It’s statements like the above from “Issuesin Contemporary Documentary” by Jane Chapman, that have led me toinvestigate the way documentarians try and stay objective whilst making adocumentary.
Everyone struggles to keep an open mind and see both sides of astory with global issues, or any issue for that matter, there is always anopinion formed quite early. Of course, it all depends on the facts that we aregiven but then it is the documentarians’ job to try and make sure all the factsthat are shown are true and that both sides of the issue are shown. Whilstwatching Michael Moore’s “Bowling for Columbine” (Moore,2002) and Louis Theroux’s’ “Louis and The Nazis” (Cabb,2003) you can tell, by the different styles and conventions that were used,that they struggled to stay objective. In these documentaries, the people conducting theinterviews, Theroux and Moore, are both very average and normal looking gutsthat an audience can relate too. This is very different to making a movie wherethey would cast someone who is considered good looking or well known. By havingthese normal guys in a documentary, it will help the audience believe theinformation they are being given without distracting them from the facts.
Italso means the people being interviewed tend to feel more comfortable aroundthe interviewer and are therefore more willing to talk about their beliefs andviews. They would be more open and honest because they would not feelthreatened by the person asking the questions. If someone famous was giving theinterview might feel like they want to give a certain answer to please theinterviewee or because they already know the interviewees beliefs or views. “Research is simply forming the answer to thesequestions before you dive in. If you skip this vital step, you may easily findyourself wasting countless hours and budget dollars pursuing people, themes andevents that will never see the light of day” (Anthony Q. Artis, 2013) Doing research on your chosen subject gives you theanswers you need to know whether the documentary is worth making or not. Itwill allow you to get the facts and find the right people so that you can beginto plan the documentary in to the direction you want to take it.
You can startto plan what questions you are going to ask certain people with some idea ofthe answers you are going to receive. You can also begin to think about what itis you want to show the audience or how you want to set up shots to helpportray the people you are interviewing in a certain way. By not doing anyresearch you waste time and money on a project that might end up going nowhere.You could also end up getting sued for slander if you make any statements thatyou cannot back up. Within the first six minutes of “Louis and the Nazis”,Theroux tells Tom Metzger that he “thinks slightly less of him” for some of thelanguage Metzger uses. I feel that this is slightly subjective as Theroux issupposed to stay impartial. By saying this so early in the documentary it willinfluence the audience to think negatively of Metzger before they have heardwhat he has to say or what it is he believes.
Whereas Moore opens his documentary by showing howeverything is seemingly normal in America before walking in to a bank where youget given a free gun just by opening a new bank account with them. Moore shows theaudience the newspaper article where he found the article with the slogan “MoreBANG for your BUCK”. Even though it comes across like he is making a mockery ofthe bank, which he is, Moore is still staying somewhat objective, as his aim isto show that restrictions on guns and ammo should be put in place, not tocompletely get rid of them. He adds humour to keep people interested by showingthat it is slightly ridiculous how easily accessible weapons are. He definitelyhas a subjective agenda, however at the same time he is not completely agreeingwith either side.
He is a neutral party to some extent. “Participatory documentary gives usa sense of what it is like for the filmmaker to be in a given situation and howthat situation alters as a result.” (Nichols, 2001) This easily reflects what happens in Theroux’s documentary. For examplewhen Theroux is at skips house in “Louis And The Nazis”, him being there withthe crew alters the situation Theroux is put in when Skip asks him whether ornot he is Jewish.
Skip asks for the camera to be turned off and even says “Well, because you’ve got the camera rightnow I’d allow you to stay. If not, I’d probably kick your ass and put you inthe street somewhere”. We can seehow Theroux reacts to what has been said and his response which shows us he wasuncomfortable but trying to stay impartial. Theroux responds by saying “I’m not a racist and I actually thinkit’s wrong to be a racist. And so, I feel as though by saying whether I’mJewish or not I’m kind of, in a way, acknowledging the premise that it reallymatters when I think it shouldn’t and it doesn’t”. This statement makes it clear that he does not agree withSkip, or the other racists that he interviews, which means that Louis is notvery open minded about how they think and their way of life.
However, bystaying calm and articulate whilst they slightly raise their voices and use badlanguage, he makes them seem like angry and violent people and so the audiencewill think this is the same for all skin heads. Since he is only interviewingpeople who are racist it may also come across that he is representing the otherside of the argument. This then counteracts the fact that he is beingsubjective. He is bringing balance to the documentary and making it clear thatthe documentary is not pro racism.