The Camcorder as a Shield

From Mexico to the Czech Republic, camcorder-toting nonprofessionals are turning video into a human rights tool.

Photo: Necessary Illusions Productions

That many of the biggest news events of the past decade were captured by camcorder-toting nonprofessionals suggests that reality TV might well be a medium of the people. By gathering incriminating images from around the globe — from the mistreatment of psychiatric patients in Mexico to neo-Nazi activities in the Czech Republic to police violence against migrants in South Africa — Seeing Is Believing depicts the camcorder as a shield. Human-rights abusers, the theory goes, are less inclined to shoot bullets if someone nearby is shooting tape.

The film centers on brutalized Filipino tribespeople who are seeking land reform; their horrifying video images of murdered civilians end up on U.S. network television. Seeing Is Believing doesn’t delve into the question of what kinds of raw footage are too raw for the networks — perhaps because, with its precise one-hour running time and pbs-ready voice-overs, the movie wants to get on the air itself.