Objectivity is difficult to achieve in any form of communication; however, since non-fiction films are based on facts, objectivity is theoretically possible. This paper will argue that even if objectivity in non-fiction films is theoretically possibly, it is never truly achieved. Objectivity is never achieved because any film that makes it beyond a cellphone video recorder and simple computer editing is made with the intention of either making profit or communicating a message that the maker deems significant. If the premise professional non-fiction films are created for a specific purpose, then subjectivity or bias is an unavoidable aspect of these films.[“Write my essay for me?” Get help here.]
It is theoretically possible for non-fiction films to be objective because they have the purpose of communication objective information; however, societal forces drive non-fiction film makers to produce films that have a purpose beyond simply communication objective information. In modern society, anyone with a smartphone can make a non-fiction film. Non-fiction films made with smartphones or armature filming software will be less influenced by societal forces that direct the purpose of these films. This is because the non-professional films may only be for personal use, they are often not intended to make profit, and may only be viewed by a small audience. The class of non-fiction films discussed here will be limited to films that have been professionally produced, or at least to ones that appear on the website “IMDb” or the “International Movie Database,” which is an internationally recognized database for professional films (Amazon.com, 2017). Any non-fiction film that is produced with the intention of appearing on IMDB has the purpose of being viewed by a large audience, making a profit, or communicating some significant message. If a film is professionally produced with one of the purposes mentioned in the previous sentence, then it cannot be truly objective. Objectivity is defined by Merriam Webster’s dictionary as the un-biased and un-opinionated representation of a set of facts. If a non-fiction film is made with the purpose of creating profit for the makers, then the presentation of facts will be biased. For a non-fiction film to make profit, it has either have significant education value, or have significant entertainment value for large audiences. Non-fiction films with significant education value will be the most objective films, however bias still cannot be entirely eliminated due to the nature of film as a form of communication. If a non-fiction film is made with the purpose of communicating a message that the maker deems significant, then the presentation of facts will most certainly be opinionated. If a film is made with the goal of communicating a certain perspective or message for society, then this innately contradicts the definition of objectivity because the film is communicating an opinion about a collection of facts. Therefore, professional non-fiction films are driven by societal forces to either make profit or communicate a message and thus cannot objectively present factual information. The following section will provide examples of three different non-fiction films or film series that will demonstrate this conclusion. [Need an essay writing service? Find help here]
Many films under the genera ‘documentary’ on the International Movie Database openly admit that the information presented is fictional and documentaries that are mostly factual still contain hidden bias. The most obvious examples of non-fiction films that contain heavy bias are those which are classified as horror documentaries. Horror documentaries cover topics like supernatural experiences, extraterrestrial sightings, or corrupt alien politicians that control society; these kinds of topics are ones that most academics group under the heading ‘conspiracy theories.’ Non-fiction films that discuss controversial topics like the supernatural, the extraterrestrial, or extreme corruption are relevant to a large group of people; however, the style of filming associated with horror documentaries is conducive to entertainment. The facts that are presented in the film may be somewhat objective, but horror documentary films are intended to create an emotional response in viewers. Horror documentaries will use ‘real footage’ dark lighting, low and brooding music, and ‘witness accounts’ that intend to make the viewer feel opinionated about the facts presented; therefore, horror documentaries cannot be objective. Even documentaries not classified as ‘horror documentaries’ will often be clearly biased and create an emotional response in viewers.
The documentary “The Nightmare” is a non-fiction film that explores the topic of sleep paralysis. Although the film claims to be a documentary that presents facts on sleep paralysis, no scientifically verified information is presented and expert opinions of academics in the field are never discussed (Ascher, 2015). Instead, “The Nightmare” suggests to the viewer that sleep paralysis is caused by demons and that it can be stopped by praying or chanting the holy name of Jesus Christ (Ascher, 2015). The proposition in “The Nightmare” that sleep paralysis is caused by demons is contradicted by scientifically verified research into the phenomenon. Psychologist argue that sleep paralysis is a result of an brain phenomenon where one feels ‘awake’ but is still in a dream like state in which they experience images that feel real. There is no scientific research that supports the notion that sleep paralysis is caused by demons. Therefore, “The Nightmare” is a classified as a non-fiction film, but is clearly biased and not objective.
Nature and history documentaries are mostly factually objective, however bias still exists because these non-fiction films have a purpose. Consider the popular non-fiction film series “Planet Earth.” The series “Planet Earth” presents the viewer with objective, scientific information about the various biomes, ecosystems, and organisms found on planet earth (Attenborough, 2006). The basic information about different biomes and ecosystems that the film presents is objective, however the interpretation and presentation of this information is not. This is again because of the purpose of professional non-fiction films is to make profit or communicate a message. The film “Planet Earth” was very profitable; it was profitable because it displays stunning high-resolution images of the natural world and tells miniature stories in each episode about the lives of the people and organisms in the particular biome discussed (Attenborough, 2006). Although the presented interpretation of facts in the film are interpretations generally accepted by the scientific community, they cannot be called truly objective facts because scientific disagreement still exists. For example, “Planet Earth” holds the view that the theory of human induced global climate change is true (Attenborough, 2006). Even though most the scientific community agrees that human induced global climate change is a fact, there are still those who dispute it. If a theory or piece of information is not fully agreed upon by the global scientific community then it cannot be considered objective information.
