Interpersonal relationships in storytelling projects

Despite having taken my fair share of media-based classes at UBC, last week’s focus on ethics was important for reflecting on the approaches that we as filmmakers/storytellers take when engaging with different communities. In their discussion of ethics in oral history research, Yow asserts that oral historians should establish a clear understanding regarding the relationship they have with their narrators during the project. While friendships may develop after projects come to an end, Yow claims that the relationship oral historians maintain with their narrators during the project is not neutral, as researchers can be motivated to further a purpose outside of their relationship. In order to avoid ambiguous relationships, Yow argues that oral historians are obligated to indicate that their professional relationship with their narrators will end when the project is completed.

While I agree that it is incredibly important to maintain a professional approach when collaborating our participants, I hesitate with Yow’s delineation between professional and personal relationships in oral history projects. Is it possible for friendships to exist during collaboration? In my opinion, interpersonal relationships in oral history projects aren’t exclusively professional relationships. Friendships can exist prior to collaboration, strengthen/develop during the project, and continue after the project has been completed.

Looking back on my experiences in FIPR 469a last year, I think my relationship to our participants was first and foremost one of friendship/kinship. I had pre-existing relationships with all three of our participants, and found that the our personal relationships actually strengthened during the duration of the project. Evidently, the depth and intimacy of our conversations, as well as the mutual trust we had for one another, were conducive to the growth of our interpersonal relationships. While the purpose of our collaboration was driven by the interest of creating a short film, that did not preclude us from maintaining/strengthening our personal relationship.

Although we may not always have the opportunity to work with participants whom we have close/pre-existing relationships with, I think that it is still possible for something more than just a professional relationship to develop when collaborating on storytelling projects. Obviously, this is dependent on the nature of the situation and relationship between the collaborators. With that being said, if storytelling is understood as a method through which we can engage with communities, perhaps we should also recognize the development of fluid, more personal relationships as an important element to that process.

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