This is a grant proposal to start a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting safe and socially conscious film documentaries and photojournalism. It is believed that many documentarians have conflicts when filming sensitive material, not due to the nature of the material itself, but to the fact that they are placed in the position of being bystanders while someone is being harmed. Their commitment to filmmaking comes in direct contact with their ethical obligations as human beings. What is the role of the documentarian in cases such as these, and how can the documentarian effectively navigate these dual and sometimes conflicting roles? This grant will help the non-profit organization called DocuMend to alleviate this type of stress experienced by documentarians by providing consultation and counseling services to help bridge the gap between ethical action and ethically responsible filmmaking.
Information about the non-profit organization (its mission, history, target population, track record, unique focus):
DocuMend is a non-profit organization that is in the inception stage. It has no track record other than being in the research stage of operations, in which its founders have investigated and identified the problems associated with the ethical obligations of documentarians. Research has shown that documentarians are often traumatized by what they see and what they film; their trauma is exacerbated by their conflicted role as participant-observer. To what extent can or should a documentarian intervene in the behaviors he or she is witnessing? To what extent is the ethical commitment to making informative films less or more important than helping someone who is in immediate danger?
This organization was started in part as a reaction to the Kevin Carter incident. Citing from DocuMend research, Carter worked as a photojournalist and documentarian for a number of years. His area of particular interest was starvation and malnutrition in impoverished areas worldwide. While on a shoot, Carter saw a toddler trying to make it to a food station but was too weak. The toddler lay on the ground, and Carter managed to get a good photograph of her suffering. However, the girl died while he shot the footage, which included imagery of vultures hovering around. As DocuMend pointed out in previous research, the Carter photograph won awards, but in getting that shot, Carter crossed some ethical boundaries. The incidence, and his culpability, haunted Carter to the point where he killed himself.
Media organizations worldwide have come to realize the incredible conflict facing documentarians. Yet no clear help or advice has been offered, to suggest ways documentarians can continue their ethical responsibility to their work while also remaining socially responsible human beings. DocuMend understands and appreciates the work that documentarians do. In most cases, documentarians shed light on issues, ideas, and people that would otherwise go unnoticed and underappreciated. The work done by documentarians is important, but it also entails making a conscientious decision to film as if they were just spiders on the wall -- pure observers who do not interfere. Interfering in the action might alter the events that are being covered, and ruin the opportunity for judicious or accurate journalism. Moreover, interfering in the action prevents the material from manifesting as well as it could. The best photos and films are usually obtained in a painstaking manner after days, weeks, and sometimes months of shooting in adverse conditions. To ruin an opportunity for good documentation is devastating from a personal, professional, and financial perspective.
The mission of DocuMend is to provide counseling and consultation services to filmmakers and photojournalists. Both freelancers and organizations will be served as part of the target market. The unique services DocuMend will provide include psychological counseling, coaching advice, and legal counsel. The ultimate goal is to ensure that documentarians can continue to produce the best work possible within a sound ethical framework. It is believed that DocuMend will have a positive impact in promoting the issues dearest to documentarians.
Specific problem/issue/situation to be targeted
The specific problems and issues that are targeted by the DocuMend foundation include three core areas: legal liability; psychological damage; and public relations. The organization intends to address each of these issues related to pre-production, production, and post-production stages. These specific problems relate to documentarian conduct, as well as the decisions made by the media organization for which the documentarian works or sells. There are business issues, personal psychological issues, sociological issues, financial issues, and public relations issues to address in the creation of the DocuMend program.
Specific situations that DocuMend targets are outlined in the organization's prior research, such as shooting footage of people who are in danger or in compromising situations. This will include the psychological after-effects of shooting documentary films and stills on the photojournalists and any crew that might also be affected. There are ancillary issues that DocuMend will also address, including consultation for documentary companies regarding how to handle any negative publicity. Negative publicity could arise if a media company decides to publish or release footage in which it was suggested that the documentarian comprised an ethical boundary in order to acquire a good and marketable shot. Therefore, DocuMend can also target public relations problems that arise in the situations described above and help media organizations avoid problems.
There is as of now no existing service like the one proposed by DocuMend. Therefore, the organization is filling a significant gap in the marketplace. The newest goal of DocuMend is to create a weekend seminar comprised of two different components that reflect the core values, mission, and goals of the organization. First, DocuMend will design a workshop for documentarians and any industry partners. The workshop will be designed to give advice for the preparations for a documentary. The advice will center on developing an ethical strategy for filming, editing, reviewing footage, and decisions of how and what to include from an editorial standpoint. At the workshop, DocuMend will host celebrity documentarians talking about the troubles they faced when they did not act to help a subject. The workshop will cover the legal issues related to situations like these.
There will also be legal issues at stake that DocuMend intends to help with, given that our grant money covers the expense of providing legal counsel. Legal counsel is in fact one of the most important services that DocuMend can provide to clients in need. The psychological services are also going to be costly, but the primary concern of the organization is the balance between social responsibility to the art and science of journalism and the ethical responsibility of human beings. The target audience is therefore all documentarians and their colleagues, and the workshop will take six months to organize.
Identification of Results
At the moment, documentarians do not have a concrete legal or ethical framework within which to base their decisions. This is true at the pre-production, during production, and post-production phases. We at DocuMend believe that this workshop has the potential to transform the industry by injecting better ethics into it. This will help documentarians produce better, more ethical material. It will prevent documentarians from having to make difficult choices under pressure, because they will have a framework that they can rely on. DocuMend can provide live support service in the future, as our organization expands its ability to help.
The impact of our services will reverberate throughout the industry. A follow-up documentary film can reveal the extent to which our services have helped, suing the very medium we care about. Documentarians can learn how to deal with stressful and ethically compromising situations. The quality of the footage shown in the reflective documentary film will show that documentarians do not have to be in ethically compromised situations, risking their integrity and the integrity of the industry. The media organizations that support the DocuMend project will also reap quantitative results from the program.…