"An entire industry has been built over the last decade on the premise that documentary films are particularly useful tools at sparking change in beliefs and actions. It is time those in the documentary film community concerned with social change move beyond using film to simply build empathy, and instead think about how film can serve the harder, messier, but ultimately more transformational work of building solidarity.
When we use film to build empathy for marginalized groups, we normalize whiteness by confirming the notion that whiteness is the lens through which others are viewed, understood and judged. And while a change in perception is important, and, certainly the first step towards behavioral change, the overemphasis on attitudinal change towards individuals leaves less room for films that push audiences to grapple with the structures and systems that reinforce inequality.
The empathy frame also distracts us from more strategic uses of film: to validate and empower those who rarely see their experience on screen, to convene disconnected people and movements, and to build alliances and power. The power when we — the marginalized 'others' — use film to speak to our own communities or across identity and issue silos to build common ground and strategize solutions."
"Sympathy is often not enough. It can be condescending. But taking on the identity of others, appropriating what is theirs, is invasive and frequently violent. I have heard appropriation defended on the grounds that we have a responsibility to tell one another’s stories and must be free to do so. This is a seductive but flawed argument. The responsibility toward other people’s stories is real and inescapable, but that doesn’t mean that appropriation is the way to satisfy that responsibility. In fact, the opposite is true: Telling the stories in which we are complicit outsiders has to be done with imagination and skepticism. It might require us not to give up our freedom, but to prioritize justice over freedom. It is not about taking something that belongs to someone else and making it serve you but rather about recognizing that history is brutal and unfinished and finding some way, within that recognition, to serve the dispossessed.
Capturing how things look fools us into thinking that we’ve captured their truth. But appearance is bare fact. Combined with intuition, scrupulous context and moral intelligence, it has a chance to become truth. Unalloyed, it is worse than nothing."
“It’s not a problem being White, don’t ever mistake me for saying that, but it is a problem when the locus of control is so unified and so unified across racial lines.
It’s not that we’re not making good films; it’s not that we’re not good people; and it’s not that we are racist, but the structure of racism remains. It remains in filmmaking. And it remains in funding and it remains in crewing. I mean, what’s the likelihood of an all Black crew funded by a Black organization, knocking on a door in a White community to make a film about their struggles? A friend of mine says if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu. Who’s at the table with you and who’s on your menu?
Who’s in the room where it happens? Are you in the room where it happens? And that ties in with who’s getting paid to do the work because that getting paid to do the work leads to the experience needed to get the grant, leads to getting the film made, leads to getting the award or the recognition or getting into the festival, leads to getting to the work, right? So it’s a cycle, and if the cycle isn’t disrupted, then things stay.
If you’re in the room, I need you to be the disruptor. I need you to take the risk, and it’s not that I don’t want to talk to you about it, it’s not that I refuse to talk to you about it, it’s not that I refuse to help you. But to some extent, you have to do this … you have to do this. When I walk into this room and get a stomach ache, you’ve got to walk into this room and get a stomach ache. Right? That’s the way it’s going to change."
“It’s so easy to walk into India and build emotionally gutting stories around the images you capture, wherein [the] limited attention of the viewer is actually directed towards the quality of your work. We have a lot of poverty and naked kids and colour, to make an image look beautiful.”
"Searching for stories, we filmmakers depart the comfort of our own world and travel into another—our station in life, ownership of some camera equipment, and a stack of releases serving as currency sufficient enough to step into someone else's town, house or soul. What happens when we swoop into a foreign reality (even one just a train ride away) and bring all our cultural assumptions, value systems and ways of seeing? When witnessing a situation, through whose eyes do we read that situation? To what conclusions do we jump? How does the lens of our unconscious bias inform, bend and determine the stories we tell, and how we tell them?
For decades upon decades, Western filmmakers—almost exclusively white men—traveled to other countries and cultures to extract resources (footage), which they would exploit (edit) for the benefit of their home culture (theaters, film festivals, PBS, etc.). This flow of power, and along with it the control over these stories, historically traveled in one direction—from those without it to those with it.
Hidden away in the rarefied spaces of our edit rooms and rough-cut screenings, we precisely construct these deceptively perfect things we call films. We use our craft to blithely transport viewers through time, space and culture, then return them safely to the comfort of the denouement. Yet out here in the world, things aren't so tidy and neat. Life is messy, out of our control—and, as we doc-makers sometimes allow ourselves to forget, full of real people."
"The dual powers that photojournalists and photo editors have as eyewitnesses and curators of knowledge cannot be overstated."