“As a documentarian I happily place my fate and faith in reality. It is my caretaker, the provider of subjects, themes, experiences – all endowed with the power of truth and the romance of discovery. And the closer I adhere to reality the more honest and authentic my tales. After all, the knowledge of the real world is exactly what we need to better understand and therefore possibly to love one another. It’s my way of making the world a better place.” Albert Maysles
As documentary film makers we grapple with reality every day. We portray reality in our films and we want others to experience it as well. But we need to take Albert Maysles quote a step further and ask: WHOSE REALITY; mine, the subjects, yours? What is the viewer’s reality – will the viewer see what I saw? On what journey can I take the viewer without losing credibility? Do I have to cater to the smallest common denominator?
I was in a mosque showing my film Abraham’s Children a few days ago. I thought my audiences and my common ground would be the ‘love’ for the children in the film and the acknowledgement of their lives as Americans, students, athletes, academics and practicing Muslims. But the reality for one woman in the audience was much different. She could not get passed the fact that the more liberal families where in the same film and “next to” the conservative families that in her eyes where the only true Muslims.
That was incredibly hard for me to hear, just on a human level, because I know that those families would strongly disagree. What was this woman’s reality to openly express that concern? Was it pure ignorance? I think not, she’s a convert. Was it arrogance?
I can tell you what my reality was: I was standing in a mosque, un-chaperoned as the only non-Muslim and very keenly aware of those facts. I also felt badly equipped to argue my point as I was in a house of worship.
Where do the experiences of two individuals cross and where do we “see” the same thing differently? Who am I to determine what my subject’s reality is? What I see as wrong another person sees as absolute right. Is this just a different opinion, or is one of us lying?