The Ethics of Storytelling

Our latest video about Seed Saving, Farmer Suicides and Monsanto has gotten quite a lot of positive reaction.  Thank you.  But an online friend brought up some thought provoking points and interesting questions that touched on issues that I’ve long been grappling with.  He thought the piece was an attack on Monsanto, which although it may be justified, is not consistent with The Perennial Plate’s dialogue-encouraging films.  After some deliberation he asked, “How is it that you finally decide the way your story will be told?”

When I first started making these films I made the decision to share PERSPECTIVES, not FACTS.  This decision was mostly based on the fact that I did not have the means (time/money) to make a critical documentary every week that weighs out the pros and cons, differing opinions, etc. let alone figure out my own answer to those questions.  With our two-person team, we are able instead to share the life of an individual or two and within that realm, present their point of view.  I also chose to try and make the stories be mostly positive (when possible).  The purpose of the series is to encourage a better food system in the world. So along with encouraging discussion, we wanted our films to inspire.

In creating these pieces, we may film between 3-12 hours of footage (sometimes more) film many hours of footage. And we cut it down to just 5 minutes (give or take).  In that space, there are a lot of choices to be made.  We could choose to make our characters look eloquent or angry, smart or funny.  It’s hard because you want to present the full spectrum of the person and their story, but we want to try to make something that fits within a timing that is Internet friendly.  So what we try to do is best represent the experience we had.  We try to share the message and personality of the people we meet.  We do this by sharing the main points of their message or what struck us as the most honest points.  We don’t feel the need to share all the details, and instead look for the moments of authenticity: whether that is through a joke, an awkward moment or talking about a completely different subject.

Which brings us back to our latest video and Dr. Vandana Shiva. She is a passionate woman who is at war with pesticides, with GMOS… with Monsanto.  To share an interview with her without presenting that passion would be to misrepresent her.   In fact, the first draft of our video didn’t have the initial 2-minute interview decrying Monsanto.  We were initially afraid that people would be turned off by the bias of the message, especially considering how difficult it is to find TRUTH around these issues (much of the information around GMOs and Farmer Suicides is up for debate: ).  So in Vandana’s opening statement in our video, some people might claim that is untrue, or an exaggeration.  To understand and share all sides, we would need to do a full documentary on the subject.  So do we leave out her passionate call to action that she claims to be true?   We thought it was important to share her thoughts on Farmer Suicides in order to properly frame her work in Seed Saving.

I guess this post is sort of like a get out of jail free card…  by saying we aren’t sharing facts, but rather one person’s perspective, that takes us out of the blame of misinformation —  A morally dubious position to be in, especially in this age of misinformation.  But to tell you the truth: it’s one of the only honest places to be.  With such partisanship in politics, it’s hard to know where any truth lies.  You can’t believe studies, you can’t believe speeches or even “facts” – so it becomes difficult to share anything but a person’s passion.  As the Gandhi quote at the end of the video says “A ‘No’ uttered from the deepest conviction is better than a ‘Yes’ merely uttered to please, or worse, to avoid trouble”.  We wanted to share Dr. Vandana Shiva’s “NO”.  We think that despite her bias, she is a woman with deep conviction who represents a perspective and idea that we can get behind.  That being said, with all of our films, we hope that you use it as a jumping off point for more discovery, discussion and the opportunity to make up your own mind.  I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.  Thanks!