Dangerous Documentaries: Resources for Filmmakers


Dangerous Documentaries: Reducing Risk when Telling Truth to Power

Many of the issues most important for our society to recognize and discuss are also those that powerful people or institutions don’t want made public. Non-fiction filmmakers who tell truth to power often face aggressive attack from powerful individuals, governmental bodies, businesses and associations.

The collection of resources below is intended to support filmmakers facing such attacks and promote investigative work that combines the best practices of documentary and journalism. These resources can help filmmakers navigate legal and insurance issues, crate crisis commuications and safety plans, secure critical and confidential data, connect with other filmmakers, and more.

This collection was created as part of the Center for Media & Social Impact’s research project and report Dangerous Documentaries: Reducing Risk when Telling Truth to Power,” which was funded by a grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. “Dangeorus Documentaries” draws on 53 interviews of makers of non-fiction films and TV programs, programmers, funders, lawyers, and insurers, as well as a wide search of literature and participation in public events. The report finds that although serious legal trouble is rare, risks are real and can create a chilling effect on works exploring important social issues.

You can read the full report here.



BBC Academy
The College of Journalism, part of the BBC, oversees training for BBC News staff. This website focuses on core skills, safety, specialist areas, legal and ethical issues, and houses the News style guide.




Journalistic Guidelines 
FRONTLINE / WGBH Educational Foundation
This comprehensive set of guidelines for nonfiction producers illustrates FRONTLINE’s own journalistic process, and provides simple yet in-depth discussion of best practices.




Nieman Watchdog 
Nieman Foundation
These reports focus on how journalists can hold those in power accountable.




The Solutions Journalism Toolkit 
Solutions Journalism Network
A free practical guide to solutions journalism.




Story-Based Inquiry: A Manual for Investigative Journalists 
This guide presents the basic methods and techniques of investigative journalism, but with a focus on good storytelling – which means it could be extremely useful for your next documentary.




Ten Steps to Investigative Reporting 
International Center for Journalists
These steps cover some good principles for first-time filmmakers, and include tips on building support, working with sources, and verifying information for first-timers and veterans alike.




Poynter Institute
Sharpen your journalism skills with workshops, webinars, self-directed courses, and more.

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75+ Tools for Investigative Journalists 
Journalism Tools / Medium.com
This extensive list includes links to sites for monitoring news and social media, collecting information, and mapping out story ideas.




Journalist’s Resource 
Shorenstein Center
This database provides up-to-date research on topics relevant to today’s most important stories.




Verification Handbook for Investigative Reporting 
This handbook provides the fundamentals of online search and research techniques for investigations.

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dart_center_logoDart Center for Journalism & Trauma
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma is dedicated to informed, innovative and ethical news reporting on violence, conflict and tragedy. It provides, among other things, resources and training.




icfjDisaster and Crisis Coverage
International Center for Journalists
This guide focuses not only on physical safety but also on managing stress and emotional strain.




reporterswithoutbordersHandbook for Journalists
Reporters Without Borders
This guide discusses principles, norms, strategies and other information useful to media professionals working in conflict zones. Available in English, Urdu, and Kurdish.




ssrc“How Was Your Trip?” Self-Care for Researchers Working and Writing on Violence
Social Science Research Council
This paper provides support for researchers dealing with traumatic subjects or working in dangerous environments.




cpjlogoJournalist Security Guide
Committee to Protect Journalists
Know the risks and prepare for them before you head out into the field. This guide can help you plan for conflict zones, natural disasters, health epidemics, and more.




skeyeslogoThe Journalist Survival Guide: An Animated Video Guide
Skeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom
These animated videos are available in English and Arabic and communicate safety information in a much more visual way. The sites includes digital security lessons as well.




ifjlogo_largeLive News: A Survival Guide for Journalists
International Federation of Journalists
This guide focuses primarily on working in war and conflict zones, but raises important considerations for any filmmaker entering unknown and potentially hazardous environments.




riscReporters Instructed in Saving Colleagues
RISC trains and equips freelance journalists in all media to treat life-threatening injuries on the battlefield, offering training free to freelancers.




rory-peck-trustSafety & Security
Rory Peck Trust
This site offers tools and resources to help you think about risk as you prepare to film. For providers of conflict zone training in the UK, click here.




witness-logoSafety & Security
This presentation on staying safe and protecting subjects in the field was written for human rights advocates but is applicable to journalists and filmmakers.


