Evidence, Police and Prosecutors, Soering, True Crime

Robert Weide on How to Lie with a Documentary

Robert Weide, an American writer and documentary producer (and one of the people behind “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), has an interesting post about an upcoming four-part HBO documentary on Woody Allen and Mia Farrow, an anti-Allen hit piece by two American directors who have been criticized for their shoddy, biased work in the past.

Weide, who directed a documentary about Woody Allen in 2011, has extensively researched every accusation against Allen and found them to be unfounded. As a director of documentaries himself, Weide understands how they can manipulate and mislead:

I am myself a documentary filmmaker, so I know the tricks of the trade. I know how easy it is to create the illusion that you are being objective, while absolutely manipulating your audience to accept a specific agenda. Frankly, every time you decide where to place your camera, or what part of a photo to zoom in on, you are imposing a point of view on your audience. I’m not saying this is wrong. In fact, it’s virtually unavoidable. It’s not something I worry much about, since my documentaries have been rather non-controversial artist profiles. But if you’re trying to sway an audience, there are devices at your disposal that the average audience will never be consciously thinking about. I recently posted a trailer on YouTube for my upcoming documentary, and numerous people told me how they cried at the end. I always chuckled to myself because I knew it was simply the music that coaxed their tears. (If I had added sinister music, those same people would have told me about the tension they felt.) But for films on controversial subjects, there are subtle ways to make it look like you’re asking an audience what they think, when you’re actually telling them what to think.

As a viewer, think of yourself as a juror at a trial. Anybody can sway an audience by presenting one side of a case.  But could you, as a juror, render a fair verdict by only hearing from the prosecution and not the defense? Of course not. Not only would you need to hear testimony from both sides, but each of those witnesses would have to be cross-examined to give you the full picture. And that’s where these filmmakers will likely fail you. It’s not a question of what they include. It’s a matter of what they leave out.

For all the years that Mia, Dylan, and Ronan Farrow have been having their say on mainstream and social media, I’ve never seen them put in a position where they weren’t in control over who was questioning them, so I’ve never seen them have to hold up under cross, so to speak. Now, in this documentary, there might be some very “soft” cross questions to make it look like the interviewers are going for the truth, but these will likely be questions where the responses are already known, creating the illusion of due diligence. (And if the answer doesn’t suit the filmmaker’s needs, it can always be left on the cutting room floor.) I know several people who could question these three Farrows (plus D.A. Frank Maco, “reporters” Maureen Orth and Andy Thibualt and others) that, in five minutes, would turn each of them into Cmdr. Queeg in “The Caine Mutiny.”

Every word of this critique applies directly to “Das Versprechen/Killing for Love“, the pro-Jens-Söring documentary. I could hardly have said it better myself.

1 thought on “Robert Weide on How to Lie with a Documentary”

  1. One of the things I noticed was how the film-makers placed a certain amount of focus on the parole board, in particular, former chair Adrienne Bennett, now a judge. The impression I got from parole board meetings was that the Soering advocates were impressive– serious lawyers, you would think, who were very certain about their case, making the appeal for early release from two life sentences which had, in Virginia, begun being served in 1990, or some 29 years previous. (One question might be: in German wouldn’t that have meant fifteen years for each life sentence? So Soering did better in cracker Virginia than he would have done in the UK or Germany?) Even the German Ambassadors was there! And you would have thought that the parole board was a court. With powers to undo everything that the Virginia legal system over many years had decided about the case.

    It now turns out that there is a developing scandal about Adrienne Bennett and the parole board. I am not up to speed on this, but there are a number of articles in the MSM, and the television station WTVR in Richmond (VA) seems to be very interested in following what could turn into misdemeanor criminal charges against current parole board chair Tracy Chapman. Bennett could face impeachment and be forced to step down as a judge if the thing gathers momentum.

    Danner Evans, writing for WTVR news, says that “the inspector general determined that former chair [now Judge] Adrienne Bennett and current chair Tracy Chapman both violated multiple state codes and policies and violated the constitution of Virginia.”

    The OSIG brought out a report recommending a criminal misdemeanor charge for Chapman.

    Repubican Sen. Seve Newman has said about this parole board scandal: “Very clearly they fed to you, the media, and the Gneral Assembly, false information. They hid seven pages of that explosive report.”

    “Thus far,” Newman said, “if what is in that report is accurate, it’s one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen in my 30 years here at the Capitol.”

    The case against both Bennett and Chapman is that both have corrupted the legal system.

    I am not exactly clear about who the “they” is in all this. Who ordered and issued the redactions?

    There is an article by Patrick Wilson and Mark Bowes in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Februrary 26, 2021, ‘Edwards says he can’t probe Parole Board report.’

    So the democrats say that apparently there is nothing that can be done about this.

    It sounds very ‘woke’ to me. You could interpret this matter as being a belief that the Virginia criminal justice system is too white, is brutally biased against blacks, and is, all in all, simply too severe, on everyone (including Jens Soering, though he remains unmentioned) administering harsh punishments which more progressive persons in positions of political power should seek to mitigate and ameliorate whereever they can…

    It looks to me like the Cultural Revolution has the American criminal justice system in its sights.

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