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Friday, June 9 • 4:50pm - 5:10pm
Critical Documentary Filmmaking: Intersecting Documentary Activism, Participatory Design, and Critical (Film)Making

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This paper presents on ways of making socially engaged documentary films. These sorts of films use digital filmmaking tools and invite collaboration from a range of stakeholders, including those traditionally marginalized, to create socially engaged programming that reframes experiences of trauma and oppression. The use of documentary to promote social justice activism is an established topic (Mitchell et al. 2012; Bao 2015; Traverso and Wilson 2016; ross & Funari 2017; Aguayo 2019; Corlin 2020), and in this paper I describe a mode of documentary production that aligns with critical making. Critical Documentary Filmmaking draws from the aim of critical making to “bridge the gap between creative physical and conceptual exploration” (Ratto 2011) by producing counter-discourses and objects of activist critique. Practical examples will be drawn from my own process making a documentary that combined interviews from a range of participants, including doctors, healthcare advocates, and people dealing with addictions to argue the need for a harm reduction approach in Canadian medicine. Following a participatory design approach (Yang 2012), this paper describes best practices to engage marginalized communities in meaningful collaboration at each stage of the production process, from pre- to post- as well as release. It details steps for developing community buy-in and working collaboratively with a range of stakeholders to support social justice work. The paper concludes with a discussion about the need for pedagogy and community-based programming to teach filmmaking skills and provide access to equipment. When it comes to critical issues affecting vulnerable populations, outreach and consensus building can be improved when affected communities are engaged at the start of the process. Approaching documentary filmmaking from a critical making perspective is about rethinking who gets to participate in digital video production, the kinds of stories that are told, and the ways they are shared.
Aguayo, Angela J., (2019). A Critical History of Documentary and Participatory Media Cultures, Documentary Resistance: Social Change and Participatory Media. Oxford Academic: New York, https://doi.org/10.1093/oso/9780190676216.003.0002.
Bao, H. (2015). Digital video activism: narrating history and memory in queer China, "Comrade" China. In W. F. Schroeder, H. Bao, & E. L. Engebretsen (Eds.), Queer/Tongzhi China: New Perspectives on Research, Activism and Media Cultures, 35-56. University of Copenhagen NIAS Press
Corlin, M. (2020). The Bishan Commune and the Practice of Socially Engaged Art in Rural China. Germany: Springer Singapore.
Mitchell, Claudia, and Elizabeth-Jane Milne, Naydene De Lange, (Eds.) (2012). Handbook of Participatory Video. United States: AltaMira Press.
Ratto, Matt (2011). Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life, The Information Society, 27:4, 252-260, DOI: 10.1080/01972243.2011.583819
ross, jesikah maria, & Funari, V. (2017). Participatory Documentary Then and Now: A Conversation about Practice and Pedagogy. Television & New Media, 18(3), 283–293. https://doi.org/10.1177/1527476416675418
Traverso, Antonio and Kristi M. Wilson (Eds.) (2016). Political Documentary Cinema in Latin America. United Kingdom: Taylor & Francis.
Yang, Kyung-Hwa (2012). Reflexivity, Participation, and Video. In Mitchell, Claudia, and Elizabeth-Jane Milne, Naydene De Lange (Eds.). Handbook of Participatory Video. United States: AltaMira Press.


Jason Lajoie

Independent Scholar

Friday June 9, 2023 4:50pm - 5:10pm EDT