Review by Sean Boelman
Any journalist would tell you that the print medium is dying, and with it, the ways of newsgathering that have defined the way the public gets information for years and years. However, there are reporters like Robert Fisk, subject of Yung Chang’s thought-provoking new documentary This Is Not a Movie, who are working to preserve the integrity of the media industry.
In the film, Robert Fisk discusses his life and work as an acclaimed foreign correspondent and author working in the Middle East, with a particular focus on how he has seen the practice of reporting change over the course of his years in the field. Obviously, Fisk has plenty of stories to tell from the front lines, and Chang takes advantage of these to craft a cinematic watch.
If viewers leave the documentary with one thing, it will be an enormous respect for the work that Fisk and other war reporters do every day. The level of risk they take just in going about their daily business is something many of us could never understand, but they put themselves in danger for the noble cause of keeping the world informed about important issues.
However, arguably the more fascinating angle that Yang takes on his subject explores the role that a journalist plays in these conflicts. While one initially thinks of objectivity as one of the most important qualities of any great reporter, Fisk challenges this notion, saying that a good writer should take a moral stance about the issues they are commenting on, as media exposure of harmful ideas can be quite dangerous.
Yang’s film is admittedly a tad more disorganized than it needs to be, as there are many ideas floating around. There’s a clear narrative tracing Fisk’s career, but Yang is also juggling a lot of themes and struggles to allow them all to shine through. By trying to juggle both issues of journalism ethics and modern world politics, Yang and Fisk aren’t able to go into enough depth on either.
Additionally, one of the documentary’s significant weaknesses is that it feels somewhat detached from the people who Fisk is reporting about. Yes, this is Fisk’s story and the focus is on how he goes about his journalistic practice. But this could have been a much more harrowing viewing experience had Yang gone all-in on depicting the impact that Fisk’s work has on the greater picture.
Still, the film is pretty exceptionally-made. Blending archive materials with fly-on-the-wall footage and some interviews, Fisk provides a very comprehensive and authentic view of his subject. And even though the narrative could have used a bit of streamlining, the editing is nice and precise, creating an effective rhythm.
This Is Not a Movie had the potential to be a lot more urgent and important than it is. Nevertheless, it succeeds in its attempt to highlight the contribution of a legendary journalist and remind viewers why voices such as his are so necessary in the first place.
This Is Not a Movie is now playing in virtual cinemas. A list of participating locations can be found here.