Looking for truth on the small screen

French filmmakers of the 1960s called it “cinema verité.” The theory was that by using untrained actors, house-next-door locations, and few (if any) cutting-room edits, directors could achieve new levels of realism and authenticity in the cinematic experience.

Fast-forward to 2002, in which islanders enjoy their own

humble version of the “true cinema” – Bainbridge Island Broadcasting’s coverage of public meetings. Therein, citizen legislators are often observed through a single, endlessly panning camera, discussing local issues in often tedious detail: civic debate as slow-motion tennis match.

Within this context, it’s hard not to find a little drama in the appearance of Bainbridge Concerned Citizens on the public access television scene. The advocacy group, spurred into existence by proposed regulations for local shorelines, has sought to use BIB for its own meeting coverage, presumably to advance its particular agenda.

When islanders were asked to relate their problems with the city planning department at an Oct. 24 planning commission meeting, BCC members taped the affair, had it “professionally edited” and subtitled, and submitted it to BIB under two titles, one of them “Shoreline Horror Stories.” The program ran for a week. But when the group attempted to tape the Nov. 7 commission meeting, BCC co-founder Gary Tripp says, they were told by Mayor Darlene Kordonowy that the taping required written permission. So they shot the meeting from the back of the room, coming away with several hours of the backs of heads. Tripp now says he was misled by the mayor, and that there are no such rules.

Kordonowy confirms some of that account, saying that BIB already had a two-person camera crew in the hall and that the BCC videographer would have been in the way.

We have no problem with citizen groups taping public meetings for their own purposes, provided they recognize that BIB crews – commissioned to work in the general public interest, with local tax-dollar support – rule the room. Nor do we see an issue in BIB running competing coverage of the same event. As a PEG outlet – Public, Education, Government – the station makes airtime available to pretty much any organization wanting access.

But Bainbridge citizens, concerned or otherwise, should be aware of the distinction. Any presentation billed as “Shoreline Horror Stories” should raise some red flags with viewers, in this case: Did anyone speak in support of the planning department, or the regulations in question? Were those comments edited out? And either way, how would you know for sure?

It’s always tempting to leave something on the cutting room floor, even if it’s only the slow parts (which could solve the problem of overlong council meetings, at least for those viewing at home). And yet, the very value of BIB meeting coverage is the generally unmediated nature of the presentations; by offering observation rather than narration, they seek to have the audience “attend” an event rather than be “educated” by it.

As we said, there’s probably room for both. And now that political groups are trying to use BIB to present their own version of reality (albeit edited and annotated to their liking), perhaps the station has finally arrived as a truly significant medium.

No less an authority on the shaping of public opinion than Lenin (who, by the way, preferred his film edited) commented, “for us, the most important of all the arts is the cinema.”

Ain’t it the truth.

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