Making a documentary film involves a massive amount of work in planning, filming, editing and finding your story. While this is true for any film, documentaries in particular come with unique and significant questions around ethics. Even when permits are in order and releases are signed, documentary filmmaking often presents you with the following scenario: even if you can, that doesn’t mean you necessarily should.
In her three-hour Master Class, Producer/Director Dawn Porter (Gideon’s Army, John Lewis: Good Trouble, Trapped) explores the ethical questions one must ask at various points in the filmmaking process, starting with serious self reflection in pre-production, continuing through approaching and working with your subjects throughout filming and editing, and then navigating the unpredictable process of distribution and screening. As a documentarian, it’s important to remember the power you hold over your subjects and your ability to shape and portray their stories at all times, and to be mindful of the decisions you make both for the good of the film and the good of those around you. Read on for Porter’s advice on navigating ethics in documentary filmmaking.