Witnessing, refusal, and the conditions of investigation: Negotiating promises and pitfalls in interwoven projects of judicial truth-telling and documentary filmmaking

Bremen Donovan


The contested evidentiary status and supposed ambiguity of a survivor’s video points to a central challenge in the making of our film, Big Mouth, which addresses a broader context of risks to journalists reporting on sexual violence. We believe and support the survivor. How then, as filmmakers, can we use sounds and images in our own process of making claims, without either dismissing or overdetermining the evidentiary notion assumed by the courts? In this article, I consider how the survivor’s efforts offer a critical lens on the notion of “ambiguous” or “false” or “defamatory” claims, and argue that by moving away from a focus on evidence as object and toward a notion of evidentiary expression, we might exceed the bounded political and temporal space of the courts in order to explore the very conditions of evidentiary claims-making and investigation—with implications for ethnographers, advocates, journalists, and filmmakers alike.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/723677