Text of Introduction to Documentary. Documentary â€“ a definition
Introduction to Documentary
Documentary a definition
An approach to the real as opposed to the fiction. Deals with issues of fact, of real events and of actuality. Documentary is often set up in conflict with fiction creating a binary opposition The fictional = lies.entertainment films The factual = truthdocumentaries & realist films The creative treatment of actuality. John Grierson
What makes a film realistic? Blair Witch Project
Realism In terms of representing the truth, documentaries are generally accorded the highest status. To document a subject implies keeping a factual record for future reference. However, even the most realistic documentaries have to be constructed. Bruzzi (2000) We need to accept that a documentary can never be the real worlddocumentaries are performative acts whose truth comes into being only at the moment of filming.
Nanook of the North One of the world's first examples of a cinema verite' documentary A 1922 silent documentary film by Robert Flaherty Explores the struggles of the Inuk Nanook and his family in the Canadian arctic. The film is considered the first feature-length documentary Flaherty has been criticized for staging several sequences and thereby distorting the reality of his subjects' lives A film maker must often distort a thing to catch its true spirit.
John Grierson 1898 1972 Scottish documentary maker Founder of British documentary film making. Influential friendship with Robert Flaherty (who he referred to as the father of documentary) Argued that documentaries should combine information with education and propaganda. He oversaw the production of over 40 documentaries on aspects of British life in the 1930s and 1940s. The idea was to engineer social reform by highlighting some of the deprivation endured by working class people (Coalface 1935) Focus on ordinary lives (Night Mail 1936)
Night Mail 1936 documentary about a mail train from Scotland to London The most commercially successful film of the British documentary movement Made with a budget of 2000 A promotional film for the post office (produced by the GPO film unit) A poem by English poet W. H. Auden was written for it, used in the closing few minutes
Cinema Verite 1950s more detailed and naturalistic approach to documentary film making developed Cinema verite (cinema truth) style developed in France. The intention was to observe and record the reality of everyday life as it happened without the usual organisational planning & structured direction. The approach was made possible by new lightweight mobile cameras.
1960s The television had become the principal medium for documentary production. The genre was typified by the use of an authoritative presenter and/or voiceover, Recorded interviews with experts and ordinary people Visual evidence via location shots, archive film, photographs etc. Seamless editing and smooth narrative flow of such documentaries (still prevalent today), contribute to creating a sense of irrefutable truth and authenticity. This disguises the editorial values and choices which shape the making of all documentaries.
2000 This is an era where it has been argued that the documentary is outmoded. We are in post documentary times. (Corner 2002) However, the success of nature or wildlife documentaries continues to grow. Popularity of BBC series such as The Blue Planet (2001) Recent successes for cinematic documentaries Touching the Void (2003)
Touching the Void 2003 documentary film about 2 climbers almost fatal attempt to climb a mountain in the Andes Hugely successful at the box office The most successful documentary film in history The Guardian
Michael Moore American film maker, activist, author His presence and performance are key components of his popularity Makes openly rhetorical documentaries films which are upfront about wanting to persuade the audience of a particular viewpoint Farenheit 9/11 has made more money than any other documentary to date
Supersize Me 2004 American documentary written by & starring Morgan Spurlock Spurlock's film follows a 30- day period from February 1 to March 2, 2003 during which he eats only McDonald's food. explores the fast food industry's corporate influence Nominated for an academy award
Documentaries on TV
Homework Find a definition and example the different types of documentary. Expository Observational Interactive Reflexive Wednesday 2 nd Feb
Fly on the wall During the past 20 years, the cinema verite style of documentary film making has become increasingly popular in TV. Known as fly on the wall, this approach represents the subject apparently unmediated by a film crew, a presenter or reshooting. Those participating tend to speak for themselves. Their words and actions are apparently merely recorded and observed, not reflected on or mediated by a presenter.
Fly on the Wall In helping to define the distinctive fly on the wall approach, Roger Graef listed certain rules to be applied in the production: Filming events exactly as they happened Agreeing in advance the specific subjects to be filmed Showing the edited version to the participants, but only to ensure any factual errors may be corrected.
Critics of fly on the wall have argued While seeming more natural and unmediated, these documentaries are subject to considerable editorial control during post production. Shooting ration - up to fifty hours of recorded video to one hour broadcast Editors will try to generate as much dramatic interest and entertainment as possible.
Convergence There is a growing overlap and convergence of documentary and drama on TV. As early as 1966 Ken Loach applied cinema verite style filming to a drama about homelessness. Cathy Come Home The documentary feel of the film created a stronger sense of realism and contributed to its strong impact on audiences.
Reality Television A hybrid of the documentary genre. Emphasis that they feature real life and real people. A growing phenomenon which seemingly allow people to appear as themselves. They utilise actual (or sometimes reconstructed) scenes, often made possible by the growth in availability/technical sophistication of the camcorder.
Reality Television Covers a wide variety of programmes featuring people in different roles
Criticism Seen by many as a corruption of the documentary genre. Many argue that reality TV fails to be genuinely informative or revelatory. Video footage of ordinary peoples personal experiences may be exploitative in pandering solely to audience voyeurism. Achieves high ratings at relatively low expense. Cheap programming which drives serious, expensively well researched programmes off our TVs.