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Deepfakes in documentary film production: images of deception in the representation of the real

Lees, D. (2023) Deepfakes in documentary film production: images of deception in the representation of the real. Studies in Documentary Film. ISSN 1750-3280

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1080/17503280.2023.2284680


Deepfakes are a technological innovation that might be understood to violate the documentary film’s relationship with the real.  Yet documentary makers have been among the first screen producers to adopt this technology, using it to swap the faces or voices of people they present to their audiences, further disrupting the already complex relationship between the filmmaker and their subject.    This paper investigates the growing practice of documentary deepfakes, using two case studies of documentary films from the period 2019-2022 that have used varied forms of deepfakery, examining the intentions of the filmmakers, the technical processes and the ways in which creative choice is both expanded and limited by the technology. An interview-based research methodology provides original insights into filmmakers’ rationales when creating deepfakes.    The paper reveals the contradictions inherent in deepfake practice, as described by one documentary filmmaker: ‘I'm looking at deepfake as a way of telling the truth’ (Benjamin Field, producer).  A central theme is the ethics of documentary practice using manipulative AI.  This paper contributes new insights to theoretical discourse around the digital manipulation of the moving image, discussing the growing disruption caused by deepfakes to documentary film culture and audiences.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > School of Arts and Communication Design > Film, Theatre & Television
ID Code:114076
Uncontrolled Keywords:deepfakes; documentary practice; AI; synthetic media


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