Telling a story and mediating reality in documentary practice: Problems that arise when capturing the stories of vulnerable participants in video.

Dr Eileen Lavranos
Senior Lecturer
Screen and Television Production
AUT University

Documentary production and the recording and editing of real situations creates ongoing issues concerning ethics in practice. Making a documentary that captures the narratives of families who support a family member who has experienced mental illness presented many such challenges. This paper describes how a process of production was developed to encompass the workflow in the documentary Hope, that considered ethical approaches to establishing parameters and protocols for the project.

As a filmmaker and having lived experience of being a support person for a family member who has experienced severe mental illness, the intention was to bring knowledge together that would be useful for a specific audience, families who support a loved one who has experienced mental distress. When interviewing participants on camera I noted that the potential for a conflict of interest arose. Collaborating with participants while capturing vulnerable narratives, can become problematic. This is an on-going process and begins once participants agree to appear in the film.

While making this documentary it became evident that the filmmaker has a moral obligation to the subject, the producer and the audience as most individuals are not fully aware of the consequences of being seen at a later date by the public. The set of procedures that were devised, assisted in alleviating many potential problems that arose and gave confidence to participants that their stories would be valued and that their authentic voice would be heard.