Doing good without doing harm


February 13th, 2009

My friend Phil is an independent documentary film-maker. A few years ago he inherited a run-down cottage in the bush. He divides his time between his country cottage and his Melbourne home. Like us, he’s well aware of the dangers of living in the bush and can emphasize with the bushfire survivors who are now trying to rebuild their lives. And there’s lots of them. More than 1800 homes have been destroyed. More than 7000 people are homeless.

Yesterday he sent me an email saying: 

I’ve been wondering how I could possibly best use my skills as a (documentary) filmmaker in assisting those directly affected. My first thought/ instincts that I considered was going to the emergency refuge centres and allowing those people who wanted to, to tell their stories on video; but even asking them if they wanted to participate seemed too intrusive. I’m still wondering how I could best use my talents.

I think back to the many documentary and short films made after 9/11, which were of varying quality. Some of the best were low-key, simple productions with local people telling their stories. It was moving, engrossing and cathartic. There was also a fantastic series of short films made by US filmmakers (some famous/ many not) about the event and its implications.

I asked a few trusted friends for their advice. Chris Corrigan acknowledged that it’s a tricky situation and suggested being ‘crystal clear about the purpose’. Nancy White suggested involving people by ‘handing out cameras, not cameramen’. Both great suggestions.

Phil and I are still tossing about ideas so we’d be happy to hear what you think.

 

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