Contemporary social issue documentaries have been all the rage in recent years, but some rise above the crowd by taking on our most urgent and complicated issues and presenting them in ways that become conversation-starters instead of just fanning the flames of one side or the other. These types of films often present extra challenges to the filmmakers, especially in terms of potential threats to the safety of themselves, their subjects, or material they’ve collected.
My three guests today have each risen to this challenge with incredible films that premiered last month at the Tribeca Film Festival. Assia Boundaoui‘sThe Feeling of Being Watched uncovers a massive, pre-911 FBI surveillance operation on American Muslims in Chicago, including her own family. Nancy Schwartzman’s Roll Red Rollfollows a famous small town gang rape case that was heavily documented on social media in a way only possible in the past decade and includes the actual video footage of witness police statements. Cynthia Lowen's Netizens documents female victims of online harassment who find ways to fight back and even help other victims.
I spoke with the filmmakers about how to gain the trust of subjects who have been exploited by the media or other institutions in the past, how to tackle films that challenge entrenched beliefs while keeping yourself and your subjects safe, and more.
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This episode was edited by Jon Fusco.