5.1 What Are Your Responsibilities?

A filmmaker may have many different kinds of relationships with the subjects of their films. They may be the very people you are investigating and whose actions you are exposing; they may be people to whom you have grown close over many years; or they may play an incidental role in the your film, providing a single interview or being caught on camera during a scene.

At a minimum, all filmmakers have legal obligations to the subjects of their films to ensure that they are both appropriately and fairly represented in the documentary. But in the case of subjects who are made vulnerable as a result of filming, most filmmakers want to consider their ethical responsibilities too (or a 'duty of care'). This may include protection to their identity and location, or offering practical help and reassurance through the film's release and beyond.

Merely being filmed may expose them to risk, or risk may emerge when the film is shown. The consequences could be serious - physical violence or imprisonment at worst, but can also include loss of family relationships, loss of employment, legal harassment and discrimination etc.

In every case, it is the responsibility of the filmmaker to, at minimum, think through and discuss within the team the consequences for them of taking part in your film. Particularly if you have a subject or subjects who seek to remain anonymous. At most, you should discuss the risks with the subject in detail and make contingency plans with them for these eventualities, in particular should their anonymity be breached.

5.1 What Is Consent?

Extra responsibility applies where the subject is especially vulnerable. Their age, mental disability or mental condition may undermine their ability to give true consent to filming. In this circumstance, it's especially important that a clear description of the film's aims and content be provided (and potentially repeated at subsequent meetings). Consider including friends or family of the subject who can act on their behalf and ensure that any consent they give to participate in filming is considered 'Informed Consent'. In addition, it may be helpful to keep contemporaneous note of conversations that take place should the filming ever be questioned and potentially (in circumstances that demand it), to show a rough cut of the film to the subject to ensure they have an understanding of their representation.

It is usually a good idea to have all contributors to your film sign interview release forms to signify their legal consent to participate. These forms will be required by E&O insurers to verify that the film is legally watertight. As a back-up you can use on-camera consents where you film your subject whilst explaining what you are doing, but many insurers will require signed forms. A consent form can also be very useful in a situation where an interviewee later claims they did not consent or were misled about the project.

Suggested Team Discussion Points:

Do you understand what 'informed consent' is? To what extent can you or are you prepared to help the subjects of your film beyond filming?
How would you describe your relationship with the subject(s) now?

Are any of them hostile to you or the film?

If so, see the section 3 of this guide about legal security

Might your film subjects be adversely affected by your film? If so, why?
Have you discussed these risks with any of them? Y/N

If so, what was the outcome?

Might the subjects of your films require additional help (such as relocation or legal aid) and financing because of the film, which you think your team has at least partial responsibility for and that are currently outside your resources?

If so, how might this be managed?

5.2 Subject Security Resources

BRITDOC's Impact Field Guide - Consider Your Subjects

Committee to Protect Journalists - Organized Crime and Corruption

Center for Media and Social Impact - Honest Truths report on Documentary Ethics

BBC - Editorial Guidelines: Working With Vulnerable Contributors

Witness - Working as a Filmmaker with Survivors of Sexual Violence

UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office - International Protocol on Sexual Violence Documentation

Radio Lab - Getting the Story: Working with Victims of Conflict, Human Rights Abuses and Trauma

Dart Center - Conducting Interviews with Survivors of Sexual Violence

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