For those of you who’ve seen the “Waiting for Superman” documentary: Remember when Maria is touring Harlem Success Academy, ostensibly hoping her son, Francisco, will one day be in one of those classrooms she’s observing? When she says she’ll wake up at 5 a.m., if necessary, to get him there?
(Spoiler alert) That scene was actually shot after the dramatic lottery drawing shown at the end of the film, the New York Times reported. Davis Guggenheim, the film’s director, said he asked Maria to tour the school, with the cameras, after she learned her son wouldn’t be going there.
Guggenheim defends the decision to Times blogger Sharon Otterman, saying it captured the mother’s genuine emotions.
You might have heard about this already — the Times report did come out a couple of weeks ago — but I just came across it. When the reporter asked if other scenes were out of chronological order, Guggenheim said, “None that I can think of.”
Does it alter your view of the film in any way?
From the Times blog:
Re-enactment and reordering has been part of documentary film-making since its start, and the Academy Awards for documentary film explicitly allow it. In fact, said Jonathan Kahana, a scholar of documentary film at New York University, the history of documentary is very much a history of re-enactment, “with blips, here and there, of something that we think of as vérité.”
That said, he and four other film experts and filmmakers interviewed said they were uncomfortable with the way Mr. Guggenheim inserted the scene, because there is no signal to viewers that it is anything but a real event, and because Maria’s emotional mindset is taken out of context.
Patricia Aufderheide, the director of the Center for Social Media at American University, did a study in which she and other scholars interviewed 45 documentary filmmakers about their ethical approach. “Documentarians firmly believe that altering chronology in itself is not a betrayal of a good faith relationship with an audience,” Ms. Aufderheide said. “But altering chronology when it fundamentally alters the interpretation of what happened, that’s when you get an ethical breach.”
“In this case, it does affect the interpretation of what happened, because you believe that she is still hopeful,” she added. “It represents her in being in one set of expectations when she was actually in another set of expectations.”