the premise upon which all documentary filmmaking lies. The presence of the camera, the exlusion (and by extension, deliberate inclusion) of certain material and the physical manipulation (i.e. editing) of material are not merely aesthetic choices, but things that affect the viewers' relationship and impression of the subject in very purposeful ways.

On one hand, the audience expects that it will be left with a certain image and discovery of the subject, but on the other, the subject expects that they will be treated with adequate care and responsibility, so that they are not portrayed (or worse case, chastised) as sympathy-grabbers or whores of attention. It really is a difficult balancing act - because every decision you make from pre- to post- production can affect the overall tone of the piece, and contributes to a representation that you, as an integral artist, wish to produce. I would argue personally that this isn't nearly as much about manipulation as it is simply just trying to be fair... I also guess the fact that I have a personal friendship with the character in our piece affects my stance on this and makes me ultra-wary of not overstepping the boundaries and painting him the in the 'wrong light' completely.

The underlying ethical issue, for us, is the reflexive commentary we wish to make on the gay scene itself... We do not want to make drag queens appear as 'offbeat' nuisances, but we are definitely not looking to turn it into a mass plea for pity against these so-called social outcasts. I know Amazon would hate that, and so would we. Thus we need to be very careful of the questions we ask, the wording, the order, the technical conventions we employ and the consistency of the tone.

The fact that someone has entrusted you with their story is a privilege, and one that you can never, ever take for granted. Perhaps the best way to avoid becoming redundant or dogmatic is to constantly source the opinion of others. I know I'll be getting plenty of non-media students to view this along the way and offer suggestions. Sometimes I find the best ways to connect with the 'everyday' viewer is to get someone who doesn't read into films the same way we do and have them explain things in their own words. At least that way it is more of an indication of the reaction we would get if this was ever going to be shown outside of this course.

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