In Baker’s recount of Brian Hill’s career – Brian Hill the Musical Documentary (2012) – a key point raised early in his career was that of editorial clarity and sensitivity. Unlike fiction works, non-fiction works are in fact of real people, who have lives outside and away from the narrative of the project on hand. At the same time, non-fiction works can still undergo traditional production methods, such as selective filming, biased narrator and juxtaposition in editing, etc.
For example, in the Sylvania Waters case, the matriarch was shown to be at a hairdresser whilst her grandchild is being born. Whether or not this was the case, the fact that on screen it was depicted as such, shows the power of editing in the post-production process, and in meaning making.
In my non-fiction project, my partner and I have been very upfront with our subjects and with the owner of the location of the shoot: we will show them work in progress clips, and show them samples of writing as well, because we both believed that they should be happy with the material that is being transmitted of their selves and their livelihoods. Of course, this may not apply across every non-fiction project, but for the most part, if the subject is made to feel comfortable knowing their story and identity is safe, and they feel to be a collaborator rather than a name on a piece of release form, then they may even provide better material for the project.
Baker also brings up an interesting point when recounting Brian Hill’s later work, The Club. Here, editing was done sophisticatedly, and with a great mind on what meaning is being created with the particular parallel editing style. Editing in non-fiction work does not necessarily have to be an unavoidable evil – there is room for creating narrative without inserting the filmmaker (or docu-maker) into the story. In The Club, music, images and juxtaposition are said to be utilized in such a manner as to create both tone and style for the project, but also a sub-level narrative on social class in England without having the subjects or a narrator say so. This is a unique way of creating meaning, because in most contemporary documentaries, if there is meaning to be inferred, often times there is a narrator to explicitly state that meaning. While The Club does use a narrator who speaks directly to the camera, the narrator is also still a character within the story, and is in no way omniscient or detached.
Non-fiction documentaries require a special kind of attention when filmed and edited, because there is an inherent assumption that whatever that is being depicted is ‘real’, and so the meaning that is made through the media materials have to be treated with delicacy, or if it’s a negative piece, with sophistication.