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hiscoxDocumentary Filmmakers and Fair Use
This guide to fair use includes advice on using insurance to protect yourself and your project.




Rory Peck Trust
If you think you need insurance but you’re not sure where to start, this site can help you figure out what types of coverage you need and what to look for when choosing a policy.


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ipr56-logo-50Crisis Management and Communications
Institute for Public Relations
This guide to best practices in crisis communications can help you contain damage from media attacks.


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rory-peck-trustDigital Security
Rory Peck Trust
This site provides a number of resources that can help you lay the groundwork for secure communication  and determine what risks you may face.  It also addresses specific security questions, such as how to safely use a public computer and avoid online monitoring.




the-free-software-foundationEncrypting Email
Free Software Foundation
This guide can help you keep your emails private.




the-free-software-foundationEmail Self Defense
Free Software Foundation
This site gives step-by-step instructions for setting up encrypted email. This is especially important if you want to communicate securely with someone.




fotpflogoEncryption Works: How to Protect Your Privacy in the Age of NSA Surveillance
Freedom of the Press Foundation
This resource provides an overview of digital security, including a basic primer on what encryption is and what software you can trust.




epicOnline Guide to Practical Privacy Tools
Electronic Privacy Information Center
This guide includes a quick list of privacy and security enhancing tools.




resetthenetPrivacy Pack
Reset the Net
The Privacy Pack provides an easy-to-follow list of privacy enhancing technologies that work across a variety of platforms, including mobile.




Freedom of the Press Foundation
SecureDrop is an open-source submission system which allows you to securely accept documents from anonymous sources.




security-in-a-boxSecurity in-a-Box: Tools and Tactics for your Digital Security
Tactical Technology Collective & Front Line Defenders
This site provides a range of How-Tos on specific security precautions you can take, such as securing your smart phone and social media accounts. It also includes guides for using a variety of common security programs.




Alt vertical with taglineSpeakSafe: Media Workers’ Toolkit for Safer Online and Mobile Practices
This guide lists straight-forward steps to securing your information and is set up to apply across environments, platforms, and levels of expertise.




electronic-frontier-effSurveillance Self-Defense: Tips, Tools and How-tos for Safer Online Communications
Electronic Frontier Foundation
This guide provides comprehensive information on choosing the right security tools and how to use them. It also has sections dedicated to journalists, activists, and human rights defenders.


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cpjlogoCommittee to Protect Journalists
A nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting press freedom around the world.





The D-Word
An online community of documentary filmmakers and professionals, centered around forum discussion.




A community of documentary filmmakers connected via an interactive mailing list. The site also provides a list of links to programs and organizations relevant to filmmaking.




fotpflogoFreedom of the Press Foundation
A non-profit organization dedicated to helping support and defend public-interest journalism focused on exposing mismanagement, corruption, and law-breaking in government.




A forum for filmmakers.




ida_new_logo_2015International Documentary Association
A nonprofit membership organization for nonfiction filmmakers and industry professionals.





reporters-committee-freedom-press_logoReporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
A nonprofit association dedicated to providing free legal assistance to journalists since 1970.





shooting-people-logo-150x150Shooting People
A place for independent filmmakers to discuss projects, find collaborators and funding, and learn new skills.




spjSociety of Professional Journalists
A national membership organization for journalists.





onalogoOnline News Association
A nonprofit membership organization for digital journalists, connecting journalism, technology and innovation.


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