Thursday, 2 February 2012

Errol Morris on truth and reenactment

The documentary film director Errol Morris claims that he "can't know for sure" whether an interviewee is telling the truth or not, and further notes how a reenactment can create "a kind of strange abstract world around a photograph" for his documentary films.

Morris claims that there is a line between the "mistaken idea about reenactments in general that you're showing somebody what really happened" and "a little world where people can think about a problem or a set of questions". which gets "the audience to think about certain questions about who was where, when, and what did they see" and "forces you into a position where you are asked to think about something or to think about something the way I am thinking about it".

"If the idea is entering history through a photograph," he notes on his work Standard Operating Procedure, "if you're somehow going through the surface of that photograph and going beyond, the reenactments help you to do that". He slows everything down, "almost, but not quite, to that instant of photography and ask you to reflect, to listen to what people are saying about that moment when the photograph was taken and the circumstances under which it was taken."

He argues it's simply wrong "that you can only talk about the real world in one way, that journalism has to be conducted according to a certain set of styles"  and claims "the pursuit of truth, the underlying reality of what happened, and anything which is in service of that is fair game."
"The photographs that fascinate me the most are the photographs that were posed, where they created some odd tableau vivant for the camera. It's almost as if in some strange way the soldiers were reenacting the essence of the war on a very private level. I guess that's the sick reading of it."
In the following interview he argues against the notion of subjective and varying truths, that there is truth based "in the real world" different to that of a personal opinion.

"What is true? What is false? What really happened?"

Columbia Journalism Review (2008) Recovering Reality: A Conversation with Errol Morris. [Online]
Spiegel Online (2008) Interview with Abu Ghraib Documentary Director Errol Morris: 'I'd Like to See a Lot of People in the Administration Indicted'. [Online]