Realities in the making

Hongisto, Ilona (2018): Realities in the Making: The Ethics of Fabulation in Observational Documentary Cinema. In Meretoja Hanna & Colin Davis (eds.) Storytelling and Ethics. Routledge: New York, pp. 190–199. 

With fabulation, documentary ethics can no longer be evaluated on the authenticity of the created representation. Instead, the ethics of storytelling is transposed to the moment of filming—to the process in which the mutual participation of the filmmaker and the filmed subjects sets forth an efficient presence that indicates how actuality could be arranged differently. In other words, ethics concerns what is created in the shared moment of filming.

The argumentation of the chapter draws from close readings of selected canonical and contemporary observational documentaries from Jean Rouch’s classic Moi, un Noir (France 1958) to Roberto Minervini’s LouisianaThe Other Side (USA 2015). Although the films deal with a variety of subject matters in distinct geographical areas, they come together in a shared premise; the lives of the filmed subjects are marked by poverty, illness, racism, homophobia, and trauma. Here, fabulation is a cinematic response to unsustainable conditions—a creative story-telling act that envisions how the actualities of the filmed subjects could be arranged differently. The documentaries are not didactic in style nor are the created visions verbalized explicitly. Rather, the created efficient presences take the form of a myth in the sense that the factual begins to impinge on the fictional.

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