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A Big Social Work Jeer for Filmmaker Gilsenan!

Alan Gilsenan. Photo courtesy of the Meath Chronicle.

The Irish Times recently asked award-winning filmmaker Alan Gilsenan his 10 most important rules for making a documentary.

Item No. 4 was a slap against social workers. Gilsenan wrote:

Social workers have all sorts of notions about ‘managing the media’ (much of which is well-intentioned and understandable, as mostly the ‘media’ are mean-spirited and exploitative of the vulnerable people in their care). However, if you’re trying to make a decent documentary, truth and honesty are your only tools, and participants in that documentary are best served by being honest and true to themselves rather than spinning some politically correct platitude dreamt up by the dreaded social worker. (Other key enemies in this vein are PR consultants, media managers, spin doctors and other fraudulent professions.) And, while we’re on the subject, remember that documentary-makers are not social workers either. Their films may shine a light on an important area or even, occasionally, effect some social change, but documentary-making is not social work.”

Sorry, but we beg to differ!

Social workers make great sources in documentaries because they follow many of the social issues issues covered in these films. Social workers also make great documentary filmmakers because they often spotlight issues not generally on the public radar.

For instance, New York-based social worker Leslye Abbey has won awards for her films and Montana social worker Matt Anderson is raising funds to finish a documentary on aged-0ut foster children.  Anderson’s work has already been endorsed by well-known Hollywood writer and producer Liz Tigelaar (click here for more).


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  1. as a documentary film maker and social worker i would say that we can and should be making documentaries about the work we do and the people and we work with. I would submit the film WarDance as the ultimate example of why we should be making documentaries. WarDance was produced by Shine Global, which is a non-profit film production company run by Susan MacLaury, PhD, LSW and her husband Albie Hecht. The skills they bring as social worker and producer created one of the most beautiful documentaries ever made, and my personal favorite. It was also nominated for an Academy Award in 2008. Their next film, The Harvest, is about the stories of immigrant children who make up over 20% of America’s agriculture workforce.

  2. Obviously this gentleman is not informed, but running his mouth anyway. Best way I know to make a fool of onself.

  3. There are great filmmakers and wonderful social workers. Both professions have people doing amazing work.
    The opposite is also true. Also, there are social workers making excellent movies and documentary filmmakers who aren’t social workers. So what’s your point?

  4. He must have had a bad experience related to a social worker to say such harsh things. Social Workers are some of the most warm and genuine people in the world. Arrogant people I’ve known don’t like social workers because they chanllenge their way of thinking. From the picture that is posted, I see a lot of anger and suspect Mr. Gilsenan could really benefit from therapy.

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