From documentary’s roots in the early 1900s, the public can use documentary as a tool to hold others accountable. The film “Poison Water” is about Flint, Michigan’s water crisis, and an excellent example of how documentary can be used to spread awareness about important issues that otherwise might go unnoticed by the public. Documentary film remains an important source of “film truth,” a term coined by Dziga Vertov, known for his documentary called “Man with a Movie Camera.” Film truth is showing life as it truly is, and showcasing how the camera’s eye is better than the human one.
Many factors have to be considered while looking into a documentary. Professor Thomas Masscaro is a documentary historian who has taught in-depth analysis of documentaries at BGSU for many years.
“Being a documentary historian means tracing the evolution of the form, typically requires looking at the overlap of technology, the economy, social history, individual lives and politics. All of those things come together to influence documentary,” he said.
Some of the creators and lead journalists who helped uncover the Flint Water Crisis are going to be holding a panel on Oct. 17 at BGSU. Prior to the documentary “Poison Water,” what was occurring in Flint was widely unknown to most Americans. The film showed news clips from the time and how public officials went on the record to deny the issues that were occurring. The film organized the data to show how people in control of the situation lied about how the water was being treated while the public records revealed the truth.
Part of the reason on why the truth came out was because of an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in the area, which led to doctors starting to look into the reasons that could be behind the outbreak.
Part of the framework of a prosecutor film is identifying who the perpetrators are. Junior communications major Ryan Presson attended the on-campus viewing of the film.
“I felt it did a good job of being a prosecutor to all the crooked politicians,” he said. Prosecutor documentaries, such as “The Thin Blue Line” got a man off of death row. With film evidence comes the power of seeing things in a new light. Gathering support from public audiences and raising awareness has been key to creating change of all kinds, such as political or environmental.
The environmental impact of changing the source of water for Flint is included in the documentary as well. By showing how certain treatment of the water affected the chemical composition while it flowed through the lead pipes, the film made it easy to understand how the rusting of the pipes created the high levels of lead in the water. Professor Masscaro also liked the setup of the film.
“I thought “Poison Water”was great since it highlighted the science side as opposed to the political side, and explained the science of it. It's a really durable form of holding people accountable,” he said.
The advantage of a documentary is it lets individuals take control and express what is going on through their own eyes. Anyone can create a non-fiction film to show the world what otherwise would never be seen.