The subjects of famous documentaries (The Staircase, Hoop Dreams, Capturing the Friedmans) talk about how the experience changed their lives—for better and worse.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
What happens to the subjects of documentaries after the film crews go home and their stories are launched into the public eye? What if the film becomes a huge hit? What if it becomes a cultural phenomenon? Did the release you signed explain that your life might never be the same?
This entertaining and thought-provoking survey of documentary ethics explores the experiences of people caught in the maelstrom of exposure and scrutiny that a hit documentary can generate. Margaret Ratliff (The Staircase (2004)) is expected to revisit the trauma of her mother’s death on demand; Ahmed Hassan had to relocate to a different country after appearing in the activist documentary The Square (2013). Arthur Agee, on the other hand, was able to translate the fame he attained in Hoop Dreams (1994) into new options after his basketball career failed to ignite. Even though Capturing the Friedmans (2003) ultimately led to Jesse Friedman’s release from prison, he remains ambivalent about its fallout, and his mother Elaine still resents becoming collateral damage in its portrayal of family dysfunction.
The film also catches up with Mukunda Angulo, one of the brothers whose enforced isolation was exposed in The Wolfpack (2015), and whose subsequent process of socialisation was inextricable from that of publicising the film. Bing Liu relates how he ended up as one of the subjects of his own film Minding the Gap (2018), and how exposing himself as a victim of abuse impacted on his relationship with his mother.
Camilla Hall and Jennifer Tiexiera pack a lot of thorny issues into a brisk hour and a half: How has streaming impacted on the non-fiction ecosystem? Should documentary subjects be paid? Should there be a budget line for therapy? Subject might just change how you look at non-fiction filmmaking. — Andrew Langridge