Review of the ‘topic’: a question of ethics | ET REALITY


Many of the most compelling documentaries of recent years, from Nathan Fielder’s HBO miniseries “The Rehearsal” to Kirsten Johnson’s self-reflexive feature “Cameraperson,” actively address the ethics of documentary filmmaking, raising difficult questions about participation and consent. and the responsibility of the artist towards the subjects of his art. These projects differ from “Subject,” Jennifer Tiexiera and Camilla Hall’s film about documentary ethics, in that their questions are posed by filmmaking itself, artfully woven into the documentary form. The “subject” simply speaks the questions out loud, turning them into reductive material for talking heads.

Tiexiera and Hall have assembled here a kind of “Avengers” of nonfiction cinema, as participants in several high-profile documentaries reflect on the process of having their lives laid bare on film. Her experiences range from a kind of melancholic pride (Arthur Agee, of “Hoop Dreams,” remembers that memory fondly) to clearly painful disillusionment (Margaret Ratliff, of “The Staircase,” persuasively argues that the film practically ruined her life), and their testimony generally underscores a broader dilemma surrounding the principles of storytelling and the nature of truth. Producers and critics are also available to expound on these issues in a superficial and perfunctory manner.

“Subject” is clearest when the material conditions of documentary filmmaking are questioned, as during a segment on whether the subjects of nonfiction films have the right to be paid for their participation; feels more slippery when glossing over issues of diversity and representation, using buzzwords like “decolonizing documentaries” instead of intellectual heavy lifting. And at no point do Tiexiera or Hall address their own complicity in any of this: after all, they are making a documentary, and we have no idea how they might answer the questions they pose to other documentarians. Maybe we need another documentary to explore the making of this one.

Not qualified. Duration: 1 hour 37 minutes. On cinemas.

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