The Role of the Documentary Filmmaker

Documentary filmmakers are not journalists: it is not our job to be “objective” – as if there even is such a thing as objectivity that one could actually practice in fields like journalism. It is not our job either to tell the whole story or give a full history, again, as if such a thing were even possible to do (especially in two hours or less of screen time). Rather, as far as I am concerned, it is a documentarian’s job to tell stories that challenge established narratives, and to do so in a formal and artful manner that encourages spectators to question how they come to understand and interpret the world around them. The best documentary filmmakers have a firm point of view, but they also don’t rely solely on facts to support the story they want to tell. They shift, whether subtly or radically, the foundations from which a spectator comes to understand an issue or topic.




My Current Documentary Viewing List

As I wrap up my last documentary, Pride Denied, and am developing my next documentary on citizenship, I’ve decided to do an intensive review of art and experimental documentaries. On this list are films that I have seen and loved, as well as films I’ve yet to see (probably about a 50/50 split).

I’ve tried to develop a list that is diverse in terms of subject matter, form, and ethnic/gender/sexual positionalities of the directors themselves. However, this list is far from exhaustive and could still use considerable expansion, so please feel free to make suggestions in the comments!

I’ll try to post reviews as I watch.

Trinh DVCAM4-4R

Filmmaker Trinh. T. Minh-ha



Why I Won’t Boycott STONEWALL (But Will Support Indie Queer & Trans Film)

I think many of my friends may be wondering why I haven’t yet commented on or shared numerous articles condemning the new Stonewall (Roland Emmerich, 2015) film or calling for folks to boycott it that have circulated in the last few days since the release of the film’s trailer. It’s not because I’m incredibly busy finishing my own documentary about the whitewashing of LGBT politics, history, and pride events (though that is really what I should be doing right now instead of writing this). Nor is it because I don’t have any thoughts or concerns about the film. It’s because… wait for it…

I haven’t actually seen the film yet.  And neither have any of the people who have written criticisms about Stonewall or called for a boycott of it, as far as I can tell. (more…)


The Limits of Identity: Rachel Dolezal and Andrea Smith

When news reports excoriating Rachel Dolezal’s representation of herself as Black first surfaced (the question of her presentation of herself as Indigenous seems to have not sparked similar interest or concern), she was almost universally condemned. The NAACP, however, for whom Dolezal worked as the President of the Spokane chapter, released several statements of support for Dolezal, saying this upon her resignation: “The NAACP is not concerned with the racial identity of our leadership but the institutional integrity of our advocacy.” But few seemed to share this position, or even ask what the value of Dolezal’s work as an activist, scholar, or teacher may have been.

My point here is not to undermine the outpouring of grief and anger regarding Dolezal or question the forms it took. Rather, I’m interested in the questions and stakes are emerging now that a much more well known scholar and activist, Andrea Smith, has become the subject of a somewhat similar scandal. Soon after the Dolezal story broke, a series of Tumblr posts, and a dedicated page, emerged under the heading “Andrea Smith Is Not Cherokee” (see Joanne Barker’s blog for a detailed chronology and analysis. Here is a statement from the author of the original Tumblr post about her motivations for writing about Smith. A Tumblr archive dedicated to outlining the issues around Smith’s representation of herself as Cherokee, and calls accountability around this, can be found here). (more…)