Documentaries – your side, their side and the truth!

Do you, like me, love a documentary? That rhymes! Caroline Flack – Her Life and Death, Murder on Middle Beach, Allen v Farrow, Harry and Meghan, Framing Britney Spears, Against the Tides, Bruno v Tyson and The Armstrong Lie are my most recent jaw droppers. I’ve seen hundreds of docs and I’ve worked on a lot as a camera operator and researcher as well as script writer and producer. Here’s a throwback from a film I made over 10 years ago with my incredible boss, Richard George, for the BBC. We spent a week practically living in the top of a wind turbine, miles out to sea, off the coast of Kent with a crew fighting to save the wind farm. We had to direct helicopter pilots above us and boats below us, via walk talkies, all standing on the top of a very high turbine in the middle of the sea. It was one of the craziest things I’ve ever done. I’ve filmed a face lift, high speed police chases, drug busts, spent months living in a hospital, I’ve filmed blue whales living on a boat in Iceland and I’ve interviewed some of the most incredible individuals who’ve shared stories I will never, ever forget. So what’s the big deal with docs then? Documentaries have the power to change the world! They’re an incredible tool for bringing topics to the table. They engage new audiences. They’re persuasive. They invite us into secret worlds. They influence us, they create change, they distress/disgust us and call us to action. They always leave an imprint on me. Michael Moore says when it comes to telling stories “the public should be taught to use forks not knives”. I love this metaphor. He also says “don’t tell me shit I already know”. There are no hard and fast rules though when it comes to bringing a story to life, but there are truths to be told and there are repercussions. Once that first image plays out in a documentary I’m fully onboard. I’ve checked-in to a world I often know little about, or a world I know a lot about that turns everything I knew on its head! I am a bit annoying to watch a doc with because I like to really figure out the processes, the route the story takes, the way in which the interviewees have been shot, lit and the location choices, which will have been scrutinised over for hours. There are a hundred ways to shoot an interview and I am always blown away by the creativity. I also love the beautiful, sublime images some directors use to elevate the storytelling and the deep metaphors within those shots that take the story to a whole new meaning. But here’s the thing, what runs through my mind the whole film is how powerful someone else’s words are. Once you’ve heard something – you can’t unhear it and you have to trust that what you’re hearing is factual and genuine! Facts are facts and we believe facts, but passionate life-changing experiences spoken by an individual, well that’s when we have to use our instincts. Do I believe you? Do I trust you? I have to constantly remind myself there are three sides to every story – your side, their side and the truth. We can apply this to so many walks of life. How deep is your trust? Who do you believe and why? Does it come down to ‘how’ the story is told or ‘who’ the story is being told by? A filmmaker has you in the palm of their edit choices and that is a truly powerful position. Documentaries will enrich your life, they will tell you things you never could have dreamed even existed. In my eyes they are the most powerful films on earth. If you don’t already, next time you watch a doc let your emotional and intellectual feelings work their magic and when it’s finished give it a lot more thought? I always research a film after I’ve watched it – it’s a thing. Reason with yourself, ask yourself questions. What is it about you, about human nature that makes one person believe and another disbelieve?