What is documentary - realist conventions

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A presentation to introduce the issues surrounding doucmentary realism and some conventions of documentaries

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What is documentary - realist conventions

  1. 1. What is Documentary? <ul><li>In pairs discuss and write down the following: - 5 minutes </li></ul><ul><li>What is a documentary? - can you put it into your own words? </li></ul><ul><li>How do you expect it to be constructed? </li></ul><ul><li>Can you think of any film/TV documentaries that you have seen? </li></ul><ul><li>What was the function of that film/ TV programme? </li></ul>
  2. 2. Conventional Expectations of a Documentary <ul><li>Non-fiction </li></ul><ul><li>About the ‘real’ (historical, political cultural events etc.) </li></ul><ul><li>‘ Unstaged’ </li></ul><ul><li>Based on observation rather than intervention </li></ul><ul><li>Informative, educational </li></ul>
  3. 3. Nanook of the North (Robert Flaherty, 1922) <ul><li>Watch the clip from this famous documentary and note down whether it conforms to our conventional expectations of documentary </li></ul>
  4. 4. Documentary has also been described as <ul><li>‘ The creative treatment of actuality’ </li></ul><ul><li>(John Grierson (1926), in a review of Robert Flaherty’s film Moana) </li></ul>
  5. 5. Or <ul><li>‘ The use of the film medium to interpret creatively and in social terms the life of the people as it exists in reality’ </li></ul><ul><li>(Paul Rotha (1939) Documentary Film </li></ul><ul><li>(London: Faber and Faber)) </li></ul>
  6. 6. GROUP DISCUSSION <ul><li>What strikes you as interesting about these definitions? </li></ul><ul><li>What are the key words which keep coming up? </li></ul><ul><li>What would you expect to see in a factual programme? </li></ul>
  7. 7. REMEMBER!! All television and film has been constructed . <ul><li>Documentaries are formed by decisions made by producers and directors: </li></ul><ul><li>The initial selection of what to film. </li></ul><ul><li>The conditions on which consent is given or withheld. </li></ul><ul><li>How the event is framed, stages, the ‘angle’ in both senses of the word. </li></ul><ul><li>Editing decisions, including simple decisions to abbreviate routine happenings. </li></ul>
  8. 8. Stella Bruzzi (Professor of Film and Television Studies at Warwick University) <ul><li>Bruzzi sums up the points so far: </li></ul><ul><li>‘ [we need to] simply accept that documentary can never be the real world, that the camera can never capture life as it would have unravelled had it [the camera] not interfered, and the results of this collision between apparatus and subject are what constitutes a documentary… documentaries are performative acts whose truth comes into being only at the moment of filming.’ </li></ul>
  9. 9. <ul><li>Is documentary truth? </li></ul>
  10. 10. Case Study <ul><li>Canadian explorer Robert Flaherty was fascinated by the Inuit (Eskimo) people of northern Canada, and began shooting short films of their lives (ethnographic films). In 1916 he lost all 30,000 feet of his feature documentary when a burning cigarette started a fire in editing room. Deciding to re-shoot and refocus the film, he produced a documentary feature that revolving around one central character and his family. Nanook of the North (1922) gave a resurgence and direction to documentary filmmaking and got the major film studios interested in financing them </li></ul>
  11. 11. Is it real? <ul><li>It is an approach to the ‘real’ rather than a product of the imaginary. </li></ul><ul><li>Based on a real life event or occurrence </li></ul><ul><li>Shaped/ created by an individual (s) </li></ul><ul><li>Therefore the audience is positioned through the way in which the documentary is constructed. </li></ul><ul><li>It is important to remember that just like fictional films the audience are ‘positioned’ to behave or feel a certain way. </li></ul><ul><li>The filmmaker has to convince the audience that what they are watching is authentic </li></ul><ul><li>Film language makes us feel part of the action - puts us at the heart of the event whilst making us also feel we are detached from the situation to ‘make our own mind up’ </li></ul>
  12. 12. Film language used to shape realism <ul><li>Placing the audience in the action </li></ul><ul><li>Location Shooting </li></ul><ul><li>Uneven, hand-held camerawork </li></ul><ul><li>Natural Light </li></ul><ul><li>Following the action </li></ul><ul><li>Film-maker’s visible presence </li></ul><ul><li>Synchronous sound recording </li></ul><ul><li>Interviews with witnesses </li></ul><ul><li>Amateur effect </li></ul><ul><li>Techniques that allow the audience to be ‘objective’ </li></ul><ul><li>Voiceover </li></ul><ul><li>Archive footage </li></ul><ul><li>Expert testimonial </li></ul><ul><li>Material shaped into a narrative </li></ul><ul><li>Material structured into an argument </li></ul>
  13. 13. Analytical Exercise <ul><li>Consider the following clips and analyse to decide: </li></ul><ul><li>What different techniques are used? (camera, editing, interviews, sound etc) </li></ul><ul><li>Is the audience aware of the film maker? </li></ul><ul><li>Which techniques are present, which are distant? </li></ul><ul><li>To what extent is this ‘real’ or is it pure manipulation? </li></ul>

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