Monday, October 12, 2009

Honest Truths: does the world need a documentary code of ethics?

There is an interesting discussion here about the idea of a possible "code of ethics" pertaining to documentary filmmakers. Access to this topic requires D-Word membership.

It is based on the release of the report "Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical Challenges in their Work" which is available here:

I have to admit that I am a little perplexed by the idea of a code covering all documentary filmmakers. The variety of work, and storytelling techniques used, in the genre is so diverse, I'm not sure that it is possible (or desirable) to come up with an all-encompassing code. Is this type of code, no matter how well-intentioned, doing documentary filmmakers a disservice by painting them as "journalists" alone? Does someone who uses a more impressionistic technique for expressing a truth really need to live by the BBC code of ethics (how well are traditional news organizations living up to their own code of ethics)?

Many documentary filmmakers do strive to fit into the category of journalist, but there are others (including some very important voices) who do not. Would this type of code actual end up hurting the genre by driving away diverse voices who now self-identify as documentary filmmakers? Thinking about it, Robert Flaherty and Werner Herzog would probably be in violation, if not in letter then at least in spirit of the code. Could such a code be used in lawsuits against filmmakers who do not use a journalistic model for their filmmaking? Is it fair to expect filmmakers, who are in the minority, to live by, and be judged by a code that was created by a "consensus" of the majority?

Is an "ecstatic truth" more real than an "accountant's truth? " Interesting stuff, there are some who would argue that much journalism, with its codes of ethics, actually present less truth under the cover of presenting many details. Honestly, it freaks me out a little when people claim to know/ present the "Truth" as opposed to truths.

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