The pro‐life perspective is that if you show a woman that she has an 11‐week‐old fetus and she sees the movement, and that convinces her to keep the fetus, then isn’t that a good thing? Whereas a pro‐choice person would say she didn’t come in and know she was going to get a sonogram; there is no medical reason for it. So why are you offering a sonogram except to convince a woman not to have an abortion, which is what she really wanted to do?
Documentary filmmaker Raney Aronson as quoted in a fascinating case study in journalism ethics (by the Knight Case Studies Initiative at Columbia) called Frontline’s “The Last Abortion Clinic”: What’s Fair in a Video World?
This case takes students behind the scenes into the making of a news documentary for Frontline, produced at the PBS affiliate in Boston (WGBH). The case tells the story of the making of “The Last Abortion Clinic,” a 2005 documentary by producer Raney Aronson and her team. The documentary combined a legal story (developments in the abortion debate since Roe v. Wade) with personal stories—interviews with women in clinics who had confronted the abortion question in their own lives. It focused on the state of Mississippi, which had only one abortion clinic remaining. The case chronicles the evolution of a documentary from idea to finished form. Along the way, it highlights numerous editorial, logistical and ethical decisions Aronson faced in her quest to tell fairly a complex and value-laden story.
The funny thing is that there was a period of time where Hollywood films sucked. Really, really bad, you know? Just a lot of violence, a lot of gimmicks, and people just got tired of it. Then the reality show is not really reality. So documentary got more and more popular and the Oscars are really pushing right now, pushing for documentaries. And people are much more sophisticated. They realize that documentaries are not only educational, they also have entertainment elements.
So internationally, you have to envision before you make the film. Before you make the film, who’s the market you’re talking about? Schools don’t teach that shit. These kind of things, unless you do it, it all becomes very abstract.
Christine Choy, a film professor at New York University speaking to the FJP about the ever-changing and increasingly complex world of distribution for documentary filmmakers. She went on to explain how important envisioning your market is:
Well, international film markets, each country is different. Japan for instance does pay a lot. I would say probably 450$ a minute. Okay? But it has to have something in relation with Japan. So if you do an international market you have to have a financial and business plan before hand. I was just filming Ghana. Ghana doesn’t have any money. China has money. So, the content of the film you can’t do anti-China, so the content of the market is closely related. I did a film about the Nanking Massacre but the title is In the Name of the Emperor. So you have “emperor” and educators want to buy it but they don’t like the title. Are you willing to change the title? I said yes. But they ultimately are too scared. Too scared to show the film, so they didn’t purchase.
And language is important. America is the only country where people do not like to watch documentaries with subtitles. Europe, yeah. Southern European countries, it’s mandatory to have subtitles. Germany, England, France, Switzerland, Netherlands but not Italy, not Poland, not Yugoslavia for instance. They product simultaneously could have multi-languages. They signed a deal, the southern European countries. If I produce a film in France, you have an English version. That’s why they always have an M&E track. [“Music and Effects” track, contains all sound except dialogue.]
I think I am a late bloomer. I think I’m getting less in my own way.
Errol Morris, documentary film maker and writer, to the Boston Globe.
The Globe profile focuses on the 65-year-old Morris’ involvement in and defense of Joshua Oppenheimer’s The Act of Killing, “a unique documentary in which the squad leaders of Indonesia’s mid-1960s mass killings confront their crimes by reenacting them for the camera.”