There are a number of common notions about documentary film that are perceived as axioms on which the genre is based. Critical interaction with them is one of the goals of our exhibition. Below are the most common ideas that require a critical approach.

We have looked behind the scenes at three documentaries and cite facts about their creation as counterpoints to the allegations. These films have been created over the last five years in Western and Eastern European contexts. All of them travelled to film festivals, including class "A"[1], where they received awards. We talked to the producer of one film {who resigned in the process}, two protagonists of another and researched the published materials about the third one. We do not name these films, among other things, to ensure the anonymity of our interlocutors, but also because the situations described below are not unique to these films, but rather examples of common practises based on the cited notions.
It is believed that a documentary film reflects the "reality" – as opposed to the "image" that a fiction film creates.

P: It seemed from the start that I would have much more of a say in what was going to be shown and in what we were going to do together, that it was going to be a project we were going to do together. Then, the more the film progressed, [it became clear] they had a story they wanted to tell. In a way, the story was inspired by the things that I was already sharing on my blog about myself and stuff. We would start shooting things we were supposed to be documenting, but they would give me directions. Which could be fun sometimes, there were little experiments, but sometimes they were pushing my boundaries. For example, when I was younger, I used to post a lot of nude pictures and elaborate selfies on the Internet, but by the time we started shooting this documentary, and also throughout it {because it went on for five years}, I stopped feeling like showing my body in that way. But I kept being asked, 'okay, take your clothes off here' or 'go on top of there and take a selfie' and stuff like that, which were the things that I did in private, but it didn't mean that I wanted to do them in that context. I felt annoyed by that, I [told them] I think it's cringe to get naked in this field right now, it doesn't even look good, I don't want to do it. And they were like 'just try it out, we will probably not use it' [but in the end, they would use it].

...In order to be okay with this, I tell myself that I agree to offer my content to these people for them to do their project. For me, it became their project to which I lend my image instead of our project which we do together.

In the beginning I thought it was going to be more of a common project, more of a horizontal-working-together thing, because my ideas and comments were respected.
But the more money was involved, the more the project had to be done for festivals, that's when they started pushing their narrative on me.
It is believed that protagonists of documentaries should not {or even more categorically, must not} be paid, because money seems to "poison" any interaction with them, deprive them of "sincerity", make them "perform".

P: Money wasn't really discussed in the beginning, because I trusted them. I only discovered in the end what is the rule usually for documentaries, that there isn't really a fee that is expected for the main character, which I think is something that should have been told to me, because I clearly wasn't aware of it. ...It was weird to discover after five years of shooting that I am not supposed to get any amount of money out of it. [The film] was produced for 300 000 euro, which is not much for a film, I understand it {I understand it more now after I've made other films, but at that moment, 300K was a lot for me}, and I was like, wow, there's nothing for me in there, and you only have this because I am here... When I complained about it, the producer and everybody made an effort for me to have what was a really fair amount of money. They excused it as me being paid for the rights for my writing. In the end, considering everything, I'm pretty happy.
It is believed that documentary is often a socially engaged and responsible art form that is capable of challenging inequalities and other injustices, or changing the world for the better.

O: [That production] involved actual people who experienced actual vulnerabilities, but it was sort of these powerful privileged cis-white-males making decisions to make themselves look good. I smelled that I had been hired to make them look better, as a woman of colour, but I think I was in denial about it. ...The ‘actors’ were from precarious situations. The characters and actors that the two directors wanted to focus on in particular were of colour. And there was no one – yet – of colour on the creative team.

They were ultimately just making things on their whim, and they didn't seem to care what the collateral damage was for the people involved who they kept saying were their friends. There was this sort of pretence of, you know, 'we're all the same', just ignoring the fact that the director, F, is an upper middle-class guy who talked a lot about being a heroin addict back in the day. But being a middle-class heroin addict is completely different from being a heroin-addict who had no money. Then the other director, J, would often talk about being 'working class', but I just felt it was so incredibly insincere, because you can't be a successful artist and not have much money, your network, your privileges... It was ridiculous to me that he was comparing himself to them.

One of the actors, N, was thrown out of her boyfriend's flat, so she didn't have anywhere to go, because he was abusive. My reaction was to do everything possible to support her. The reaction of the directors and the execs was we need to do everything to support her and make sure she's on set.

I think you could actually make a film about the behind the scenes of this film, and it would be like a Haneke film – the horrors of privilege.

.I insisted that we had to get proper psychological support for the actors during the process of production, but the director – who never made a film before and didn't know what the hell he was talking about – completely blocked it. And the chairs of that arts foundation [executive producers of the film] who are just disproportionally esteemed in the art world supported him.

