A few weeks ago, we spoke in class about documentary and about how creating an unbiased documentary is impossible. Ideally, a documentary is a piece of work that shows things as they truly are, with no manipulation. It’s a media based way of spreading perspective and knowledge. Though this is a nice sentiment, it is clearly unrealistic. Every documentary is affected by numerous external factors that may guide the intentions of its message.
After talking about it in our class, I was in another class a few days later and the same issue came about. It became so clear to me just how many of us do take these documentary for fact and don’t consider the influences that shape them. On the most basic level, many directors do put forth a point of view in their films and are often trying to portray a certain argument or convince the audience of a certain fact (no matter how subtle, it is usually there). Even further, documentary directors and writers need funding and often those funding them have a say in the make up and message of the film which may sway it in any given direction. These are levels of bias that are easily understood and somewhat obvious but one that I didn’t really think about was the fact that even if a director has the full intention of only showing things in their original state and honestly doesn’t want to manipulate the content in any way, choosing shots, the angle of the camera, the things they choose to film, and where they choose to film all show bias. There is bias in every decision along the way.
Although this fact is crucial to understand, I don’t really think that it is such a bad thing (if and only if viewers understand that there is bias) because documentary style filmmaking gives a voice to underrepresented minorities and just people in general. Giving people the tools to express their point of view is key and the truly remarkable nature of documentary (when it is used productively). Leuthold outlines that specifically “indigenous media are expressions of the tie between the act of representing oneself visually and political rights of self-representation in national and global politics.” Media is the indigenous population’s way of representing themselves as they want to be seen and not though the eyes of a stranger; it gives them back their right to self-identify and to express themselves however they may choose. As a minority group who have faced so much adversity, the indigenous population deserves this right and ability. Their ability to do all of this for themselves is why documentary media can be so wonderful.