INDEPENDENT DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS AND FAIR USE
In thinking critically about society and the individuals which comprise unique groups within, documentary film gives unique insight into the lives of others and their perspective of the world in which we live. Individually we are limited to that which we are familiar with and that which we have experienced ourselves first hand. Only through interaction with others do we gain further insight and are better able to understand the way in which others interpret their experiences and how they see society. In order to break the glass ceiling on the Independent Filmmakers Journey, they must first prove to others through film, the value of independent films (such as documentaries) to the spread of new ideas, beliefs, and perspectives, which help to broaden the boundaries of what’s considered to be socially accepted artistic forms of expression. Independent Film makers play a fundamental role within the film industries growth and help support the spread of new ideas that influence the direction and future changes made within the more popular genres of the film industry. However, overly ambitious film makers must be weary of the boundaries they cross, while attempting to bridge gaps between fiction and be responsible for creating “works of art” accepted by the general public as fact. Unlike other genres, documentary film-makers face the challenge of using real evidence to determine the truth of the matter. In doing so, the methods and stylistic expressions they use to convey their message establishes their credibility and value to which is placed on their work and the degree to which it can be accepted at truth or just a matter of entertainment.
PRELIMINARY ASSUMPTIONS, QUESTIONS, & POINTS OF INTEREST
It would be impossible to ignore the dramatic changes that the entertainment industry has gone through over the past century. New technological innovations and internet capabilities have permanently altered the public’s accessibility to information, including the speed at which that information is distributed. This creates a social and ethical dilemma for individuals in the film-industry. Can independent documentary film-makers keep up with the pace of internet and television distributors? Can the delayed gratification of film-production and dissemination, outweigh the decreased benefits of speed?
What live television and general news media lack, is enough time to sufficiently address the facts and issues at hand, to enable the public to make important determinations and enable the truth to be revealed. Often times, we are being bombarded with news images and stories that skew our perspectives before we have even had the chance to get the whole story. This poses an ethical dilemma to news broadcasters and the information produced on those networks.
What isn’t valued, is the time, effort, and artistic merits of documentary film-makers. In order to get the in-depth coverage and assessment needed to provide a realistic depiction of events, would inevitably require significant government and/or private funding.
Philip M. Napoli, an Associate Professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business and Administration, addresses the following issue:
“Of particular importance is the rise of user-generated content and the associated uncertainty about what it means (in terms of both challenges and opportunities) from a research standpoint. For those of us focused on the intersection of communications research and communications policy, this evolution of audiences from primarily being receivers of content to also being producers and distributors of content points us in particular directions in terns of research and policy concerns.”
Which brings us to our ethical dilemma: “mass communication” how much has it helped the independent film-making industry? Has the purpose and scope of the independent film-makers journey limited and “undermined by the fragmentation of the media environment” ? Or has the increases spreads of ideas, just pose artistic and new challenges in regards to the creative aspects of film-making and documentary production.
Is documentary film simply a conglomeration of the images and stories purported and disseminated by the media. Can general new broadcasting agencies capture the entire story in short-segments of air-time. How can the independent film-makers, help put together the pieces and enable the whole story to be told, which could not otherwise be done from and inside perspective or by information limited in scope and purpose based on “ratings” and “newsworthiness” as a basis of its importance and necessary for the public to be in the know about? Who is in charge of deciding what we should know? Shouldn’t the public play a greater role in making that determination? I think so.
How the Independent Film-makers Journey is Stifled by “Mass Communication” Blunders in Societal Perception and Understanding of Matters of Fact and Fiction
As, Mr. Napoli mentioned above, such changes in mass media communication is inextricably linked to necessary change occurring within the fundamental underpinnings of communications policy. Changes in policies in turn affect the independent film-makers and their ability to communicate to their audience. Whereby, the more “new” restrictions placed, limit their capabilities and may in turn create obstacles that devalue the purpose and positive benefits of documentary film for positive and educational purposes. In order to understand the effects that media has on the spread of new ideas and on public perception, Mr. Napoli has pointed out:
“Such research feeds into the increasing importance for policymakers to understand the dynamics of the production, distribution, and consumption of content, something that communications researchers certainly are well positioned to do.”
