There always seems to be controversy surrounding documentaries being biased; the question is why?
Documentaries try to relate a topic or story from the point of reality where there should be little intrusion from the director of the documentary. Documentaries try to emulate reality to the best of its ability, but does reality mean that there isn’t any bias?
I think of the classic he said/she said scenario where two people may witness or go through a similar event, yet their stories can be very different. We must keep in mind that every person has certain ideas and values that are virtually impossible to separate from them. These pieces become part of a person’s over all perception of life and events.
Perspective doesn’t negate rationality. Just because you may feel a certain way about a topic doesn’t mean you cannot deliver facts and information that you rationally understand to be true. A certain level of objectivity usually remains even if you do not personally agree with these ideas.
People form opinions based on what they experience. For example, many people have credit cards, but not everyone has massive credit card debt. Since there are many reasons for a person to incur unintended debt – unforeseen medical bills, job loss, and so on – it is unfair to negatively label that person and make it hard for him to negotiate and settle the debt. Learn the facts so a way can be found to work together and eliminate any bias – on both sides.
All of these issues can be applied to documentaries, and the attempt to be as ‘unbiased’ as possible. Documentaries are made with a topic in mind and with that there is a perspective from the director. Whether or not the director wants his personal opinion on the topic to be part of the film, in some ways it is inevitable.
Why is bias a bad thing? We are taught to form opinions of our own, and documentaries are a great way to help present information on a topic that many people may not have been aware of before. As with anything though, you cannot simply believe everything you see in one film, just like you cannot fully believe the accuracy of a single news report. Often parts are left out, either by mistake or due to other circumstances that greatly affect the story being told. All human beings are biased to a certain degree. We all have a perspective and opinion on a variety of issues and topics, and we are told this is a good thing.
Michael Moore is the most obvious example of having lots of controversy surrounding his documentary films. In many of his films he does not shy away from making a point or statement about the topic he is presenting. His documentaries present both information and opinion and while they may not give an objective explanation of a topic, he does present issues and ideas that you may not have been aware of otherwise.
While documentaries have certain practices and rules that should be adhered to, it is hard to determine how unbiased they should or can be. Documentaries still inform their audience about a variety of topics and most of the time present it in a rational manner that suggests objectivity.
However, eliminating all bias is quite a larger task. Maybe we should change the way we perceive documentaries. Instead of expecting documentaries present us with unbiased fact, we should use them as a tool to gather information and gain new perspective.