Special thanks to Liz for her generous co-operation on this article and to her, Donna C., Donna W., Steph and Sharon for participating in Child of Mine. Many thanks for their suggestions on an earlier version of this paper from my colleagues, Caroline Bassett, Michael Bull and Melanie Friend in the School of Media, Film and Music, University of Sussex and to Bill Nichols for including a version in his panel on “The Interview” at Visible Evidence, USC, 2008.

1. See the excellent discussion of the ethical issues arising in autobiographical film in John Stuart Katz and Judith Milstein Katz, “Ethics and the Perception of Ethics in Autobiographical Film,” Larry Gross, John Stuart Katz and Jay Ruby (eds), Image Ethics; The Moral Rights of Subjects in Photography, Film and Television, New York and Oxford: Open University Press, 1988, pp.119-134. [return to page 1 of essay]

2.See for instance, Paul Swann, The British Documentary Film Movement, 1926-1946, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989 and Jo Fox, ‘John Grierson, his 'documentary boys' and the British ministry of information, 1939-1942’ Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, 25:3, 2005, 345-369.  With reference to a major example of such conflicts in a US context see also, see Carolyn Anderson and Thomas W.Benson ‘Direct Cinema and the Myth of Informed Consent: The Case of Titticut Follies’ in Gross, Katz and Ruby Image Ethics, 58-90.

3. The word “community” raises quite a lot of questions about an assumed commonality between us. The term "subcultures" might be a better term to describe the social incarnation of LGBT peoples but I adopt "community" here as a signifier of the aspiration towards a shared political public space which the gay programming on Channel Four represented.

4. Other planned interviews for this research include a young woman who abandoned a baby she gave birth to in secret (Abandonned Babies, Channel Four, UK, 1996) and a lesbian activist who appeared in a film I made about the experiences of lesbians and gays under communism (After the Revolution, Channel Four, UK, 1989).

5. Recent work which has addressed this relationship includes Jerry Rothwell, “Filmmakers and their Subjects” in Thomas Austin and Wilma de Jong (eds), Rethinking Documentary: New Perspectives, New Practices, Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2008, pp 152-156. In the same volume, Silke Panse provides a fascinating comparison between two series which charted the fates of a group of people over several decades, the “longest running documentary serial in film history”: The Children of Golzow (Winfried and Barbara Junge, Germany, 1961-2007) and the UK series 7-Up (Michael Apted et.al, ITV, 1964-2006). Unlike the German series, she notes, “While the 7-Up participants are asked how the repeated filming had affected their lives, the voice-over narration does not reflect on how the act of filming has affected the film’s content and style,” p. 70. See Silke Panse “Collective Subjectivity in The Children of Golzow vs. Alienation in ‘Western’ Interview Documentary,” pp. 67-81.

6. A recent important re-evaluation of Jean Rouch is Joram Ten Brink (ed), Building Bridges: The Cinema of Jean Rouch, London: Wallflower, 2007.

8.Early studies of Channel Four Television include Simon Blanchard and David Morley, What’s this Channel Four? An Alternative Report, London: Comedia, 1982; and Stephen Lambert, A Licence to be Different: The Story of Channel Four, London: British Film Institute, 1982. For more recent accounts see Maggie Brown, Television with a Difference: The Story of Channel Four, London: British Film Institute, 2007; and Andrew Goodwin, Television under the Tories: Broadcasting Policy, 1979-1997 London: BFI, 1998.

9. For a discussion of Channel Four’s gay programming, see Diane Hamer with Penny Ashbrook, “Out: Reflections on British Television's First Lesbian and Gay Magazine Series,” in Diane Hamer and Belinda Budge (eds), The Good, The Bad and the Gorgeous: Popular Culture's Romance with Lesbianism, London: Pandora, 1994; and Greg Woods, “Something for Everyone: Lesbian and Gay Magazine Programming on British Television, 1989-1999” in Glyn Davis and Gary Needham (eds), Queer TV: Theories, Histories, Politics, Routledge: London, 2008.

10. In the pseudomonologue form of interview, used in many television documentaries, the interviewer’s questions are edited out. The process inherently involves a form of mirroring. Rather than asking direct questions, the interviewer prompts the subject to repeat elements of their story which they have already revealed in the research process. The elements are ones which the director has selected and decided are the most significant to the narrative she wishes to tell or, at least, the structure, she needs to create from the chaos of events and emotions; so the subject’s story is reflected back to them through the other’s interpretation.

11. Paige Schilt incisively interrogates the presumed distinction between documentary and “more stigmatized forms of non-fiction” such as reality television in her “Media whores and perverse media: documentary film meets tabloid TV in Nick Broomfield's Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer,” Velvet Light Trap: 45, March 2000, pp. 36-49. While noting that “Broomfield does emphasize the production of interview testimony as a commodity and, in the process, reveals certain similarities between traditional documentary practice and so-called checkbook journalism,” she argues that “this film actually participates in the selling of Wuornos as a threatening class and sexual other.” (p. 36)

12. Daily Mail, 27 September, 1996.

13. Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer, London: Granta Books, 2004, p. 3 (originally published 1990).

