Broadcasting Today

Roger Graef Warns Media Students: Beware of “Counterfeit Intimacy” and Watch More Television


By Jack Schouten

The filmmaker behind documentaries such as Iceland Foods: Life Inside the Freezer Cabinet and Great Ormond Street has told students at Middlesex University, London, to “watch more television”.

 He made the comments when interviewed by Professor Kurt Barling for the University’s Broadcasting Today series, which showcases and interviews eminent figures from within media and publishing industries.

Graef, 77, said: “If you want to have a critical conversation about television then you have to watch it. You must watch what works, and what tries and fails.”

Discussing the changing nature of documentary filmmaking, whilst viewers increasingly turn to online streaming and DVD box-sets as opposed to television, Graef also highlighted the “false intimacy” brought about by reality programmes like Wife Swap, and that while many of these shows “were very interesting to begin with, the more they went on, the worse they became.”

He was accompanied by fellow documentary-maker Magnus Temple, whose credits include Channel 4’s One Born Every Minute and 24 Hours in A&E, and both highlighted the fact that many people now want to watch box-sets of television dramas – for example Breaking Bad – and that these shows may be “brilliant drama – but it is another kind of false intimacy.”

Roger Graef, originally from the United States, has been a documentary filmmaker for almost 50 years, and is best known for his ‘fly-on-the-wall’-style filmmaking examining issues such as the justice system, criminology, and many other sociological issues. He also co-directed the Secret Policeman’s Ball in 1982.

“Work like ours [documentary filmmaking] is a way of reframing reality from the cliches that nobody questions. There is a common language that looks like intimacy – but it’s counterfeit, and we must watch out for that.”


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