Nichols chapter “Why are Ethical Issues Central to Documentary Filmmaking?” discusses the power of films (and people’s interpretation of films) to convey a likeness of the world, represent others, and argue a particular viewpoint. Nichols explains the difference between treating people as “actors” and “social actors.” Social actors are people in non-fiction documentary films, and unlike actors, they are not changing to fit a role. Therefore, documentarians must act responsibly because their actions can impact the lives and representation of their subject. Nichols explains that “ethical considerations attempt to minimize harmful effects,” (9). Informed consent is one such ethical consideration that ensures participants are fully informed on the purpose and intentions of the film. Nichols concludes that ethics in documentary filmmaking is an ongoing issue.
I thought this article was interesting because it ties back to the issue of representing or manipulating the “truth” through media. in class, we discussed that photography was once seen as a scientific tool, and this caused people to inherently trust images and media. I think it is important for documentarians to be aware of this perception, and ensure they are producing ethical media.
This summer I helped work on a short documentary film about sports injuries. I was involved in the editing process, and experienced first hand just how easy it is to manipulate people’s actions or words. We used a multi-camera set up for most of our interviews so it is very easy to conceal edits that are being made. Before our film was officially released, we had to clear it with all of the participants. I think this aligns with Nichols’ ideas of informed consent, because the subjects were able to see the finished interviews and could object if they thought the editing was manipulative or dishonest.