N who had to leave her boyfriend's home reconciled with him, but came on set inebriated once, and then another time had slept [on the street] again. I said we need to get her off set, she needs support. I've been told that I was infantilising the cast, that they can make their own decisions, which is so manipulative a thing to say. Because, well, if something happens to them, are you going to be looking after them? No, you're going to go back to your big house, and these people will be living on the street.

N, who had been kicked out of her boyfriend's home, she basically slept in the bushes one night. It happened after production [had been finished]... and it was probably in no small part because of being involved in the production. I had a discussion with the arts foundation, and they categorically told me that it was none of their business. And that's the thing that ended it for me. Now the production was over, and it was someone's actual future. During this time I discovered that B was on holiday in Italy with his family and one of the execs of the arts foundation and his family. They were having [a good] time in Italy while this actor was sleeping in the bushes. This was a game over for me [and I resigned after that].

It is believed that non-interference during the filming by the crew contributes to the transmission of "true intimacy" that occurs in front of the camera.

O: Much later, after I resigned, I spoke to the actress who left, and she told me why it happened. During the kind of doc filming, [the two directors] had her in a room with another actor who liked to take up a lot of space... and they asked them to re-enact a scene which was an argument... [the actor] became extremely aggressive towards her, and they just kept the camera rolling while she was sitting in this locked up room being completely terrified. [Back then] they came back to me and said it was intimate portraits they had been filming, and that's why no one could go in.


​​M's mother punishes her for a minor child's misconduct. One by one, blows are poured on the girl's head, which look neither as an educational act nor as a maternal warning. For a long moment, a director silently captures physical violence against a child on camera.

From an interview with the director: "Many people reproach me: How could you film a girl being beaten and do nothing?" …I didn't even think to intervene. Even when S tried to hang herself… M shouted: "Help, call for help!" She shouted it at me, and I didn't even flinch. First, she knew that S would not hang herself – such scenes were a common occurrence. Secondly, my task was to film. Inside me, of course, everything turned upside down. On the one hand, I was happy that a movie was unfolding in front of the camera; on the other hand, I was worried about the girl. And those two thoughts constantly disturbed my soul. I have found myself, I chose my way: cinema. Otherwise, one has to volunteer, help people – it's a different profession. Every director has his limits – something he can't shoot. For some, it's death, but I haven't encountered it yet, so I don't know. I found my limit: it's humiliation. In [this and another] film, when the protagonist was humiliated in front of the camera, I didn't use those scenes. There was no humiliation when the mother beat the girl – it was an educational process. I was also beaten as a child, it's normal. But there was a moment when S and her friend were drinking, and then they started swearing, and the guys were inciting them: "Come on, come on!" I didn't even shoot, I just pulled them apart. Nothing important happened in that scene, it was just stupid, humiliating even, booz. I protect my protagonists.”
​​It is believed that protagonists of documentaries should not interfere with the editing, because this privilege belongs to the "author". This notion is being increasingly challenged recently, and the practice of approving a cut with at least key characters of a film becomes more common. At least for appearances.

P: We had some complaints about how the editing was done, and we wanted some things to be taken out. They were not respected. [They told us], 'we will change it', and that wasn't done. [Furthermore,] they sent the film to me so late that I could not change anything. They did it on purpose, so I could not say anything. They sent it to me after they sent it to the festival, and I couldn't do anything anymore. ...And it was the most important thing for me, that I could see the film before.

K: The thing that upset me the most [is the following]. Me and my ex-girlfriend at that time had a fight, ...we both were very emotional, we were screaming [at each other]. It's so clear that we weren't aware that we were being filmed. We were really high, and they did know that. Then, we went out of the camera view... We weren't supposed to be on camera, but we had our mics on. The things that I said in that fight, I do not want anybody seeing that side of me. ...Also, [during the fight I mentioned that] my ex-girlfriend had overdosed, and I don't even know if she was okay with it being known. When they sent me the scenes with me that they wanted to be in the film {by the way, they didn't send me everything}, I specifically told them that I do not want this to be out there. They said, ‘we can dim the sound'. What they ended up doing in the end is putting English subtitles, so every single word is fucking there!
[1] These films were screened at such festivals: Artdocfest, Berlinale, CPH:DOX, DOK Leipzig, Dokufest, Docudays UA, HotDocs, Ji.hlava, IDFA, Locarno, Munich IFF, Open City Doc, RIGA IFF, Sheffield Doc/Fest, Sarajevo FF and dozens of others.