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Subpoenas, Smear Campaigns, Encryption, Expatriation: The Risks of Investigative Doc-making

Subpoenas, Smear Campaigns, Encryption, Expatriation: The Risks of Investigative Doc-making

In my latest Reality Checks column for Indiewire, I felt the pleasure and paranoia of gaining an understanding of the risks involved in investigating corporate and/or government wrongdoing and the extraordinary lengths that documentary filmmakers may go to protect themselves.

As  “CITIZENFOUR” producer and editor Mathilde Bonnefoy told me, she always wore headphones while editing, just in case someone was listening. “And also we’d carry cell phones and computers out of the room for viewing sensitive scenes or for complete run-throughs of the cut,” she added.

The article isn’t just about the technological tools that filmmakers can employ to keep their footage private, but also their legal rights and limits–which appear to be fairly murky. I guess that’s why we have judicial proceedings to parse them out. But I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the not-so-distant future, we will have an incident in which a documentary filmmaker isn’t just subpoenaed or sued by an irate and powerful subject, but arrested on contempt charges and put in jail.

CITIZENFOUR’s Laura Poitras says she would refuse to testify in any grand jury proceedings, citing journalistic privilege. But I wonder how far shield laws and First Amendment Rights will extend to reporters and documentarians when “National Security” issues are at stake. Either way, I have gained a new found appreciation for intrepid documentary investigators who risk their own freedom to help bring injustice to light.

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