chapter  7
14 Pages

When environmental documentary films are journalism

ByJoAnn Myer Valenti

Some film documentaries about the environment should also be classified as environmental journalism. The author of this chapter asked award-winning documentarians to discuss their environmental films as works of journalism. Canadian Chanda Chevannes reports that she has “struggled with this very question throughout my career. What is environmental journalism, and can I rightfully call myself one of its practitioners? … By blending art and journalism, I’m not oscillating between two rigid forms, but am weaving together something soft and new.” Michael Hanrahan, a producer at Earth Media Lab, is concerned that some Discovery and National Geographic television shows are edited for sensationalism, thus misrepresenting research. Documentarian Sahajman Shrestha, the former president of the Nepal Forum of Environment Journalists, says, “When facts are not presented properly and accurately, the documentary loses its journalism quality.” Stuart Sender, the president of Balcony Films, Inc., has practiced traditional broadcast journalism as well as writing, producing, and directing documentaries. Sender says, “I’ve also thought deeply and tried a number of approaches in my work to engage audiences on environmental topics.” Sender asks the question, “If our work does stake out a strong point of view, is it still journalism?” Finally, Leana Hosea reports that she left her position at the BBC because she “felt compelled to spend time telling the story of two marginalized communities struggling with contaminated water.” She says, “In making my film ‘Thirst for Justice’ and in my daily news job journalism, I ask myself the same questions – is there a story and what is the story? … Ultimately, I believe all forms of storytelling are needed to paint the picture of our reality today and tell the truth in all its facets and perspectives. There is ample room in the media landscape for more neutral news, opinion pieces, and film.”