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FLEFF Intern Voices

The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Gabriella Sophir at 4:16PM   |  5 comments


Blog posting written by Abby Sophir, Television-Radio ’14, FLEFF Intern, St. Louis, MO

It is hard to believe that FLEFF week has come and gone! Now that I’ve had some time to let the week sink in, several ideas from the films and panels stick out in my mind. 


One of these is the question: How does one film in another country without exploiting the native people?


Both Rodrigo Bellott, casting director of Even the Rain, and Jeremy Levine, director of Good Fortune, offered insight into this question. 


In Even the Rain, the extras that were cast were from Bolivia, where the film takes place, and many had fought in the water wars themselves. Rather than a bunch of foreigners coming in and telling the Bolivian’s how to portray what happened, the filmmakers listened to what the natives had to say. The director incorporated these people’s ideas and personal experiences into the film to make it more realistic and more of a collaborative effort. 


Another thing Bellott mentioned that really caught my attention was that these extras did not want to be paid with cash for their work on the film. Rather, they believed that everyone in the community should benefit-- since those who weren’t acting had to compensate for the childcare and work of those who were. They asked the filmmakers to pay for a water well and other things that would benefit the community as a whole. The people of Cochabamba value community above all else and it was crucial that the film crew respect this request.


After the screening of Good Fortune, directer Jeremy Levine also talked about maintaing good relationships within a community where you are filming. Especially in a circumstance like the one in Kenya, where American companies were coming in and robbing the people of their water, the filmmakers has to be extra careful not to exploit the community and become one of the “bad guys”. In order to do this, they kept their crew extremely small, usually only two people, to eliminate any intimidation factor. They also got the community members involved, having them hold boom microphones and ask questions to those being interviewed. 


The sensitivity these filmmakers paid to the local peoples and culture created environments of trust. Without this mutual respect, the production of these extremely powerful films would not have been possible.






The question you posed: How does one film in another country without exploiting the native people? is one that we have been dealing with throughout our discussions of ethics in my non-fiction film theory course at Ithaca College. And, as Bellott and Levine seem to have done, its all about the filmmakers reciprocal relationship that he or she has with the subjects of the film. If there isn't a reciprocal relationship--or a give and take between the two--the film will seem slanted which would be unethical. Not that documentary needs to be objective, but information needs to be presented truthfully and within proper contexts. Without revealing information, a filmmaker might only be able to show only parts of a whole. With that being said, if the subject does give a filmmaker information, and the filmmaker uses that information inappropriately, that would be considered exploitation. Its all about finding the right framework and boundaries in which to situate the subjects within the film.

It's interesting how the cast of "Even the Rain" wanted to be paid. I never realized that filming in foreign areas can be good for that community.

It's inspiring to hear how when Rodrigo was working in Bolivia, for EVEN THE RAIN, he made the film more of a collaborative community effort than focusing on asserting his individual perspective. He integrated the voices of the natives and helped the community whose story he was going to make a narrative for the public sphere of communication through documentary film.


I must agree with Hayley, reflexivity is key in creating an ethical relationship between the filmmaker and their subjects. Allowing there to be a reciprocal relationship gives way for errors to be corrected or at the very least for fewer assertions to be made. Even the Rain does this on a number of levels. Some scenes that come to mind are when the mothers choose not to reenact the drowning of their babies and when Antón struggles to accurately represent Christopher Columbus. Not only do these scenes show the ethical complexities of acting but it raises questions as to how we remember and represent the past. Although many of these tensions are not resolved, it is an important entree to examining the inconsistencies we create.

As someone who wants to travel and film along the way, I'm always concerned that I'd be trivializing the lives of the people I'd film. After seeing Good Fortune, it really hits you hard, knowing that these people who are volunteering in Africa are there, because they fundamentally believe they can create positive change....they are fundamentalists, you know in every sense of the word. No matter how just you're goals are, the means to your end must be accommodating and you've got to continuously be aware of how you're actions are being interpreted all the time.

I love the bits, about Jeremy and their small crews getting involved with community and having some people help out with the production. That's truly adding another layer of education into the the viewer doesn't even see. To me...this would be one of the most rewarding parts of the processes

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