Navigating Culture Shock: A guide for documentary storytellers


Documentary storytelling is a powerful medium that has the potential to create significant social impact by highlighting the stories and struggles of people from different cultures and backgrounds. As a documentary filmmaker, it is crucial to approach the storytelling process with ethical considerations and sensitivity towards the communities being documented. However, working on location, across cultures, can be an emotionally and mentally demanding experience. It is essential to acknowledge and deal with the feelings of overwhelm that can arise during the documentary production process.
Firstly, it is crucial to recognize that feeling overwhelmed or anxious is entirely normal, especially when working in unfamiliar environments. The impact of culture shock and sensory overload can take a significant toll on a filmmaker’s mental and emotional wellbeing. It is essential to prioritize self-care during the production process, taking regular breaks, and listening to your body.
One way to deal with the stress of documentary production is by taking breaks when needed. It can be beneficial to go for a walk somewhere beautiful or interesting, such as a local park or market. Observing the world around you can be an excellent way to ground yourself and gain a fresh perspective on the work you are doing. Similarly, taking the time to grab a snack at a community gathering spot and people-watch can be an enjoyable way to recharge and connect with the local culture.
Connecting energetically to the place where you are at is another way to deal with the feelings of overwhelm. Taking the time to explore the local culture, traditions, and values can create a deeper sense of empathy and understanding towards the people you are documenting. This understanding can be reflected in the documentary, creating a more authentic and respectful portrayal of the community’s story.
Lastly, it is essential to ask for help when needed. Documentary production is a community effort, and everyone involved has a vested interest in creating a respectful and ethical documentary. Asking for support from fellow filmmakers, local community members, or mental health professionals can provide much-needed guidance and reassurance during the production process.
Doing ethical documentary storytelling on location, across cultures can be emotionally and mentally challenging. Acknowledging and dealing with feelings of overwhelm is crucial for maintaining personal well-being and creating a respectful and authentic documentary. By prioritizing self-care, taking breaks when needed, connecting energetically to the place where you are at, and asking for help, documentary filmmakers can create a more empathetic and impactful portrayal of the communities they document.