Framing of Us: Call to shape a new perspective on our cultural ethics as a documentary industry

    Dutch filmmakers Tessa Boerman and Shamira Raphaëla have launched the initiative "Framing of Us" for a drastic change in the handling of documentary narratives, including an urgent call to action: they call upon filmmakers who have been confronted with this colonial gaze to share their stories. They also call upon everyone else in the field: producers, critics, journalists, lecturers, programmers, broadcasters, commissioning editors, financiers, and all decision makers to join them in dismantling this system by having a brutally honest look at ourselves as an industry.

    "A few months ago I wrote an article in De Filmkrant about my bittersweet decision not to release a personal documentary about my marginalized family because I did not feel there was a safe space for this story," Raphaëla explains. "I received a ton of reactions. Fellow directors and producers who recognised the struggle, who shared this experience. Therefore, this edition of IDFA, Tessa Boerman and I planned to organize an extensive talk. Nevertheless it was very difficult to find people who were willing to share their experience publicly out of the fear of damaging their careers. The only way they felt they could share was anonymously and even then some of them were hesitant."

    Boerman says: "It is hard to find a filmmaker of color who didn’t experience being seen as the Other, through the lens of the colonial gaze. The Other evolved from being the exotic subject of films. The Other became the filmmaker. We are The Others. But this ethnographic gaze still haunts us in every aspect of filmmaking, because the power dynamics didn’t change. Since it is no longer possible to remain silent, nor close our eyes for this, we want to make this lens visible and expose its prism."

    This is why Raphaëla and Boerman have launched the initiative "Framing of Us: Shaping a new perspective on our cultural ethics as a documentary industry."

    Read their call to action below, and find the PDF of the text here.

    CALL TO ACTION

    Shaping a new perspective on our cultural ethics as a documentary industry

    We as filmmakers have a great responsibility, we have the power to create new realities through storytelling. Our work influences the representation of the world, affecting the perception of humanity, including the framing of Others, for generations to come. To truly see the Others, in the way they see themselves, beyond the ethnographic gaze, we need to be more conscious of the historical and cultural baggage that our industry carries. For this we pledge to redefine the way we are used to portraying people and their lives: seen from the centres of power.

    The Others are no longer only subjects, the Others became filmmakers too. We are the Others. Nevertheless the industry hasn’t yet sufficiently prepared for this shifting paradigm. The consequence; we are forced to tell our stories framed through the eyes of the dominant narrative, being the western, white, patriarchal middle/upper class gaze. Unfortunately a lot of black, indigenous, culturally marginalized or historically colonized filmmakers still feel that they cannot freely discuss the obstacles that they encounter publicly, out of fear of damaging their careers. But it’s not only us, everyone seems to struggle to talk about these issues in a culture-sensitive and professional way as colleagues. Just like we witnessed in the Me Too movement and the 50/50 pledge for gender parity, we want to break this silence too. To decolonize our practices we need to decolonize our minds, our eyes, our ears, and our perception of what (a good) film is.

    We are making a plea for a drastic change in handling of documentary narratives, including an urgent call to action: we call upon filmmakers who have been confronted with this colonial gaze to share their stories. We also call upon everyone else in the workfield; producers, critics, journalists, lecturers, programmers, broadcasters, commissioning editors, financiers, and all decision makers to join us in dismantling this system by having a brutally honest look at ourselves as an industry.

    We aim to make an extensive program in 2021 in which we can elaborate on these issues, share experiences and explore solutions. Please email us your experiences and thoughts on framingofus@idfa.nl. We understand the sensitivity of this topic, so we will handle all contributions with great care and discretion.

    Sincerely yours,

    Shamira Raphaëla & Tessa Boerman - FRAMING OF US

    We are happy to have IDFA as our launching partner and we embrace more coalition partners to spread the call and build a more inclusive industry. If you want to stay updated on the event check the IDFA newsletters or send us an email to be on the mailing list.

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