Generally, in documentaries, the audience relies on the filmmaker to portray the truth and reality of an event. But sometimes, as a filmmaker, it is easy to want to manipulate and direct what is happening in front of the camera. Whether or not this is okay is up for debate. Some people think that you can manipulate events slightly as long as you're not changing the overall truth of the film. However, this turns a fine line into a very blurry line. How much manipulation is too much? How much can a filmmaker direct without effecting the integrity of the documentary?
Nanook of the North, by Robert Flaherty, is typically considered the first documentary film. At the time, people were fascinated by the inside look Flaherty provided on a culture that was foreign to them. However, it was later discovered that Flaherty lost all of his original film for the documentary in a fire, and went back and tried to recreate it all. In other words, he was telling Nanook what to do the entire time. Can we even consider this a documentary then?
This week, Evin and I went back to Buffalo to film with one of our subjects, Rubens Mukunzi. Rubens is the creator and editor of Karibu News, a multilingual newspaper in Buffalo. He used to be a media star when he was still living in Rwanda, so he is extremely comfortable in front of the camera. So much so that, while we were following him on his paper delivery, he started directing his customers and telling them what to do on camera. At one point, he staged an entire scene for us. So what do we do? The footage is great and gives solid insight on the paper, but does it ruin the integrity of the doc since it is directed?
We essentially have three options: use the directed scene, scrap the directed scene, or include the scene along with his directions. I would argue that it is okay to use the directed scene because using the footage does not discredit the doc; it does not change the overall truth of the documentary like Flaherty did. However, using the scene along with his directions could be interesting since it really shows his personality. We'll decide as we continue with the editing process, but I think that this provides and important lesson for documentary filmmakers. It can be tempting, and much easier, to direct your subjects, but it's extremely important to make sure that doing so does not ruin the integrity of the film.