Monthly Archives: March 2009

Documentary subjects with disabilites

Josephine Sittenfeld‘s “Ethan & Jennifer” is a documentary about two autistic children and their families.

Jennifer, 11, is from Belchertown and Ethan, 12, is from Amherst. Sittenfeld chronicles the lives of the children and their families, sleeping over their houses and going on vacations with them. The film is supposed to shed new light on what autism is like on a day-to-day basis.

But, according to the Daily Hampshire Gazette‘s Mary Carey, “Sittenfeld has noticed that some viewers who were initially unsure of whether to chuckle during some scenes tend to loosen up when they see that the autistic families find some of their children’s offbeat behavior amusing.”

The reaction of the audience and portrayal of the subjects is something I often wonder about when documenting or doing news stories on people with disabilities or disorders.

As a journalist or filmmaker, one should aim for an honest portrayal, but doing so might be difficult. What if an honest story is viewed as “exploitation” of the subjects?

The MTV  documentary new series “How’s Your News” features reporters with disabilities.

Video from How’s Your News on

“Humor is an important part of life with a disability (and life in general!),so we’d like you to know that it’s okay to laugh at some of this material. We’re all laughing right along with you…” according to a statement on the Web site’s homepage.

The show’s reporters state that people don’t find the material offensive, and believe they “provide a positive, empowering view of life with a disability.”

Journalist and P.O.V. blogger Tom Roston wrote, “But when you look at the show in the context in which it’s being marketed, will the audience be laughing with people with disabilities rather than at them? Or maybe it doesn’t matter. I am not sure.”

Video from How’s Your News on

Neither of the films are like Frederick Wiseman‘s “Titicut Follies,” which shows the mistreatment of patients in a Massachusetts institution. “Titicut Follies” was banned at one point, but did cause change in the state institution.

Perhaps “Ethan & Jennifer,” “How’s Your News,” and other pieces featuring people with disabilities can cause change misconceptions, but the public’s view will always vary.

The film “Ethan & Jennifer” will be screened Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Whole Children Center in Hadley.

Free episodes of “How’s Your News” can be view at

Check out a article by James Moore.

Please feel free to express your comments on the matter.

Leave a comment

Filed under Culture, documentary, People

Interview with filmmaker Ibtisam Mara’ana

Wednesday I had the opportunity to interview Palestinian-Arab Israeli filmmaker Ibtisam Salh Mara’ana.

Mara’ana came to following up the screening of her new  documentary “Lady Kul el-Arab” at the Massachusetts Multicultural Film Festival.

Most of Mara’ana’s films are documentaries. “Paradise Lost” is a documentary about the small fishing village on the Mediterranean of Paradise, where Mara’ana was born in 1975. “One of the few Arab communities remaining after the 1948 war, Paradise became culturally and politically isolated as Jewish settlements sprung up around it, and today it is a place defined by silence and repression,” according to the Women Make Movies Web site.

Women’s stories and culture are common themes in Mara’ana’s films. 3 Times Divorced” is about a Palestinian woman in Israel whose abused by her Arab-Israeli husband. The woman is left divorced, struggling to get her children back, and battling the state of Israel in court.

“Lady Kul el-Arab” is about a young Druze woman who is a finalist in an Israeli-Arab beauty pageant. She decides to enter an Israeli beauty pageant as well, when her family and life is confronted with a series of events and cultural disputes.

The screening was followed by a question and answer session, and I sat down with Mara’ana to talk about her filmmaking. Mara’ana graduated from the Jewish-Arab academic center of Givat Haviva where she studied cinema.


Filed under Culture, documentary, People

Teachers and spy cameras…

Apparently, a few teachers, both from the United Kingdom, have used spy cameras to catch their students misbehaving.

One teacher, Alex Dolan who is now a journalist, shot footage of students for a documentary. Disciplinary actions are being taken.

Another is a supply teacher, Angela Mason, who also filmed students “misbehaving” and aired the footage in a documentary.

Without a doubt, people should know if they are being filmed, told if they have been filmed, and releases should be signed if footage of them is being used.


Filed under documentary, People, Politic