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“Being a Filmmaker Sometimes is a Privilege”: Linghua (Lily) Qi on a Documentarian’s Responsibility

In April, as we began to put together the Summer, 2020 issue of Filmmaker, we asked directors, cinematographers, editors and other film workers to send us their thoughts on the quarantine and their own creative lives. The responses printed here were collected from April through mid-June — personal statements that speak variously to individual filmmaking practices, films halted mid-production, politics, art and life. Read all the responses here. — Editor

In many ways, I feel the responsibility of documenting the world more than ever because we’re living the history, and I hope there’s a way I can tell the history or even just contribute to the narrative. This has been the reason for me to participate in productions that are happening now. Safety apparently becomes the biggest concern; we are being very creative and trying to protect us and the people we’re filming. It’s both challenging and eye-opening for me personally throughout the process. 

I’ve been filming a lot of protests happening these days, and a question that came to me is who has the right to tell the story. As a person-of-color filmmaker, I would naturally think of the connection with protesters and all aspects of racial justice. But I also realize how little I’m aware of the injustice around me, or I didn’t receive enough education about discrimination and racism. Being a filmmaker sometimes is a privilege—we can just document others’ lives without knowing much about them, and being at these protests and hearing stories from different groups of our society truly makes me question my presence there.

So, I think I can’t just be there but also need to educate myself about the history. It’s a good chance for me to reflect on my role in documenting these events and the ethical standards we hold as filmmakers. Giving the right of storytelling to who truly can speak about it and also making sure we are aware of the issues we’re documenting are desperately needed.

Lingha (Lily) Qi is a Chicago-based journalist and filmmaker and a current fellow at Free Spirit Media.

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