History documentaries are most often created with the intent of providing an accurate account of past events, however the film makers purpose will still influence the objectivity of these films. If a non-fiction film maker creates a historic film with the purpose of providing educational value and accurate account of events, the film will inadvertently include a biased interpretation of those events. This is because accounts of historical events come from a variety of sources, objectivity in these sources is extremely difficult to achieve. Accounts of historical events come from witness accounts, memoirs, film, photographs, biographies, etc. Although a comparison of different sources of information about historical events can help eliminate bias, it is extremely difficult for anyone to record events without including personal bias. This is a recognized academic issue for analysis of historical events. It is impossible for a person to record events without including personal bias because humans are always influenced by personal perception of the world around them. Our memories cannot be trusted, eye witness accounts in courts of law have in modern society been labelled as unreliable because human perception will modify sequences of events, this is proven in the field of psychology.
From this brief discussion of characteristics of different classes of non-fiction films, scientific or nature films are concluded to be the most objective. However, scientific or nature films often still include bias. For example, the non-fiction film “Blackfish” presents a scientific argument against the act of keeping large marine whales in captivity (Cowperthwaite, 2013). The film uses scientific data to argue that captivity has significant negative implications for the mental health of whales (Cowperthwaite, 2013). It is claimed in the film that captivity drives whales to commit violent acts against humans and therefore captivity of large intelligent mammals like whales should not be tolerated (Cowperthwaite, 2013). The non-fiction film “Blackfish” objectively presents facts about the psychological needs of whales in captivity. This film also describes the sequence of events that lead to the death of a trainer at Sea World, California (Cowperthwaite, 2013). However, the documentary clearly takes the position that captivity of large marine animals is wrong and should be banned, this is a subjective view. The non-fiction film “Blackfish” does not present objective scientific information that supports the humane captivity of large marine animals. This is because the films purpose is to convince the audience that captivity of large marine animals is wrong and inhumane, therefore the film is not objective.
Literature on the objective nature of non-fiction films supports the conclusion of this paper. A book titled “Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies” by David Bordwell and Noel Carroll discusses a theory by Bill Nichols on objectivity in non-fiction film. Nichols argues that non-fiction films cannot be objective because the objective view is a third-person view (Bordwell & Carroll, 1996). Per Nichols argument, non-fiction films cannot present information in the third-person view and so are not objective (Bordwell & Carroll, 1996). Furthermore, Nichols argues that the objective view is one that allows each audience member to come to their own conclusions (Bordwell & Carroll, 1996). Non-fiction films do not allow viewers to come to their own conclusions because they do not present a complete picture of the topic or issues presented in the films. Also, it is difficult for viewers to come to their own conclusions because the information is specifically crafted by the film maker to leave specific impressions on the viewer. Information in non-fiction films are crafted by including or excluding specific sets of facts and using a combination of music and imagery to give the viewer a pre-conceived impression. Nichols final condition for objectivity claims that the objective view is a disinterested view (Bordwell & Carroll, 1996). This paper argues that non-fiction films cannot be objective because the maker has a purpose, the maker is interested in the topic and crafts the film to reflect their interest. In a paper by a producer of documentary film, Jill Godmilow, she interviews the well-known documentary film maker Ann-Louise Shapiro about aspects of documentary film. Shapiro openly admits that “documentary film…straddles the categories of fact and fiction, art and document, entertainment and knowledge” (Shapiro, 1). Shapiro argues that documentary film makers should not claim to produce a comprehensive, objective, description of events in their documentaries (Shapiro, 1998). Instead, Shapiro claims that documentary film makers are only able to provide a subjective account of events that seeks to engage the audience in some way (Shapiro, 1998). A paper titled “Reading Reel Non-fiction: Documentary Films for Young Adults” the author provides a quote from a “Time” magazine film critic Richard Schickel. In the paper, the quote by Schickel claims that a documentary is only an organisation of nonfictional film that is designed to support the pre-conceived beliefs of the filmmaker (Phillips & Teasley, 2010). Schickel take this concept even further and states that it is juvenile to assume that those who make documentaries seek to present objective truth (Phillips & Teasley, 2010).
Through examples and a discussion of the sources, this paper has argued that objectivity is not possible in documentaries or non-fiction films. Indeed, the ability for film to create subjective responses in viewers is one of the strengths of this form of communication. Film is inherently entertaining; the moving images, high resolution pictures, and ability for film to present topics in first person perspectives is what makes them so appealing to mass audiences. Even if objectivity cannot be achieved in non-fiction films, they still have significant value for society. Non-fiction films can educate viewers on complex topics in a relatively short amount of time in a way that leaves a lasting impression. So, even if non-fiction films cannot be objective, they still must be appreciated for their educational value to society. [Click Essay Writer to order your essay]
Amazon.com. (2017). IMDb: International Movie Database. Retrieved from IMDb: International Movie Database: http://www.imdb.com/
Ascher, R. (Director). (2015). The Nightmare [Motion Picture].
Attenborough, D. (Director). (2006). Planet Earth [Motion Picture].
Bordwell, D., & Carroll, N. (1996). Post-Theory: Reconstructing Film Studies . Wisconsin: The University of Wisconsin Press.
Cowperthwaite, G. (Director). (2013). Blackfish [Motion Picture].
Phillips, N. C., & Teasley, A. B. (2010). Reading Reel Nonfiction: Documentary Films for Young Adults. The ALAN Review, 51-59.
Shapiro, A.-L. (1998). How Real is the Reality in Documentary Film? Jill Godmilow, in conversationg with Ann-Louise Shapiro. (J. Godmilow, Interviewer)