WELFARE shows the nature and complexity of the welfare system in sequences illustrating the staggering diversity of problems that constitute welfare: housing, unemployment, divorce, medical... See full summary »
I've been writing about a number of Frederick Wiseman films here on the IMDb. The issue of ethics in Documentary films fascinates me, and Wiseman's films are perfector a discussion of that type. In my entry on "Basic Training", I discussed what role the audience plays in judging a films ethical standpoint. I continue that discussion here.
In "Juvenile Court" there is a scene in which a psychologist questions a 15-year-old boy who has been accused of molesting a small girl he was baby-sitting. We later meet the mother of the girl who seems nervous and sexually obsessed. We see the boy agree to take a lie detector. Then we see some attorneys, some counselors, and the judge in the case discuss whether or not the mother might have fabricated the charges. That is the last we see of that case. As Thomas R. Atkins wrote in a 1974 article in "Sight and Sound": "The characters have spoken for themselves, and each viewer can have his own reaction, make his own judgment according to his particular prejudices and values. The implications of the legal issues and human attitudes extend far beyond the innocence or guilt of this specific defendant, raising tough questions about the system of juvenile justice as well as the condition of society in general."
But some could argue that the goal of documentary is to present the facts and not to make ambiguous statements about the issues. Then again, it could be said that documentary films are not the same as news programs, and should be about representing the ambiguities of life, and as Atkins suggests, to use the events in the film to focus on broader issues.
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