Doctor of Philosophy
School of Journalism and Creative Writing, Faculty of Creative Arts
Blackall, David, John Perceval: an ethical representation of a delinquent angel, Doctor of Philosophy thesis, School of Journalism and Creative Writing, Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Wollongong, 2004. https://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/2023
This dissertation accompanies two versions of a one-hour documentary, Delinquent Angel. The filmmaking process, arriving eventually at the second and broadcast version, saw the film receive considerable acclaim. Despite this, the process in making Delinquent Angel was fraught with legal and ethical dilemmas at nearly all stages of production. The enclosed film therefore became a best case study for this PhD, which might otherwise be entitled: “Non-fiction Filmmaking: How to Minimize Harm in a Dangerous Profession”. The PhD asserts that if ethical standards are met in filmmaking, or indeed television journalism, it is more likely that costly legal problems may be minimized. This argument is given a context through a central discussion on the nature of the consent that participating subjects make for documentary and television journalism, and that simply, a respect for the subject and their rights is reason enough to behave ethically. The culture of documentary and television journalism is such that the context of a subject’s consent is most likely defined by the particular genre of film being envisaged, its overriding commercial aspirations and the realities the film will create once editing is completed. The filmed subject’s plight in final representation is further magnified in that documentary and current affairs television journalism, like fiction films, have conflict built in for cinematic and dramatic interests. In a perfect world, non-fiction film subjects would be informed of this and the manner in which this will be executed. A ‘truthful’ informed consent filming process would have the camera subject understanding that devices like dramatic conflict sometimes serve the film as a cultural form, or are in public v interest, or are included to attain a more complex level of truth. More often, however, devices like dramatic conflict serve storytelling in simple and selfish ways, boosting the reputations and commercial success of producers and their works. The documentary Delinquent Angel as an integral part of this dissertation, primarily explores the history and artistic works of John Perceval. The film empowers his works as historical and socially committed texts in their own right. Through the psychological dimensions of the works, Delinquent Angel is able then to touch on Perceval's history, his relating to family and to the contemporary social forces around him. The film also shows the relationship between Perceval and the filmmaker (the artist’s former son in law) and so makes transparent some of the filmmaker’s (my) ethical and personal responses to the production process. The PhD brings analysis to that filmmaking process in terms of the representation of the participating subject, the funding bodies and the culture of the related industries of film and current affairs television journalism. Further case studies and epistemological analysis are then provided to reinforce the assertions made as a result of producing Delinquent Angel. The PhD does not centre on the extreme of academic comment around the subjectivity-objectivity balance, nor a general philosophical debate on freedom of expression. Rather, the ethical contradictions and problems generally within the journalistic filmmaking process are at the focus of this discussion. Discourses are arranged into an argument that exposes and discusses ethical dilemmas and how ethical consideration may assist in reducing legal risk. Despite this rather obvious point, it is apparent that the Australian documentary film industry lacks definition or acknowledgement of ethics, or any codified guidelines for that matter. For context and reference, the PhD returns continuously to questions of ethics surrounding the camera gazing upon the very private but famous Australian expressionist painter, John Perceval AO, the delinquent angel. vi The PhD shows how the reflection on the making of a major documentary on a famous artistic figure informs our understanding of the ethics of journalism and documentary filmmaking generally. In doing so, the PhD illustrates how this understanding impacts on the higher education journalism curriculum and how a code of ethics for documentary filmmakers should be developed from the codes now available to journalism. This study asserts, therefore, that if ethical standards are met in filmmaking, or indeed in television journalism, it is more likely that legal risk is reduced. The costs of unethical practice, however, are not only monetary as they often impact in psychological and social terms. This is demonstrated and argued in a context; that unless an overwhelming public interest can be demonstrated to justify deceit and subterfuge, then no film is more important than a film subject’s mental or social wellbeing.
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