Navigating the Delicate Lens: How Varnan Addresses Sensitive Topics in Documentary Filmmaking

Mere deliberations around the sensitive nature of a documentary should be attenuated with the effective delivery of the message it intends to deliver. It solely depends on how intricately the issue is taken care of. Now, you might be thinking why is it so? The reason is that documentaries deals with real people and real issues, and to nonchalantly misrepresent information through documentary and hurt someone’s belief, is a heinous crime. Capturing real-life experiences and shedding light on complex topics demands a delicate approach, ethical considerations, and a commitment to authenticity.

How to then walk on this tightrope of effective delivery of message while handling the sensitive issue at hand. Well, Varnan has gained enough expertise to be able to share its own working methodology while sharing some pointers to be kept in mind while producing one such documentary. Take out pen and paper and start noting folks!

Varnan Considers the Subjects as Humans!

Here’s what the director of Varnan Films Pvt. Ltd. Vernita Verma has to say about this thought “When dealing with sensitive issues when producing a documentary, the first thing we need to consider is that the people involved in the process aren’t just subjects, they are humans, with real-life problems and real-life situations to deal with.”

Varnan understands that a lot of our activity is psychologically driven, be it from the beginning of the process of selecting the topic for the documentary, till the final result. Hence, understanding and comprehending the psychological dilemma surrounding the social stigma of the issue at hand becomes the primordial step. In doing so, Varnan makes sure that we are dealing with real-life situations that aren’t merely our subjects. 

Isn’t there a very inanimate sensation attached to the word “subject”? It robs humans of their real emotions and thereby gives rise to a sense of loss of connectivity. Which is exactly what we want to avoid at all costs.


Varnan Says “Build A Conversation, Not Just an Interview!”

Usually, the next obvious step is delving into extensive research around the topic. That is where Varnan stands apart. As per our creative director at Varnan, the step we follow is a field visit and building a conversation with the people in the scene. Normalizing them and sensitizing them about the happenings and making them realize that shooting a documentary isn’t going to harm their sentiments, thereby gaining their confidence is the absolute requirement of the hour. You may ask why is such a step required. Well, Varnan would say that gaining the confidence of the people would lead to two major outcomes:

  1. They wouldn’t feel the need to conceal any information which might prove to be of extreme importance to us.
  2. The conversational insights would provide us with a direction to lead our research. So, instead of beating around the bushes, critically important research would be leveraged to the extent it is actually required. 

Varnan has a Diverse Range of Experts!

One thing which definitely makes Varnan unique is the diverse range of experts engaged in each project. Varnan is very particular about the kind of team it allocates with the spectrum of experts we have in place. We remember that one-time Varnan was producing a documentary that dealt with a sensitive feminine issue. Varnan made sure that the entire crew of experts consisted of female professionals. 

The Issue is Ours, Not Theirs!

Varnan’s openness to adapt as per the change in perception is what a lot of documentary filmmaking agencies lag in. To put it simply, you as a documentary filmmaking company are selecting a certain topic as a relevant social issue that would lead to the production of an impactful documentary. But for the people on the other side of the lens, it is a lived reality! It is memory, for us, it is rather a story. So to represent a lived reality in the form of a story then demands sensitization and awareness of these small but important aspects. 


Extensive Re-search and Pre Production

Toni Morrison in her novel titled Beloved, coined a rather interesting term “re-memory”. When one comes to think of it, memory only holds significance when it is remembered otherwise it is just an incident from the past. The more it is remembered, the stronger the memory becomes. It is like re-living the same incident over and over again! God forbid if that incident is painful, it then becomes torturous. Re-memory is then an amalgamation of memory and remembrance of lived reality. 


Why we are mentioning it here at this juncture in the article because now comes the rather crucial part of the entire process – interview, research, and pre-production in totality. Here is how Varnan navigates through this stage:


  1. Empathy and Sensitivity in Interviews: Varnan approaches interviews with empathy and sensitivity. Active listening and being attentive to the interviewees’ emotions and body language can lead to more profound and authentic responses. Varnan avoids leading questions or pressuring participants is essential, as it may exploit their vulnerabilities or manipulate their narratives.
  2. Informed Consent and Respect for Privacy: The first thing one does is that our experts obtain informed consent from all participants is a non-negotiable ethical principle. This process involves clearly explaining the documentary’s purpose, potential risks, and the rights participants have regarding their involvement. Respecting their privacy choices, such as concealing identities, is essential, especially when dealing with sensitive issues that could expose individuals to harm.
  3. Balancing Impact and Sensationalism: Sensitive issues often carry a profound emotional impact. While it is essential to present the reality of the subject matter, Varnan avoids sensationalizing or exploiting people’s pain for shock value. Striking the right balance between engaging storytelling and respectful representation is crucial for creating a compelling yet ethical documentary and that is what Varnan excels at!
  4. Consultation with Experts and Communities: Varnan engages with experts and community representatives who have expertise in the subject matter and can provide valuable insights and help ensure accuracy and sensitivity. Collaboration and consultation demonstrate a commitment to understanding the issues deeply and respectfully!
  5. Addressing Viewer Well-Being: Sensitive topics evoke strong emotions in viewers. Varnan acknowledges this and provides appropriate resources, such as helplines or support organizations, in the film or accompanying materials. This helps viewers process their emotions and seek further assistance if needed.

Wrapping It Up!

Producing a documentary film that addresses sensitive issues is a challenging but rewarding endeavor. As a veteran documentary filmmaking agency, Varnan believes in the power of storytelling to drive positive change and raise awareness on critical subjects. By choosing the right subjects, conducting extensive research, building trust with participants, and maintaining empathy and sensitivity throughout the process, we can create impactful documentaries that honor the stories of those involved while contributing meaningfully to societal discussions. Do you have a story to share? Let’s tell it to the world, together!


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