‘All art is propaganda. It is universally and inescabably propaganda; sometimes unconsciously, but often deliberately, propaganda.’ ~ Upton Sinclair
When we watch a documentary film I imagine most of us suppose it to be portraying factual information, not fiction. That, after all, is what would differentiate a documentary from other genres like drama or entertainment.
With this assumption in mind I have often wondered how broadcasters, filmmakers, festivals and prizegivers could be screening and celebrating ‘documentaries’ that purvey demonstrable untruths.
As luck would have it, with the International Film Festival being in town here in Edinburgh just now, I was able to get my answer from an industry expert.
It goes like this. When a company/organisation is pitched a documentary they don’t see it as their business to be acting as arbiters of truth. If the thing has good production values and they believe the public would have a real interest in seeing it, then they’ll consider it eligible for support. My expert gave an example: we can suppose that there are scores of biographies of a famous figure like President Kennedy, and that each one has a particular take on its subject; we can readily imagine that the different authors may consider others to be plain wrong in various particulars. These disagreements wouldn’t be the business of someone commissioning or showing the film to pronounce on.
This post was published at 21st Century Wire on JUNE 24, 2017.