Do Filmmakers have a Social Responsibility for what they Show in their Films?

Cultural Commentary.

A few months ago I was living in Australia, and I went to see the film ‘Deadpool’ after being invited by a friend. I can’t deny that the film has some really great moments, a funny script and actors I respect a lot, but still I struggled to sit through the film. At first I thought there was something wrong with me, because at times when others were deeply engaged in the film I was shielding my eyes and hiding behind my hoody. My friend thought I was joking, but at one point I got up and left for a while to take a break from the screen. I am a very sensitive person, but I found it a bit strange that I was the only person in the cinema who seemed so affected by the upfront and direct violence in the film. Following this experience, I began to wonder what it was that made something, i.e., explicit violence in films, so attractive to some people but yet so difficult for me to watch.

I began to look into the issue, to find out more about this increase in explicit violence and whether I was alone in not wanting to expose myself to those images. I soon found out that violence in films has more than doubled since 1950, and since 1985, gun violence has more than tripled.

Now living in Chile, I have also had the opportunity to speak to two Chilean directors on the issue: Juan Cortes and Sebastian Lelio. I would like to share their opinions, both enlightening and equally valid.

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Me and Juan on a royal sofa in a church in the south of UK…

I recently visited a screening of the highly successful film ‘A Mujer Fantastica’, by Argentinian-Chilean director Sebastian Lelio. The film recently won the Oscar for best foreign film, and Lelio was present in Valparaiso (Chile) to communicate his ideas with the audience. After the film me and my partner asked him, ‘do you believe that filmmakers have a moral responsibility for violence?’, and Lelio gave an eloquent and convincing reply. Lelio responded that to him, art is a playground of opportunity, in which one has absolute freedom to express oneself without limitation. “Cine no siempre es luz” – cinema is not always light, and actually one of the beauties of cinema is that is enables us to explore the darker side of humanity. Lelio’s films are not actually that violent, and I definitely understand his point of view, which considers freedom of expression. In my opinion, however, I believe there are some film directors and artists who create something dark and painful to evoke attention more than any higher purpose; Gaspar Noe is an example of this.

To understand a second perspective I asked film director Juan Cortes, who has produced a film and tv series in the city of Valparaiso, for his view on the subject. He explained:

“If you have the gift of communicating things which are important, from my perspective, you have responsibility, you have a great power, the same power that any gifted person has, in any area. You are like a father or a mother or an older brother. So instead of sharing with your younger brothers everything you are afraid of or everything you dislike of society you should naturally have the conscientiousness of knowing that whatever you share with people is going to have an impact on their lives. If you see humanity as a family then you are responsible for whatever you bring to that family, ego hate or violence etc.  With greater power you have greater responsibility”.

For Juan the argument applies to all professions in society. “In every profession you have a responsibility to your people. Artists, like chefs, are feeding humanity; they are feeding them with ideas, and they have a choice what ideas they want to feed. I don’t want to stop any artist producing whatever art they want, as long as they are conscious of what they are doing.”

Artists, like teachers, politicians, judges etc. are also educating their audiences with what they bring to the world, so it is difficult to believe that they are fully exempt from any moral or social responsibility whatsoever. Having explored the question however, I now realise that there is no clear answer as it is really philosophical at it’s core. I realise now that what I have really been asking is whether the individual has any responsibility for what they bring to society. Art and cinema are intended to provoke, and therein lies the beauty of them. For me, I therefore do see the usefulness of violence in film when it is necessary to tell the story, and with darker themes such as racism, homophobia etc it often cannot be avoided. However, I also think it is vital that the artist remains conscious of what they are bringing to society and the influence their work may have on the audience.

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