The burden of a filmmaker
Added: Wednesday, 28 January 2009

watch original V-Blog in Persian

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Together with my husband, we're in the final stage of completing our documentary about the evolution of democratic governance. It's an exciting topic and I've enjoyed researching and understanding the subject, but have felt extremely challenged at the same time. How does one create a compelling documentary that captivates average viewers when the subject is quite brainy?

Well, some of the most successful "commercial" documentary filmmakers, such as Michael Moore, use techniques like telling stories of people, which give a face to subjects like the health care system. You find yourself on an emotional rollercoaster between shock and sadness, anger and compassion. His latest film, SICKO, is a great example of a great, persuasive piece of filmmaking.

As filmmakers who are trying to navigate by certain principles, however, we've found that we're exploring new terrain. For example, we've decided that we don't want to point fingers and put any individual politician, party or person on the spot. We don't want to 'expose' scandals, but rather take a positive approach that shows the achievements of our democracies and yet their systemic shortcomings in the face of an ever-changing world. We want to show what the next stage of evolution could be for this system of governance. Can we make a film that is captivating, yet without falling into the trappings of demonizing people and institutions?

It's very hard because people love the hype of popular culture. For example, with all due appreciation for the current US President, it is very hard right now to talk about the systemic challenges facing our democratic systems when people treat him like he's the messiah and all the problems in the world will now miraculously be solved. It's hard to make a film that shows how democracy, as we know it, is captive to market forces without pointing fingers at individual politicians the way some filmmakers do.

Now some will ask – why not point fingers? Moore, for example, would say that freedom of speech is what makes our societies stronger and pointing fingers is a healthy way of creating debate. But that stance is not unproblematic. On the one hand, freedom of speech is clearly valuable and sets us apart from other societies that restrict freedom. On the other hand, this freedom is so easily abused, causes schism and infringes on other people's freedom of expression. For example, a Canadian filmmaker made a documentary about Michael Moore called MANUFACTURING DISSENT, in which she exposes what she finds to be Michael Moore's dubious techniques, such as taking soundbites out of context and manipulating them to make his point. Or staging certain events or bending the truth. Whether you agree with the Canadian filmmaker or not, watching both Moore's documentaries and then hers, you start to realize that things are never as they seem and "truth" is nothing more than a fabrication of the filmmaker's intention.

And what is more, how can I point fingers and demonize individual people, when the real problem is systemic and requires collective action? We're all part of the problem (and the solution)! In other words, filmmakers often simplify the complexity of our societal challenges when they blame everything on one cause (such as the previous US president).

As filmmakers we all know how easy it is to make someone say something they didn't say. So when I give people release forms, the signing of which gives me the power to use their soundbites any which way I want, I have a huge responsibility not to abuse their trust. As we edit away on our next cut of this documentary we're constantly aware of the fact that we're presenting a subjective view (no documentary is objective), but we're also trying to do so "ethically."

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14 January 2008

The Prayer

A girl goes out to the forest to prepare herself for a prayer session.

Written, Directed & Photographed by Karlos Alastruey
Music & Sound: Javier El Busto

Girl: Aintzane Alastruey
Woman: Maria Marchena
Boy: Unai Alastruey
Director's Assistant: Maria Marchena

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