Documentary Ethics

As my film can cause emotional distress in people due to it’s sensitive nature and perhaps put people into physical danger due to speaking to strangers, it is a project that is of a medium to high risk. This is assessed using the ethics guidelines provided by Coventry University. (, 2016) With regards to ethics in the documentary format, there isn’t an official set of rules to abide by. However, the IDA talk of a need to ‘protect the well-being of both film subjects and actual viewers’ (International Documentary Association, 2015). being the primary guideline. They go further into the meaning  behind this and say you should “do nothing that would violate the humanity of your subject and nothing that would compromise the trust of your audience.” As these guidelines are quite vague and don’t go into specifically what it means to avoid these actions, it made me question in what ways these ideas can be applicable to my project. So, I did research into how other documentaries have abided to these guidelines whilst also creating an entertaining piece. 
When looking at the silent documentary film Nanook of the North, (Robert Flaherty, 1922) it shows a lot of stereotypes of a culture and has been criticised for that. However, I wish to do very differently in my documentary. Whilst stereotypes often show the extreme for entertainment, I wish to show the grounded view and make an informative piece on what an actual opinions on Tinder, both through new users, old users, and through recording real events as they happen, thus not perpetuating the stereotypes. Although I appreciate that at the time Nanook of the North will have been incredibly insightful, I want to be able to create something that goes beyond stereotypes and offers new information to my audience. People may just live up to the stereotypes within my documentary, but it is of paramount importance that I am there to record the truth and not take away from what is the reality of the situation and delve as deep into the situation as possible.


When looking at the film Born Into Brothels (Zana Briski, Ross Kaufman, 2004) we can see how the producers form a relationship with their subjects as they have a large ethical responsibilities for the safety of their subjects and through the intervention they have allowed the children to be able to express themselves in the best and safest way possible.

In terms of my documentary, I will be taking numerous aspects from Born Into Brothels into my own production work. They had to cater their camera crew to encourage the subjects to act in a certain way. So, I will be doing the same and having a very small crew, often just myself, so I can connect personally with the individual to extract the most personal details possible. Also, by being very close to the subjects, whilst definitely being able to pass on my creative vision, I can ensure that I “do nothing that would violate the humanity of your subject”. However, by taking such an involved role, I must ensure that I do not “compromise the trust” of my audience by pushing my vision on the subjects too much and instead just guiding them to a safe and entertaining outcome without making it structured reality and having it still capture the truth.


Can Tinder Be a Sensitive Subject?

As Tinder is an application where you are speaking to strangers and deals with dating, a subject that can be very emotionally affective to people, it can be a very sensitive subject. In the media, it is often shown only through very negative circumstances. Therefore, people are often very passionate against the use of the application. So, I must respect this and protect the people who are passionate against Tinder through methods to keep them anonymous if they wish to be so.


Born into Brothels. (2004). [film] India: Zana Briski, Ross Kaufman., (2016). Low Risk Ethics Checklist. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Mar. 2016].

International Documentary Association, (2015). What to Do About Documentary Distortion? Toward a Code of Ethics. [online] Available at: [Accessed 4 Mar. 2016].

Nanook of the North. (1922). [film] Artic Circle: Robert Flaherty.


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