Responsibilities of a Minority Filmmaker

“They cannot represent themselves, they must be represented.” – Karl Marx (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte)

“The question arises whether a filmmaker from one culture can ever represent another culture in a way that avoids stereotyping, and without the film becoming a form of ‘visual imperialism’.” – Jane Chapman (Issues in Contemporary Documentary)

Firstly, I must admit that I am not a professional documentary filmmaker. I don’t know the daily realities and constraints of someone who makes films for a living. I fell into filmmaking accidentally, because I had something to say and a point of view to promote. Those are the main reasons for my work in “Moving the Mountain” and “Gens du Pays: les Chinois du Québec.”

Socially conscious cultural workers from national minorities have certain responsibilities whether they are aware of them or not. If you are true to yourself and true to your community, you cannot walk away from your social context. Unlike mainstream filmmakers who make films on minorities, minority filmmakers must answer for what they produced because what they do is a reflection of the community they live in and they must take responsibility for the end product and be accountable to that community.

What are we responsible for? Primarily we must tell and show the truth and do it honestly and passionately. We must tell the stories that the mainstream ignores or refuses to acknowledge as important. We must expose the contradictions, personal conflicts and struggles faced by the minority community in order to move forward. We must tell it in such a way that is not tripe, cliché, stereotypical or to fit certain expectations of the mainstream.

The insider/outsider dilemma. This does not mean that filmmakers outside the marginalized communities cannot document minority realities. They could bring in a fresh and different approach.  However, whether you are an ”insider” or an “outsider”, you should always beware of the conventions of mainstream representation. “The influence of mainstream representation means that ethnographic film tends to document the practices of other cultures within a medium that relies on Euro-American conventions.” – Jane Chapman

There is an acute lack of minority representation in the dominant Québec media, film and in the public discourse. It is seen as the problem of a “minority within a minority” in Québec, as many of our subjects have stated. Within the Québec national context, minorities must develop our own presence and representation. We must promote and be proud of our cultural works and not be afraid to confront the dominant mainstream representation. We must also demand access to the mainstream media. WE CANNOT FOREVER REMAIN THE “EXOTIC OTHERS.”

When indigenous or marginalized communities are dissatisfied with the way they are represented in the mainstream, the obvious alternative is to present via documentary new and better role models than those usually offered.”  – Jane Chapman

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