Truth is Negotiable? Flaherty Seminar 2012

Truth is Negotiable? Flaherty Seminar 2012

Shawna Begay is currently studying for her PhD in Educational Technology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She also works as a Graduate Assistant.

Date Posted: 
2012-06-17 00:00

Blog Series:


When we watch films, we want to be taken to another place, another time, we want to live vicariously through someone else's experience.  We want to feel the catharsis that allows us to briefly disseminate our feelings out of our bodies. This can be cleansing, enlightening, inspiring, frustrating or even vindicating.

But what is truth when we watch a film? As Native American’s we can probably agree that for the most part, how “Natives” are represented in film has been off for the past century. But what is real? Who has the right to tell a story about a certain subject? How can a filmmaker be trusted with content? What constitutes entertainment vs. educational media? You are the audience. It is important to watch media with an open mind and active participation, especially when it comes to “non-fiction” based movies.  

At the Flaherty film seminar, it has already been an interesting 36 hours. I’ve met scholars, filmmakers, educators, programmers and producers from all over the world. I’m surrounded by people who are passionate about making documentary films and who tirelessly devote their lives to tell a story that is real and important to them. Last night I watched some of my fellow peer's excerpts from their films, some completed and some works in progress. I saw films about death, amputees, relationships, defiance, Buddhism, immigration, Natives losing land, amongst many other films about social and political issues. Despite my tiredness I was tuned in. Tuned into the true reality media, and no I’m not talking the Kardashians.  
In a discussion this morning, we talked about the truthfulness of film. What is truth and at what point can we take every movie, cut for cut? As an editor, it is very easy to turn the truth into a finely chiseled, well told story and it is very easy to throw the real “truth” on the cutting room floor. Films are there for you to be entertained as well as to be informed. With this seminar’s theme “Open Wounds,” we’ve visited some very uncomfortable issues surrounding humans. Film can be a way to reopen past wounds in order to relive our past, deal with our past and perhaps accept our past and move on. Film can be our own personal therapy not only for the filmmaker, but for the active audience member as well.

I was able to sit and have an intimate one-on-one conversation with an amazing documentary filmmaker tonight. Ms. Lourdes Portillo has made many films about social justice issues and has been very prominent in the Latino Filmmaking community for many years. She has recieved many awards and praises but what was I enjoyed about Ms. Portillo is her very sincere heart. Although I, myself have not made my own documentary yet, she has already taught me some very valuable lessons about the craft of filmmaking that you won’t learn in film school: 
1.  You have to know what you’re good at in filmmaking. And you have to know who is good around you to do what you can’t do so they can do it for you and do it better. 
2.  If you are passionate enough about something, you can make the movie with no money. You just have to get out there and do it. 
3.  Truth is important. It is important to be truthful with your films. Documentary should be about telling a story with your heart. 
4.  When you make a film about social or political issues, your life becomes intertwined with your subjects. You will most likely have a very long relationship with the people in your documentaries long after the movie has been completed and made its festival run. You are committed to the people for the rest of your life. (See her documentary Las Madres: The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, 1986). 
5.  Documentary work can take an emotional toll on your health: mental, physical and emotional.
6.  Keep your eyes and ears open, listen to others-this is where the ideas start to process and films are born. 
7.  You have to do it. Don’t give up.
Although I have not created my first documentary YET, I know there are issues from my tribe that need to be addressed. I can only hope to become more obsessed with those issues so that my only outlet will be to make a movie about it. Thank You Ms. Portillo, you’ve inspired me.

Now I know the truth is not negotiable. When telling a story, just like our ancestors handed down our oral traditions, they told the truth as they knew it. As documentary filmmakers, we have the responsibility and obligation of telling the truth whether it hurts or not.

SAY Magazine
Native Oklahoma
Support Native Films