Mass Culture Workshop: Zachariah Anderson, “Looking at Police Body-Worn Camera Footage as Documentary Evidence” (12/1)

Dear all,

Please join us for the last Mass Culture Workshop of the quarter, this Friday! Details below.

There is no pre-circulated paper.

Your 2023–24 Mass Cult coordinators,

Joel and Hugo


Looking at Police Body-Worn Camera Footage as Documentary Evidence

Zachariah Anderson, PhD Candidate, Media, Cinema, and Digital Studies, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Respondent: Gary Kafer, Humanities Teaching Fellow, Cinema and Media Studies, University of Chicago

December 1, 2023, 11 AM–12:30 PM, Cobb 310

Bill Morrison, Incident, 2023.


Bystander recordings of racist police violence have inspired public calls for the adoption of body-worn cameras. While activists hoped these devices would bring about accountability and change, body-worn camera recordings are now (re)circulated to support opposing arguments about twenty-first century policing. As these technologies proliferate, documentary filmmakers gain access to an unprecedented archive of police-produced surveillance sources. When documentarians appropriate body-worn camera footage as evidence, media scholars and spectators must deal with the complex question of how to look. I advocate for modes of looking that identify and confront these surveillance recordings’ dual roles as “documentary evidence.” By documentary evidence, I first mean that – when filmmakers appropriate these recordings – the images and sounds are perceived as trustworthy because they were supposedly captured to hold the police accountable. Second, the phrase documentary evidence refers to the state’s public framing of these recordings as legal documents of dangerous threats to police officers. In response to these dual roles as documentary evidence, I explore processes of looking that foreground 1) discourses of accountability that set in-motion body-worn cameras’ adoption, 2) the state’s use of these recordings to counter critiques of policing, and 3) the framing of this surveillance footage as a justification for officers’ use of force. 

Zachariah Anderson is an adjunct faculty member in Cinema and Television Arts at Columbia College Chicago and a PhD Candidate in the Media, Cinema, and Digital Studies program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His research explores twenty-first century archival or found footage filmmaking practices and the roles of images as evidence in the so-called “post-truth era.” He has published articles about the appropriations of visual evidence by Arthur Jafa in Film Criticism, Abigail Child in Iluminace, and Ken Jacobs in Found Footage Magazine. His forthcoming article in Jump Cut examines the functions of police-produced surveillance footage in Netflix true crime documentaries.

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