Stevie (2002 documentary)

Imagine that you are about a block away from a train crossing and you see a car with a family and children stalled on the tracks while a train is barreling towards the intersection within seconds of impact. You might not be able to avert your eyes from watching the event unfold, but you would not feel very good about yourself afterwards for having watched. That is pretty much the feeling I had after watching this documentary.

My background is as a research psychologist. Within the academic discipline of psychology a set of ethical/professional guidelines govern experiments performed with human subjects. These guidelines evolved as a result of some studies published in the historical psychology literature that many considered to be unethical. Two infamous examples are the “obedience study” (Milgram, S ‘Behavioral Study of Obedience’, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 69: 371-8, 1963), and the “bathroom study” (Middlemist, R. D., Knowles, E. S., and Matter, C. F. ‘Personal space invasions in the lavatory: suggestive evidence for arousal’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 33 (5): 541-6, 1976).

The current guidelines include specific provisions that must be brought into play whenever experiments are performed in which there are invasions of personal privacy, deception, or issues involving informed consent. I wonder if professional filmmakers of documentaries have ever considered adopting a similar set of guidelines. I do not suggest that documentaries should be censored. However, as a consumer of films, I might very well make my decisions about which documentaries to watch based on information about whether or not the filmmaker adhered to a similar set of ethical guidelines.

Had I known in advance the extent to which this documentary violated my personal standards involving what is appropriate in terms of violation of privacy, deception, and informed consent, I would have chosen to not watch this film.

I gave this movie a rating of 2 stars
Ron Boothe