Watching to Witness: Responses Beyond Empathy to Refugee Documentaries
This chapter takes the preoccupation with empathy in Australian documentaries advocating for asylum seekers as a point of departure to look at alternative modes of responding. The focus here is on audience responses to ‘Freedom Stories’ (Steve Thomas 2015) that uses the community screening model, and puts the spotlight on former refugees who are now Australian citizens. Reactions to the film, recorded through a pilot study at the University of Wollongong, are analysed through the lens of Roger Silverstone’s notion of ‘proper distance’ in an attempt to unpack the difference between spotlighting one’s own feelings (or the conventional use of ‘empathy’ in humanisation discourses), and perceiving the feeling of the other in a way that is likely to lead to responsibility action (what I call here ‘witnessing’).
I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Associate Professor Tanja Dreher and Professor Bronwyn Carlson, who were co-chief investigators on the FCG project on which this chapter is based. Many thanks also to our very able research assistants—Dr Trent Brown, Ashleigh Johnstone, and Dr Poppy de Souza.
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