The Fair Use Doctrine, and its Effect of the Dissemination of New Ideas and Direction of Documentary Film Production, by Independent Film-makers
Seidman’s “confession about a confession” was ultimately an attempt to illustrate his claim that “there is nothing but masks on top of masks and frames within frames.” Towards the end, is when Seidman finally gets to the guts of his potential argument, however too many unnecessary details and personal anecdotes somehow weakens the piece more than offers support for his main point. To me, this represents the power of confessions and how one’s confession can be interpreted by others.
No Direction Home: Bob Dylan, is one example of a documentary film that attempts to capture the live of an individual from his or her own perspective. The filmmaker’s job is illustrate and represent that individuals reality through an artistic display. However ultimately the messages transpired to the audience are left to the interpretations of the viewer. An individual’s reality is a summation of their experiences and how it affects their perspective and distinguishes between how they see the world versus how someone else would see it.
Documentary film, encompasses the heart of the Independent Filmmakers purpose and the journey they take, while deviating from norm; that includes the popular beliefs, opinions, and judgments held by those in position of power to distribute their works of art, in addition to the general public whose expressed scrutiny is swayed by those considered most knowledgeable and independent of the general public (i.e. executive producers, major distributors, deep pocketed individuals, etc.) The biggest risk they take is attempting to alter public perception, by shedding a new light upon topic and issues that both affect the audience they target, and provide sufficient artistic evidence/displays to which the general public can relate.
The most innovative and recognized for this craft, are those able to create works that the public can both relate to and at the same time influence the change in the public’s general understanding of the truth of the matter. In this way, Independent Film makers and documentary film makers success is determined by their ability to understand multiple points of view in order to convey the perspective they put out there to broaden the public general understanding and scope of what may be considered as truth.
Within the film industry at large, it would be unlikely to determine that the film industry is not in any way shape or form influenced by government and politics. In fact, the laws to which individuals within the industry abide by were written and enforced by the government. The degree to which that influence is in directly connected to major film producers, executives, and distributors within the film making industry has yet to be determined. However one article by Jeff Fleischer, sheds some light on how the government has specifically influenced the direction that movies take, when depicting U.S. government involvement in war.
“During his years as a journalist for Daily Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, Robb heard about a quid-pro-quo agreement between the Pentagon and Hollywood studios, and decided to investigate. He combed through thousands of Pentagon documents, and interviewed dozens of screenwriters, producers and military officials. The result is his new book, "Operation Hollywood." Robb talked with MotherJones.com about deal-making that defines the relationship between Hollywood and the Pentagon.
So, how does this apply to the effect Fair-Use has on Independent-filmmakers freedom of expression and First-amendment rights? Its doesn’t; because fair-use is simply a defense to copyright infringement. It is not a freedom. It is not a right. Somehow, this pretty much creates an ethical dilemma for the independent film-maker. As a newcomer, the independent film-maker may face significant challenges overcoming the inherent obstacles to dispelling an objective truth, through their subjective documentary perspective. While at the same time attempt to be innovative and distinct, be accepted by the public at large, and avoid stepping on any of the toes of his or her predecessors.
For example, many independent filmmakers rely on funding to finance their films; funding from organizations such as PBS. According to an article in NewEnglandFilm.com:
“Art supporters make the argument that without government money, PBS will not be able to sustain its financial commitment to the creation of television that deals with non-mainstream, culturally diverse topics.”
If PBS doesn’t comply with the government standards to be considered for funding documentary film projects, than the independent film maker is vicariously and adversely affected by such standards and impositions placed upon those with the financial power to back their works. Which is why, according to this article . . .
“PBS receives its funding through the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), a private, non-profit corporation created by Congress through the Public Broadcasting Act of 1967.”
Therefore, not only must the filmmaker creates works in compliance with the ideas held by the public but also by who they get direct funding from, in addition to the private organizations to which those direct funds are received and granted to them, if at all.
