Interview with “Battle of Brooklyn” director Galinsky: “I’m not a journalist” (?)
NetsAreScorching, a subsite of ESPN.com, has an interview with Michael Galinsky, director of “Battle of Brooklyn,” who has spent six years and amassed 350 hours of footage documenting a battle between an organization called Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn and a big land-development project built arount moving the New Jersey nets basketball team to Brooklyn.
What’s interesting to use is Galinsky’s quote on how people understand documentary film. He said,
Our film is a character-driven, verite documentary that mostly follows a few of the people fighting the project, so we’ll want to get their take on the situation. The idea of a verite documentary film gets confusing because most people are used to Michael Moore or old school PBS docs. We aren’t journalists and we’re not activists either. The idea of this film isn’t to get to the bottom of everything that’s happened along the way but instead to follow characters as they deal with some of the situations that they face. Not even Norman Oder could put together a book that covers everything and is still readable. As such, we have to be very selective in what scenes to focus on. So the short answer is: yes we’ll be shooting, but who knows what will end up in the film. With over 350 hours of footage shot, only about 0.5% of what we shot has any chance of making it in to a 90 minute film.
Of course, selectivity is part of the editorializing process. The very acting of pulling out 0.5% of all footage – and the fact that even 350 hours of footage is an editorial choice itself of what to record – means it is a process of choice.
But what is also fascinating is Galinsky’s statement that as documentary filmmakers, he and his group are not journalists and not activists. Then what are they?
Documentary film is, obviously, a form of entertainment, but to take on a very complex and controversial story involving government and public matters, and then not make the claim of being a journalists, seems odd. It seems to both absolve the filmmaker from full responsibility for accuracy but yet claims to be telling the kind of story a journalists tells.
In writing “In Cold Blood,” Truman Capote held himself out as writing a “nonfiction novel” rather than journalism, and I think that for those who view the term pejoratively, there is an investment in characterizing oneself as an artist rather than as a journalist. Michael Moore may see himself as something different than polemicists such as Limbaugh and Beck, but he really isn’t. Doing the work on film, or video, does not remove the journalistic responsibility that the recent ethics report from the Center for Social Media. The First Amendment does not allow for certification of journalists, and therfore anyone can be one. There is not training required, and no set of clear controls up front – libel law is a back-end remedy.
It’s interesting when documentary filmmakers choose to take on matters of political importance, and it’s worth commending them when they use their particular medium to try to enliven a debate by pulling it off the pages of the newspaper (or web) and create a longer-term understanding of the situation. It’s also interesting, however, when documentary filmmakers who are clearly functioning as journalists claim they are not.