14. Larry Gross, John Stuart Katz and Jay Ruby usefully summarize the “moral imperatives which might be appropriately be seen as common be seen as common to all “professional” production and use of images. To paraphrase these are:

  1. “The image maker’s commitment to him/herself to produce images which reflect his/her intention, to the best of his/her ability;
  2. The image-makers’ responsibility to adhere to the standards of his/her profession, and to fulfill his/her commitments to the institutions or individuals who have made the production economically possible;
  3. The image maker’s obligations to his/her subjects; and
  4. The image maker’s responsibility to the audience.”

“Introduction: A Moral Pause” in Gross, Katz and Ruby (eds), Image Ethics, p. 6.

15. Brian Winston, “Ethics” in Alan Rosenthal and John Corner (eds), New Challenges for Documentary, 2nd edition, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005, p. 187

16. Calvin Pryluck traces how this assumption of the “greater good” was explicit in the work the exponents of Direct Cinema and cites examples from the work of the Maysles brothers, Leacock and Wiseman. In the case of Titticut Follies for instance, filmed in a mental hospital, with the consent of the hospital authorities, but not of its residents, “the legitimate interests of the patients were lost.” “Ultimately we are all outsiders: the ethics of documentary-making” in Rosenthal and Corner (eds), New Challenges for Documentary, p. 202.

17. Amelia Hill, “Damned by the law for saying I can’t remember,” The Observer, 25/6/ 2008

(accessed 28/2/2010). Part of the interrogation from A Complaint of Rape is reproduced at the end of this article.

18. Emmanuel Berman, Timna Rosenheimer and Michal Aviad, “Documentary directors and their protagonists: a transferential/counter-transferential relationship?,” in Andrea Sabbadini (ed.), The Couch and the Silver Screen: Psychoanalytic Reflections on European Cinema, Hove and New York: Brunner- Routledge, 2003, p. 221.

19. Thomas Waugh, “Lesbian and Gay Documentary; Minority Self-Imaging, Oppositional Film Practice and the Question of Ethics” in Larry Gross, John Stuart Katz and Jay Ruby (eds), Image Ethics; The Moral Rights of Subjects in Photography, Film and Television, New York and Oxford: [GIVE PUBLISHER], 1988, p. 259.

20. João Moreira Salles, “The Difficulty with Documentary” in Lucia Nagib and Cecilia Mello (2009) (eds.), Realism and the Audiovisual Media, London: Palgrave Macmillan, p. 230. [return to page 2]

21. “Ethics and the Perception of Ethics in the Autobiographical Film” in Larry Gross, John Stuart Katz and Jay Ruby (eds), Image Ethics, pp. 119-134.

22. João Moreira Salles “The Difficulty with Documentary” in Lucia Nagib and Cecilia Mello (2009) (eds.), Realism and the Audiovisual Media, p. 231.

23. Adriana Cavarero, “On the Outskirts of Milan,” Relating Narratives: Storytelling and Selfhood,” London and New York: Routledge, (2000), p. 64.

24. Winston, “Ethics,” p. 187.

25. Larry Gross, Up from Invisibility, New York: Columbia University Press, 2001, p. 15.

26. Examples in the week of writing, starting 12 September 2010, include programs using gay male presenters to interrogate the Papal visit that week, such as The Trouble with the Pope (Channel Four) where veteran campaigner Peter Tatchell “scrutinizes the beliefs and policies of Pope Benedict XVI, airing shortly before the Pontiff's state visit to Britain.”
(accessed 12 July 2011)
and Benedict: Trials of a Pope, where a gay, liberal filmmaker explores the travails of Pope Benedict XVI and by extension his own self-described ‘balancing act.’ Can he continue to accept spiritual guidance from a man who describes his sexuality as “an intrinsic moral evil’?” (BBC 2, 15 Sept 2010, 7.00-8.00pm,
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00ttj16#clips ( accessed 12 July 2011)

27. Lizzie Thynne “Being Seen: ‘The Lesbian’ in Television Drama,” in Linda Anderson and David Alderson (eds) Territories of Desire in Queer Culture, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000. The programs discussed are a number of “quality prime” time dramas aimed at female audiences as well as Queer as Folk (Red Productions for Channel Four, 1999) in which “the characters’ homosexuality was taken for granted and the ‘gay lifestyle’ was used as a selling point—quintessentially, young, sexy, affluent and pleasure-loving,” p. 211.

To topPrint versionJC 53 Jump Cut home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.