If you’ve ever wondered why anyone would open themselves up to a documentary crew, Subject will cause you to ponder the question even further. Camilla Hall and Jennifer Tiexiera’s insightful flick pays equal attention to the personal costs and the broader implications surrounding ‘reality’ filmmaking. The fascinating result makes you glad your life isn’t so dramatic that it warrants the daily attention of a bearded man with a beanie and a fluffy microphone.
Hall and Tiexiera’s MO is to sketch compassionate portraits of the ‘stars’ at the centre of some of the most notable documentaries of the last 20 years, concentrating on the often problematic aftermath; Margaret Ratliff, the grief stricken child who watched her father face the death penalty in The Staircase; Arthur Agee, the genius 14 year-old wannabe basketball star of Hoop Dreams; Jesse Friedman who spent 13 years in jail for sexually abusing children, a verdict challenged by Capturing The Friedmans; Mukunda Angulo who was imprisoned in a New York apartment by his coercive father in The Wolfpack. These people have had their lives turned upside down by putting their stories in someone else’s hands, mostly for the worse. ‘It messed up me and my sister so bad,’ admits Ratliff about The Staircase.
The film is at its best exploring the knotty issues that infuse documentary practices, be it notions surrounding duty of care, filmmakers entering communities that are not their own or debating whether subjects getting paid for their time and participation shatters ‘objectivity’. When Hoop Dreams became a surprise hit, everyone with a speaking role was given a cut, Agee receiving a life-changing $500,000. Conversely, Ratliff didn’t receive any payment for her involvement in The Staircase: when the show became a HBO drama, she was asked to speak to Sophie Turner, the actor playing her younger self – she notes the not insubstantial irony of prepping a Game Of Thrones star who is getting handsomely paid to play her while she didn’t earn a dime.
It’ll make you glad your life doesn’t warrant the daily attention of a bearded man with a fluffy microphone
The approach is bog-standard documentary filmmaking (talking heads, well-researched clips) that for all its generosity doesn’t give the filmmakers involved a right to reply. The film packs a lot into its speedy 97 minutes, including consideration of who gets to tell these stories (chiefly: middle-class white men). Subject acknowledges sensitivities are shifting but also pointedly makes clear, for the damaged souls here, they didn’t change quick enough.
In UK cinemas Mar 3