It’s one of the more heartening cinema trends of the past decade: the rise in popularity of the documentary speaks of a bolstered curiosity among audiences in the lives of those around them. It promises a degree of social and political engagement that fiction film-making can rarely achieve. It’s about real people getting to tell their stories. Except, as Jennifer Tiexiera and Camilla Hall’s piercing film about the subjects of documentaries reveals, it’s not quite as simple as that.
Nonfiction film-making can have unintended and far-reaching consequences for the participants – Ahmed Hassan, subject of the Egyptian revolution doc The Square, now lives in exile. At its worst, it can be predatory, manipulative and morally murky.
Interviewing the subjects of high-profile documentaries, including The Wolfpack, Capturing the Friedmans and Hoop Dreams, the picture interrogates the ethics of documentary film-making. It questions asymmetrical power dynamics, the issue of whether subjects should be paid for their participation and who has the right to tell a story in the first place. It’s thought-provoking stuff, which also explores our own role, as audience members, in the voracious demand for other people’s stories.