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hot docs talks: Community Voices
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Hot Docs Talks
Transcripts from interviews conducted at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival, April 25 - May 4, 2003

Theme 3: Community Voices
Do documentary-makers speak for themselves or for a larger community? How responsible are they to their subjects? Who owns the story?


Sara Diamond and Peter Wintonick
Sara: I think you're a utopian Peter. Not all documentary producers actually have necessarily a sense of politics or responsibility to community. I think radical documentary producers do, and certainly the new technologies facilitate that. There are auteurial documentary makers who really just want to provide a passionate opinion about subject matter - perhaps with a political bent, but not necessarily committed to a kind of egalitarian representation of their subjects.

Peter: In all the streams of digital documentaries, cyberdocs - whatever you want to call it - there is room for the different rivers and creeks and streams to find a voice and to join the great river of documentary.

Sara: So maybe we should review a little bit of what we've heard from people in the last couple of days here at Hot Docs. Let's start out with the relationship between the maker's point of view and the representation of community. What kinds of things do you think people were talking about there?

Peter: The great thing is that there can still be a point of view even in the digital documentary. There is a sense of authorship and ego - and that can be expressed in an examination of the form and the pixels, as well as being, as we say, opinion or editorializing or authorship. I really find room for expression in the new media.

Marc Glassman
If you were to think about the tradition of some cultures, some cultures honor the notion of authorship of the individual, but some cultures I think honor more of the tradition of storytelling within a group. And I would suggest that, more than likely, First Nations peoples are more into that tradition than other ethnic groups. And so, I think that what we see in terms of the documentary filmmaking that's coming from Aboriginal peoples - not just in Canada, but India, and Taiwan, and Australia, and New Zealand, and in various other places in the world, certainly in the United States - is reflective of that notion of the author being willing to subsume their personality into a representative voice of the community.

That may be less so elsewhere. For example, my ethnic group is Jewish. I would say that - although Jewish people are certainly willing to feel that they are representing anything from radical to liberal politics, to pro- or anti-Israel to whatever - they will tend to look at that within the context of their own individual voice, or perhaps the individual voice of one other person that they like. So the representation then in the community becomes something quite different. The representation of the community becomes, "I am the community." What I say - because what I say is honorable and has integrity - is what the community is hearing, should be hearing, and indeed will hear if they look at my film, my book, my whatever artistic product it is. And so I find the differences quite extreme between those two examples. The U.S. would always tend to (within a stereotype) be representative of that individual voice. Canada, I would suggest, tends to be more of a consensus-oriented society, Canadians in general, I would say - from whatever ethnic group - would tend to be more representative and more following a notion of a communal principle.

Aerlyn Weissman
People think various things when they hear "Web Cam Girls". No it's not porn. It's actually about how new technologies are converging with women's desires to tell the stories of their lives. And with women historically, their achievements and their lives have not been recorded in the same way, or to the same extent, as men's have. So their forms of self-expression are always quite interesting. For me, this actually has something to do with almost a literary tradition that goes back to Jane Austen - women talking about their lives. Of course the diary, the confessional, the autobiography have traditionally been women's forms. So I think the Internet is creating a whole new way of expressing these things, and it's kind of the evolution of - well, still a lot of it is text-based - but Web cams actually bring in another element of visuals, and of course at the same time send people into a total panic about who's going to control the display of women's bodies. So myself, I was a techie at a very early stage in the film industry, so I've always been interested in how women pioneer new technologies.

Loretta Todd
One of the things about working in community as a documentary filmmaker is understanding that the community owns the story. And I think that's a place where, if you start there, the people sense that. They sense that you've already come there not thinking that you own anything. You own yourself, certainly as a filmmaker; you own your craft, you own your own way of telling a story. And if you respect that about yourself, then I think the people sense that - it's a meeting ground for one. I think the other thing that I try to do is observe protocol. I try to as much as possible ensure that there is this kind of shared way of greeting one another, and that in doing that they know that I respect their protocols, and they will respect mine. So that's sort of the place where I begin.

So many documentary filmmakers - and I don't mean to be critical - but so many times I've felt like with documentary filmmakers it's always so much about the documentary filmmaker. Even if it's not about the documentary filmmaker it's so much about the documentary filmmaker, you know, patting themselves on the back - for having this access, or being able to go where nobody else goes. I think that there are people in the non-Native, just the regular documentary world who are themselves getting tired of that, and don't necessarily feel that that brings them any more glory, and are able to give up that sort of voice. And you see again, a kind of barrier breaking down between the subject and themselves, and much more intimacy starting to build.

Arlene Ami
I'm Filipino-Canadian, and it was really important to me that the stories from my community get out into the larger community. Because these are stories of new Canadians who are here in Canada, and it's important for us to know what their stories are. Because the women often end up in really isolated areas, their stories tend to get hidden. So it was really important to me that they get out there.

When I tell people in the Filipino community about this documentary, first of all they're really surprised that there is a documentary that follows people in our communities - because there is hardly anything out there that looks at the Filipino community. And then, second of all, they're really shocked that there's a Filipino making a film about the Filipino community. So it's really great to get that kind of a reaction, and it's really inspiring to me because it encourages me to do more. And that's what I intend to do is to keep following and documenting stories from the Filipino community.

╚ve Lamont
My most recent documentary is called Squat. I finished it in 2002. It's about the story of squatters in Montreal who take over a vacant building in the name of their right to housing. This story, which I followed from the inside, got a lot of media coverage, but it was totally biased. Me, I did the story by giving voice to the squatters, a voice that was completely hidden during the occupation.

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