Maybe this is what you would call entertainment documentary? Both pieces have a strong point of view, they are designed to shock and entertain, their subject matter is extremely provocative. Maybe it’s not ‘trash’ as such, but with heightened content like this, it’s unclear what’s exaggerated and what’s reality. This is one of the ethical issues for filmmakers, they ultimately have to make something engaging and provocative otherwise people won’t watch it. How do they do that and keep the faith or dignity of the subject? Often they don’t. These two documentaries below aren’t good examples of subtle (or unsubtle) exploitation. The prisoners are automatically at a disadvantage because of the fact they are criminals in prison, their rights and dignity already taken from them. And Trump, has built a career on provoking the public. So both subject matters are incredibly provocative without delving too deep into a story. Also people love watching hardened criminals, crime. It’s all reality drama. The reporter in the Trump piece remains calm in her interviews although she is clearly expressing a point of view and directing her participants to understand her opinion which is “how can you adopt such a racist and hateful attitude towards people based on arguments by Trump that are not factual”?
In the prison documentary, there is the god awful narration of the “god like” voice over that emphasises the drama, stirs out emotions, heightens the experience for us. It’s always interesting to watch content without sound to see straight away, how much music and/or voice overs, influence our attitudes towards the content and subject matter.
Both documentaries involve participation but the interviewer and filmmaker, already have a clear agenda. In Trump, it’s to emphasise the bigotry and the hatred of Trump supporters and for the prison docs, it’s to highlight the severity of their crimes and incarceration. The participants are really in place to support what the documentary maker has already decided. I don’t believe they’re looking for nuances or subtleties in arguments, its about gathering evidence for a preconceived idea that they know will have a dramatic impact on audiences..
Participation in this case becomes; participants acting as puppets for the filmmakers agenda. A documentary that grows and discovers an idea or subject with the help, assistance and participation of the subject matter, a more organic form of participation is harder to find but worthwhile.