Letting Other Lives Speak:
Two Women and Two Documentaries
Point of view shapes everything. No human endeavor is free from it. How a person chooses to tell a story, be it fiction or non-fiction, personal or biographical, affects how an audience receives that story. Documentarians are natural storytellers. They select points of view to relay messages to target audiences. However, the mission of those messages can change from original intentions, and whole new stories emerge when filmmakers form strong, personal relationships with their subjects. In Ruth L. Ozeki’s novel My Year of Meats and in Linda Hattendorf’s film The Cats of Mirikitani (2006), female documentarians encounter people ...view middle of the document...
During her travels, Jane meets many people. She becomes increasingly concerned about the influences her team has in their subjects’ and their viewers’ lives. She feels responsible for the stories she collects and how those stories are manipulated by big business as represented by the obnoxious John Ueno, a fierce ad agency representative who assumes the role of Jane’s boss. Taking risks to tell meaningful stories, she struggles personally and professionally to include authentic voices in ad-hyped, faked documentaries (28; 358-361).
Jane and Ueno clash over creative freedom, subject choices, ethics, facts, gender, and issues all relating to specific point of view—his, hers, the camera’s, the sponsor’s, the candidates’, and the consumers’. Ueno, a small-minded man and abusive husband, is only concerned with his vision of American reality. However, Jane responds to realities she finds in her fieldwork. She conducts interviews with compassion leading her artistic eye, food research fueling her thoughts, and self-examination dictating her emotions. After acknowledging horrific practices of the meat industry, Jane wrangles with what Ueno wants to show and what she sees beyond his narrow view (311; 334).
When Jane encounters the Dunns’ ranch, she is horrified by how animals are fed and how meats are processed. She discovers a child victim of estrogen poisoning and an illegal hormone ring. Jane collects videos of these disturbing topics (270-276). After an accident in the slaughterhouse and a miscarriage, Jane is unable to finish the shoot. Ueno takes over and fires her. Her tapes are presumed missing, but Jane’s loyal crew hid them. Her rescued footage, assembled into a sobering documentary, is finally valued when media reveal truths of meat manipulation at the same time Ueno’s “wholesome” episode of My American Wife airs in Japan, putting him and his skewed point of view in deep trouble. Though she is a fictional character from Ozeki’s novel, Jane’s keen observations—her persevering point of view—speaks volumes: “Maybe sometimes you have to make things up, to tell the truths that alter outcomes” (360).
Sometimes, hidden truths require only one determined individual to unearth them from gritty, obscure reality. Unlike Jane, Linda Hattendorf, in The Cats of Mirikitani, is a real-world documentarian. However, Linda shares similar characteristics with the fictional woman, and the story she discovers also alters lives in ways so amazingly beyond her original intentions and independent lens.
In January 2001, ten years after Desert Storm and...