Thursday, September 28, 2017

Whose Story?: Five Doc-Makers on (Avoiding) Extractive Filmmaking

From Black Lives Matter to Standing Rock, the question of who has the "right" to tell a community’s story has been endlessly debated this year, with no clear answer in sight. Sure, everyone can pretty much agree that "drive by" doc-making—usually involving a white journalist/filmmaker swooping down on a community of color, nabbing some sensationalistic footage over a few days, then quickly returning to an editing home base far, far away—is not the way to go about getting to any sort of deep truth surrounding an issue.

But exactly how much on-the-ground time is required to be a so-called "insider"? And who counts as an outsider anyway? As Erik Ljung, debut director of The Blood Is at The Doorstep—a harrowing look at one victim's family's struggle in the wake of the killing of black and unarmed Dontre Hamilton by a white Milwaukee cop—puts it, "I am a white man living in Milwaukee, and my experience is very different from that of the Hamilton family, who live just a mile from me." While Ljung takes care to emphasize that he's a Caucasian male who's never been racially profiled, he also happens to live down the street, so to speak, from his protagonists. In other words, the range of possibilities between what's come to be debated as "extractive" storytelling and a powerful, POC-shot, Ferguson-immersive film like Sabaah Folayan and (St. Louis homeboy) Damon Davis' Whose Streets? is anything but black and white.

To read the rest of my article check out the fall issue of Documentary magazine.

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