At an early screening for the media and the film industry on this opening weekend of the Toronto International Film Festival, a packed house of more than 500 was mostly quiet as it watched Mr. Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” open with rousing scenes of an armed robbery, which played over a punked-up version of “Louie, Louie.”
What followed was a kaleidoscopic history of forced evictions, political corruption and Wall Street malfeasance — the sort of stuff that has made Mr. Moore one of the most commercially successful documentary filmmakers in history...
But a panel discussion on Sunday afternoon had a message for those who look to documentary films for guidance about matters as serious as business, politics and the meaning of life: let the viewer beware.
The discussion centered on a new report from the Center for Social Media at American University, titled “Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical Challenges in Their Work.”
Based on anonymous interviews with 45 long-form documentary filmmakers, the study came to some conclusions that could shock those schooled in conventional journalistic ethics...
The report found that documentarians, while they generally aspire to act honorably, often operate under ad hoc ethical codes. The craft tends to see itself as being bound less by the need to be accurate and fair than by a desire for social justice, to level the playing field between those who are perceived to be powerful and those who are not.
That often means manipulating “individual facts, sequences and meanings of images,” said the report, if that might help viewers to grasp the documentary’s “higher truth.” Deception in pursuit of a good story is acceptable to some. A number said that corporate executives and celebrities were entitled to less protection as interview subjects than more sympathetic individuals.
However, the story fails to link these concerns back to Moore's work (as does the report). While media fact-checks of "Sicko" were often overstated, he has repeatedly manipulated "individual facts, sequences and meanings of images" in his previous work. For instance, Moore famously distorted the chronology of events in his first film "Roger and Me." In "Bowling for Columbine," Moore added a caption about Willie Horton to a Bush/Quayle ad in order to suggest that the campaign had engaged in race-baiting. He also portrayed Lockheed Martin rockets used to launch satellites as "weapons of mass destruction," staged a scene in which he picks up a gun at a bank, and distorted a speech given by National Rifle Association president Charlton Heston. ("Fahrenheit 9/11" does not include such blatant distortions, but it includes numerous half-truths and misleading insinuations.) This pattern is clearly relevant to the story, and yet it is omitted entirely.