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Exploiting Vivian Maier: When Do Docs Invade Privacy?

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by Anthony Kaufman
March 27, 2014 1:14 PM
2 Comments
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Don't get me wrong: I like "Finding Vivian Maier," the new documentary I wrote about in Indiewire for my new column "Reality Checks." And by raising the many issues that are inherent in the film, I don't mean to simply criticize the movie: I only mean to highlight what's already there. As I wrote today: The film raises many questions pertinent to all documentarians: When is it "appropriate to expose the lives and works of others who would rather be left alone? What responsibilities do filmmakers have when they speak on behalf of those who have chosen not to speak publicly for themselves? When should filmmakers keep pressing on the private life of an individual and when should they stand back?" 

vivian maier

The case of Vivian Maier so pointedly brings up these questions because she was so private. The filmmakers, in fact, spend a lot of time establishing this fact. It is one of the key ways that they define her. So, then, are the filmmakers aware that in doing so they are pushing this issue front and center: Are they acknowledging the fact that their film may be an invasion of Maier's privacy? 

Coincidentally, I happen to be teaching a class on the history and issues of documentary film, and last week, we were looking at Edgar Morin and Jean Rouch's cinema verite classic, "Chronicle of a Summer." In that film, the filmmakers go out of their way at every step of the process to include their subjects in the process of their film--to attempt to, in effect, break down the unfair power discrepancy that exists between those behind the camera and those in front of it. Of course, we are a long way off from the 1960s paradigms of Cinema Verite and Direct Cinema, but I do think Morin and Rouch touched on some very key ethical issues when it comes to documentary films that still resonates very much to this day.


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2 Comments

  • Kamo | July 20, 2014 4:33 PMReply

    I also found my way here after wondering whether anyone else had considered the intrusive nature of this publicity. I think it says a great deal about the ethical and moral bankruptcy of everyone involved that little consideration has seemingly been paid to Vivian Maier's wishes. Her work was clearly for her own personal fulfilment and it was evidently her preference that it be kept private. Absolutely no one other than Vivian had any right whatsoever to make it public.

    As 'r0ngaddy' has suggested, the intrusion of privacy is further magnified by the fact that her personal information has also been made public. I can only imagine that she would be shocked and aghast at such a brutal violation of privacy. No matter your intentions or motivations, your first duty should always be to respect the wishes of the artist, and these were blatantly ignored here.

  • r0ngaddy | June 13, 2014 10:46 AMReply

    I discovered the Indiewire website this morning and “Exploiting Vivian Maier: When Do Docs Invade Privacy?” as a result of Googling for the text “Vivian Maier privacy”
    I viewed the "Finding Vivian Maier” documentary last night at the Memphis Brooks Museum and although a most intriguing and entertaining film, I walked away with an uneasy feeling of an in-depth intrusion on a very private person. Based on the documentary’s repeatedly pointing out Vivian’s pursuit of privacy, I might go so far as to suggest that Vivian would likely feel violated in some ways if she were still alive for the exposure to the world of not only her work but also very personal information about herself.
    I’m glad to have found your comments on this subject. I wonder if there are any ongoing discussions on the documentary as far as privacy is concerned? There are a number of other comments I have but will not expound at this time and location.
    Regards

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