There is an inherent responsibility that comes with directing a documentary film. With each edit, the director is given the choice to show or not show, and ultimately influence an audience with their version of the “truth” on a given subject. In the last year, there were two particularly important documentaries that saw theatrical release. Errol Morris’ Standard Operating Procedure is arguably one of the most important documentaries ever made, simply because of the questions it raises about “truth,” “documentation,” and “responsibility.” This film is not only challenging for the filmmaker, but the viewer as well. It asks us to step outside of a more comfortable place and forgo the idea of film as entertainment entirely.
The other film that I am thinking of which treads in territory that is both treacherous and necessary comes from the controversial filmmaker, Tony Kaye. After conquering the world of advertising with his own genre defining style, Kaye found the spotlight in Hollywood with his heavily criticized film American History X. The story behind the film’s creation had perhaps become more contentious than the movie itself, leaving Kaye on the outside of a studio run system. He returned to commercials and music videos where his career had begun. All the while, Kaye was allocating his profits into a self-financed documentary project that would take well over a decade to complete. With Lake of Fire, Kaye charges head-on towards one of the most difficult topics of social consequence facing this nation, a woman’s right to choose. Throughout the film, Kaye manages to stay unbelievably unswayed and focuses his efforts on trying to understand what is shaping the argument on both sides. The film is exceptionally hard; there is no question about that. It is also exceptionally important. Kaye did an admirable thing and it’s up to us, the viewer to face it.