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Annual Public Lectures Series > Peter Byck

Scientists and Journalists:
Getting the Point Across
June 8-11, 2010

Tuesday, June 10, 3:30 p.m.
Documentary Films: Subjective or Objective Journalism?
Peter Byck, Documentary Filmmaker
Lecture Summary Prepared by Eleni Gesch-Karamanlidis

Also see: Video


Filmmaker Peter Byck tackled an important but often overlooked question in his Metcalf Institute lecture on Thursday, June 10: Can journalism be objective? Journalism is in fact always subjective, according to Byck; it is a form of storytelling. There is no such thing as an objective documentary because while making a film, someone has decided what to include or exclude. And, unlike traditional journalism, there is no existing mechanism to check the accuracy of statements made in documentary films.

Carbon Nation, Byck's new documentary about solutions to the global climate crisis, strives to maintain journalistic integrity by presenting facts in context and backing up statements with at least three sources.

However, as director, he presented the documentary film as a subjective view on the renewable energy market. He explained that a director has control over all aspects of a documentary, including decisions about which scenes to include, the context provided for each scene, and how those scenes are presented to the viewer. Byck compares this process to that which a journalist undergoes when interviewing subjects and structuring a news story.

Instead of trying to be objective while producing Carbon Nation, Byck found joy in being subjective. He described the great effort taken to present a positive documentary on the issue of renewable energy and climate change. He strived to remove the politics surrounding the issues. Finally, he noted that the success of his final product was due, in part, to the serendipitous nature of networking–with one contact leading him to another and surprising stories emerging during the making of the film.


Peter Byck has over 20 years experience as a director and editor. His first documentary, Garbage, won the South by Southwest Film Festival, screened in scores of festivals in the U.S. and Europe, and played at the Museum of Modern Art and Lincoln Center in New York. He has edited documentaries for Peter Jackson's last two films, Lord of the Rings and King Kong. Byck has also worked as an editor or director for documentaries and promotional shorts for Warner Bros., Universal Pictures, 20th Century Fox, MTV, Vh1, BBC, Disney and MGM, for shows and movies including "The West Wing," "Scrubs," "er," The Matrix and many more. In 1986, Peter received a Bachelor of fine arts degree from California Institute of the Arts. (June 10 public lecture) E-mail:

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June 24, 2010