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Documentary and Ethics

Another topic which is important to cover is that of ethics in documentary and especially in relation to those with disabilities and how to go about making documentaries regarding this subject. This came up after watching an amazing avant-garde style documentary by the name of ‘It Works’ by Fridolin Schonweise. The whole film was a set of hands over a keyboard and computer, attempting to type words. Although this was all the film depicted, it was a fascinating insight into the frustration experienced by those who are readily able to communicate. The film itself was awkward and frustrating to watch, which really pushed forward the message they were sending. Even the music was picked carefully, a kind of playful tune that would build and out of nowhere stop abruptly loosely in time of the hands when they couldn’t quite find the letter they wanted. This really stuck with me because although it was by no means a traditional documentary, it really captured the emotional side of the things rather than observational.

So after watching it you really begin to ask yourself questions like, if the subject isn’t to give full consent, what does this mean? Does this mean ethically the film shouldn’t have been made at all? If they do give consent, how do you ensure you are representing them in a fair and non-prejudiced manner?

Most of these questions I’ll admit I don’t yet have the answers to myself, but it is fascinating and I can imagine in many instances directors would have to be consciously reminding themselves to treat the participants actively rather than in passive manner quite often in such processes. But finally…. how one who is not experiencing the same condition can readily make a documentary about someone in an attempt to express their inner feelings and frustrations seems almost impossible to me, just like how filming animals and people in their ‘natural habitat’ is impossible because no one truly acts ‘normal’ when they know they are being watched, and no one can truly understand what it means to be disabled until they are themselves. So logically, I would have to say that only one who experiences a disability can really make a documentary about experiencing that disability and no one else, no matter how close they are or how much research they have done.