While researching general information about documentaries I came across the following excerpt from an article titled “Documentary Filmmaking” on elementsofcinema.com:
Even though documentary cinema explores actualities, not all documentaries present the absolute truth a hundred percent of the time. Filmmakers, like any other artists, are both privileged and burdened by the power of manipulation. As such, they are blessed and cursed by the possibility to bend the truth.
I also found this to be interesting in light of my chosen topic, taken from Wikipedia’s information defining documentary films, more specifically, expository documentaries:
Expository documentaries speak directly to the viewer, often in the form of an authoritative commentary employing voiceover or titles, proposing a strong argument and point of view. These films are rhetorical, and try to persuade the viewer. (They may use a rich and sonorous male voice.) The (voice-of-God) commentary often sounds “objective” and omniscient. Images are often not paramount; they exist to advance the argument. The rhetoric insistently presses upon us to read the images in a certain fashion. Historical documentaries in this mode deliver an unproblematic and “objective” account and interpretation of past events.
I almost left the last sentence out of the above paragraph until I considered the reason there are quotes around the word “objective” both times it appears.
“Inside the Hunt for the Boston Bombers” by National Geographic is, in my opinion, nothing more than an FBI propaganda film. You may agree with me, you may not. For those prone to shooting the messenger, please remember this is my personal blog and I claim to represent the views of no one other than myself. (Is this a great country or what?)
In re-reading the above paragraph about expository documentaries, I suddenly found myself wondering if I was indeed reading a description of expository documentaries or an apt description of the transcripts from Dzhokhar’s trial. I think very likely the answer is this description fits both. What was presented in the courtroom appears more and more like it came directly from this documentary:
• Authoritative commentary
• Proposing a strong argument and point of view
• These films try to persuade the viewer (remember, viewers, due to the timing of this film’s release, would be all the potential and eventual jurors in this case)
• Commentary often sounds “objective” (remember there are quotes around this word and what that means)
• Images are often not paramount; they exist to advance the argument
• The rhetoric insistently presses upon us to read the images in a certain fashion
• In this manner they deliver an “unproblematic” and “objective” interpretation of past events
When one considers each of these bullet points, the timing of the film’s release, the narrative presented in court along with the tragic outcome for Dzhokhar, is it any wonder that I conclude the makers of this documentary and those who pushed for its creation should all face criminal charges for “witness/juror tampering before the fact?”
(Hey, if police and the FBI can routinely make up charges to fit their agenda, I can too. Shame I can’t make mine stick…)
The film admits that Tamerlan has been in the FBI’s own database and that they have interviewed him. By the time this film is made, he is deceased, leaving only Dzhokhar to stand trial. Therefore, this film needs to make obvious Dzhokhar’s guilt well in advance of his appearance in a courtroom.
How is this done? The answer to that question is the same as the answer to how was Dzhokhar first identified as suspect #1. Drum roll please:
This is when we are shown the re-enacted scene of someone clearly placing a backpack down behind a row of people and quickly walking away, still talking on a cell phone.
So this movie claims the FBI identified Dzhokhar, who was unknown to them, before they identified his brother, who was known to them, using footage that we know does not exist in a form that isn’t anything close to how it was portrayed in the documentary.
Isn’t that rich?
To compare the courtroom footage with the reenactment scene further:
1. Angle: courtroom footage – camera is to left and behind Dzhokhar
2. Angle: documentary reenactment – camera is across street and directly in front of the actors
3. The crowd: courtroom footage – Dzhokhar is in the middle of a tightly packed crowd
4. The crowd: documentary reenactment – there are so few actors behind the row of people standing along the barricade watching the marathon that it would be impossible not to see the actor walk up, bend down to set the back pack behind the people and quickly walk away
5. Movement: courtroom footage – Dzhokhar’s shoulder dips slightly (if you look really close) and no backpack is ever visible
6. Movement: documentary reenactment – actor clearly holding a backpack which he clearly bends down and sets on ground, where it is still visible behind the line of spectators
7. Timing: courtroom footage – Dzhokhar does not immediately walk away after his slight shoulder dip
8. Timing: documentary reenactment – actor immediately and quickly leaves area after depositing backpack
One of the FBI agents says something in the documentary that almost became the title of this post. He said this after Dzhokhar had been identified, but supposedly not yet by name:
“That’s my mission, that’s my guy, that’s who we’re going after.”
And they sure did didn’t they?