The New York Times reports that an award-winning documentary filmmaker was arrested in Afghanistan for allegedly participating in vigilante activities with the subject of his film, the now famous vigilante Jonathan Keith Idema. The filmmaker, Edward Caraballo, together with “Mr. Idema and another American, Brent Bennett, were charged in Kabul with running a private jail for terror suspects in Afghanistan.” The article interviews people who defend Caraballo, saying he was a journalist, not a vigilante. His brother, Richard, put it this way:
“I’m here to tell you that my brother is not a gun-for-hire or a prison warden,” Richard Caraballo said. “He was just chasing a great story.”
Now, I don’t know anything about Edward Caraballo’s film, but this whole story reminds me of one of the most brilliant films I’ve ever seen: Man Bites Dog. (Note: this film isn’t for everyone, it contains some very graphic violence.) Man Bites Dog is about a team of filmmakers making a documentary about a serial killer:
The film crew tails along, recording every significant and insignificant moment in Ben’s life. Presumably their goal is to gain insight into evil, but what they’re really doing is blurring the line between spectator and participant. That line dissolves entirely when the crew runs out of money and accepts Ben as a patron. He’s transformed from a depraved nonfiction film subject into a kind of director-producer-writer-star. Rather than merely inviting the filmmakers to witness the narrative of his life, Ben finds a way to make them participate in its construction.
Somehow it doesn’t seem so strange to me that Mr. Caraballo was both an award-winning journalist and, at the same time, someone who had difficulty drawing the line between observer and participant.
UPDATE: Let me just make it clear that this is not a post about whether or not Mr. Caraballo is innocent or guilty. I am just trying to say that there is no such thing as “objective” journalism and that the case for his innocence needs to be grounded on something more than the fact that he was a good documentary filmmaker.