Martor No. 25 / Year 2020

Dare to Record! The Ethics of Decision Making in Fieldwork Documentary Practice 

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Ileana Gabriela Szasz

National School of Political and Administrative Studies, Romania

Pages: 199-213

Keywords: Documentary film, documentary practice, visual anthropology, ethics.

Abstract: The ethics of documentary practice is often brought into discussion after the screening of the film, when the production is already finished. Except for a minimum formal requirement of consent, there is no standard set of rules that filmmakers are compelled to follow during fieldwork, regulating their relationship with the people in front of the camera. Viewers make ethical judgments based on cultural expectations regarding consent, disclosure, motive, and structure. The diversity of fieldwork situations is considered the main reason for the lack of formal guidelines in this practice. Fieldwork behavior is shaped by the responsibility the practitioners assume towards the people filmed, the other team members, and their personal professional goals based on their own set of moral standards. Grounded in my experience as a cinematographer for a documentary shot in a Cortorari Roma community in a Transylvanian village, the article discusses the ethical challenges I faced in the decision-making process while filming on location. Accounting for the particularities encountered during this fieldwork—from the language barrier, secrecy and rumors to tensed conversations and open conflicts—I discuss the factors that influenced my choices. The analysis aims to reveal how the perception of responsibility and power roles that emerged in this context determined when and what was to be recorded and made available for editing and disclosure. 

How to cite this article: Szasz, Ileana Gabriela. 2020. “Dare to Record! The Ethics of Decision Making in Fieldwork Documentary Practice.” Martor 25: 199-213. [DOI: 10.57225/martor.2020.25.13]