Documentary ethics and surveillance

Canadian filmmaker Rob Spence is using a prosthetic eye to film his next documentary.

A miniature video camera, concealed inside a prosthetic eye is being developed, and will be used by Spence whose eye was damaged in a childhood shooting accident.

This brings up some ethics issues for documentary filmmaking.

Spence is “hoping to secretly record people for a project commenting on the global spread of surveillance cameras,” according to the Associated Press.

The camera will be used to record images similar to those that Spence is seeing. It is believed that the camera will be able to capture natural human behavior, something a large camera might not be able to capture.

The book Making Documentary Films and Reality Videos by Barry Hampe discusses some of the issues with using hidden cameras. There are numerous technical problems that can occur, but ethics are at play.

Society frowns upon recording people without their knowledge. It’s a violation of privacy, and is “deliberate eavesdropping,” according to Hampe.

Releases are always an important part for subjects and filmmakers to agree on. A subject being filmed with a hidden camera should know they are being filmed. The question is, when should they be told they are being filmed? Will they still sign a talent release? What happens if releases aren’t signed?

Hampe who is skeptical of the use of hidden cameras writes, “A very thin line separates the behavioral scientist from the Peeping Tom.”

These are some issues and questions often considered when making documentaries. What’s the best way to capture a subject naturally?

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