Monday, April 28, 2008

Documentary Motivation, Objectivity and Ethics

I'm going to put out a quick post for anyone who has already seen the film and is ready for some discussion. I'm not going to talk about the plot, cultural context or technical aspects here, so I'm hoping this won't inadvertently pre-empt anything girish is working on. Chris and/or girish, I’m assuming that the selector of the film will be in charge of leading the main discussion and providing the plot rundown? In the meantime, if anyone not watching the film or having seen it years ago needs a fairly spoiler-free intro, I have a review from last October.

Anyway, I’m going to throw out some questions from that review and a couple other related thoughts. Sorry if this is a rehash of documentary objectivity debates you’re already sick of.

"The Emperor's Naked Army Marches On" raises some interesting questions about the genre itself. Can the filmmaker ever really be just an observer and recorder? Certainly his mere presence has an effect: it is used by Okuzaki to manipulate his interviewees into making his visits seem more official, but it also discourages them from revealing their secrets. Does Hara’s choice of subject (which he was dedicated enough to that he followed him over several years) imply that he agrees with, supports or identifies with Okuzaki? Does the filmmaker have an obligation to help his subject by providing money, information or comfort? Is he obligated to interfere when he witnesses crimes or unethical behavior, as when Okuzaki is beating up other people?

Should all documentaries have a message? What would a neutral film be like? Does the passion and commitment it takes to create a documentary necessarily compromise its objectivity?


girish said...

Hi Walrus -- I won't be able to post about or discuss the film until the date I previously announced (May 19). And I wasn't planning on doing a plot rundown because I'll just be assuming that everyone who wants to discuss the film in any detail has had a chance to see it. But I will also post links to other reviews (like yours), which may provide plot details.

Peter Rinaldi said...

Should posters wait for Girish to post first, being that it is his selection?

sort-of grown-up said...

Since Walrus started early, I'll start my amateur commenting early, too.

Watching the film, I definitely believed that the filmmaker sympathized with Okuzaki - enough so as to go along with some of his deceptions and not intercede in his violent acts. However, thinking back, I can see now how those could also be argued to be ultra objectivity.

The editing in documentaries gives an opportunity for subjectivity, purposeful or not. I didn't think about it very much while watching the film.

For those of you more knowledgable than me, did you find what was or was not included to be noticeable?

girish said...

"Is he obligated to interfere when he witnesses crimes or unethical behavior, as when Okuzaki is beating up other people?"

Walrus, Hara has spoken a bit about this. Interestingly, he makes a distinction between being simply an eyewitness and being a filmmaker. He says that if he had simply witnessed the act, he might've felt impelled to intervene, but in his role as a filmmaker, his responsibility to the camera took precedence.

HarryTuttle said...

Well this ethical question seems to b developed in other posts already, but we should draw the line between journalism and culpability.

War reporters take pictures of people being killed on the field, without doing anything to prevent it, to protect them, to rescue them, and they even benefit from some kind of "news" immunity (though not every combatant respects this neutrality and journalists get killed even when wearing a big reporter logo).

So filming death is not immoral per se. And clearly Okuzaki doesn't need Hara to do his things, he did them in the past and will continue in the future.
The reality might be influenced marginally by the presence of a camera (like every Reality-show), but this alone doesn't make Hara an accomplice and a criminal. He is not responsible for whatever Okuzaki does, even if they talk about it beforehand. A documentarian does have to embrace the ideology of his subjects.

But the interview of Hara, Girish reports in the next post, is more disturbing and not quite the position of a "neutral journalist"...