The role of reciprocity in documentary filmmaking
Larson, Daniel Jon
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Filmmakers are often required to navigate conflicts and difficult moral dilemmas with their participants. While some have proposed ethical guidelines to help filmmakers resolve these dilemmas, such normative codes are unable to account for the unique particularities of every situation. I argue Simone de Beauvoir provides a philosophy that is well suited to documentary filmmaking and can help filmmakers analyze the particularities of moral dilemmas too unique to be accounted for by normative guidelines. Beauvoir's philosophy has two primary advantages for documentary filmmakers: 1) it accounts for the sociopolitical context in which the filmmaker and participant exist and, 2) it advocates for an ethic of reciprocity that requires filmmakers to respect the alterity of their participants and foster equitable relationships with them. I apply Beauvoir's philosophy to the ways in which filmmakers build relationships with their participants and use this framework to discuss Michael Apted's 'Up!' series, as well as my own film, 'Middle America'.
Middle America is a film that is part of the student's thesis project.