Some People Really Get Straight To The Truth: Tom Stoppard on “Accuracy”

Sometimes when I am babbling on, in the back of my mind a little voice is shouting: Steve, for heaven’s sakes, someone with half a brain could use three words to say what it just took you 15 minutes to express. Often, after the fact, I realize what those three words might have been.

Well,  today I heard the playwright Tom Stoppard make a comment that is at once incredibly simple and astoundingly profound. It puts in one sentence so much of what I have struggled to say about making documentary films and art in general.

I may not get the quote right, so I am including a link to the radio program on which he said it.  But what he said was essentially this:

Accuracy is not the same thing as truthfulness.

Accuracy is not the same thing as truthfulness

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

The search for precise facts and documentation is extremely important, especially when some form of unethical or possibly illegal misconduct might be involved.  But doing this well requires that you be accurate.

Truthfulness, as Stoppard described it so beautifully,  requires reaching for the richer complexities and human contradictions that are embedded in sheer and mundane accuracy.

And that is why I have always felt that the question of what is true in a documentary is, while certainly important, not as important as the ability of the filmmaker to grasp and share the underlying truthfulness that gives those accurate facts deeper meaning.

You might want to listen.