The “Code of Best Practices” applied to: Independent Film-makers
Fair use is: “the right to use copyrighted material without permission or payment under some circumstances –especially when the cultural or social benefits of the use are predominant. It is a general right that applies even in situations where the law provides no specific authorization for the use in question –as it does for certain narrowly defined classroom activities.”
Changes in technology, and policies, have in effect also led to the emergence of the code of ethics, followed by documentary film-makers. See: (centerforsocialmedia.org/fairuse). In response to the many ethical dilemmas faced by film-makers and educators, in response to the gray area of the fair-use doctrine, creating a set of ethical guidelines, helps to establish differences between what is legal and illegal use of copyrighted works. The degree to which they can be reproduced, and the purposes for which it is being re-produced for, has been established to promote the free exchange of ideas for educational purposes and avoid the exploitation of artistic works for profit and individual purposes (that may or may not have the public’s best interest in mind).
Media Education, Scientific Evaluation, and Presentation of Facts through Documentary Film
More recently, the Center for Social Media has announced one of its latest projects, developing their “latest code,” due out February 1, 2009. As mentioned previously, in response to ethical dilemmas faced similarly by independent filmmakers and educators, the focus has now shifted towards promoting the dissemination of accurate and “scientifically supported information and actions for documentary filmmakers around the world” to use as a guide to maintain the artistic value and scientific merit given to works who help support the integrity of the Indie filmmaker maintain the integrity of his or her work.
The most provocative film makers enable the viewer to devise his own solutions and judgments. A good filmmakers guides the viewer subliminally, without his awareness. A good film-maker has you thinking at the end, exactly what he wants you to think; this is the purpose of this genre of film. Dispelling truths to enable others to formulate their understanding, by begin given an inside perspective, not just the bird’s eye view, popularly portrayed in the media and easily duplicated and fabricated.
After careful assessment of all the challenges faced by independent filmmakers, the biggest challenged is posed by documentary independent filmmakers, who are in essence recreating a period of time, through the subjective interpretation of the characters whose lives they have chosen to document. In order to determine what is “fair use” judges may determine four factors: (1) the nature of its use, (2) the nature of the work used, (3) the extent of the use, and (4) its economic effect. Any unlicensed “transformation” of the material taken from the copyrighted work, and using it for anything other than its original intent, may in turn be unlikely justified as falling under the “fair use” doctrine. When facts are presented in a way to express a filmmakers subjective interpretation, and not based on the objective truth or collective subjective viewpoints of key figures; this makes it difficult for a distributor to then finance or subsidize the cost for promoting or producing a film that is not what the filmmaker intended it to be, “a documentary.” How can something be regarded as truth, or as a documentary, when based upon stories told by those who have peripheral knowledge of the facts. How can individuals and their stories be regarded as truth, without having expert knowledge or personal backgrounds to qualify themselves as experts. All of these factors and issues must be considered, prior to the independent filmmaker’s journey to discovering truth and setting forth the facts for the record.
(1) “The Audience Evolution and the Resuscitation of “Mass Communication”: Implications for Communications Policy and Policy Research.” The Social Science Research Council; Social Science Perspectives. http://www/ssrc/org/essays/mcrm/?p=26.; retrieved 12/9/08
(2) “The Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for Media Literacy,” dated: November 11, 2008.www.centerforsocialmedia.org/resources/publications/code_for_media_literacy_education/ - 63k –
(3) “Copyright & Fair Use in Teaching Resources –Center for Social Media.”
www.centerforsocialmedia.org/resources/fair_use_and_teaching/ - 25k –
(5) “Documentary Filmmakers’ Statement of: BEST PRACTICES IN FAIR USE.” Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, Independent Feature Project, International Documentary Association, National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture, Women in Film and Video, Washington, D.C., Chapter dated:. November 18, 2005: www.centerforsocialmedia.org/fairuse.htm.
(6) “Understanding PBS Grants.” Dated: Friday, 12/01/00.