Erroll Morris, the godfather of the modern documentary, recently tweeted the following:
REGRET: Most documentaries are illustrations not investigations.
I have done a lot of work in short form documentary over the past 7 years and far and away, the vast majority of it has been illustrations. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy this work – trying to figure out what a client wants to communicate and then working with them to craft a story that lines up with their message. It’s the way a lot of the corporate world communicates and it’s effective. But there’s another way to do documentary that is a lot riskier – an investigation where the outcome is not known at the advent of production.
In June, I set off for Ghana with the charge of investigating the prosperity gospel, a teaching that can roughly be described as “God blessing you materially according to the amount of faith you display through sacrificial giving.” I went into the trip with my own assumptions about the prosperity gospel. I had seen the clips on YouTube and watched the damning interviews on 60 minutes. I thought I knew what I was getting into. But then I hit a big bump in the road.
My director of photography, Jeff Pohorski, came down with a nasty case of something. We didn’t know if it was H1N1, giardia, or Montezuma’s revenge. All we knew is that Jeff was not going to be able to travel with me. So we adapted and I decided that I would shoot everything. Because I wouldn’t be able to do interviews as easily as a one man crew, I decided to interject myself into the narrative, something that I have never done (or plan to do in the near future.) It’s not easy to shoot, interview and track the story all at the same time, if it was, you wouldn’t need a camera man at all. But for some reason, we just seemed to hit all the right places at the right times (thanks to my on-the-ground fixer, Joyman, and the oversight of Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, who is featured in the piece.)
What you see in the final edit is my actual journey of insight as we travelled around the Accra area in Ghana. From the initial shock of what the prosperity gospel can look like in a small congregation to the tangible life training that is given at large mega-churches to the cost of this theology for many poorer people – and all this happens within a world view that is very different from my own.
My hope is that this documentary is indeed an investigation into the unique expression of the prosperity gospel in one African country. More likely, it is probably an investigation of one American who travelled to Ghana and realized he didn’t know as much as he thought he did.