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HNC Unit 61: Moving Image Documentary Production
• To further understand the development of the moving image
• To begin to understand documentary production techniques
• To decide on an area of Documentary to research for your first
What is a Documentary?
• A documentary usually comes identified as such – by its
title, publicity, press coverage, word of mouth, and subject
• The label leads us to expect that the persons, places and
events shown to us exist and that the information presented
about them will be trustworthy.
• A documentary may:
• Take a stand
• State an opinion
• Advocate a solution to a problem
• Do all three simultaneously
• Documentaries use a range of theoretical and creative
approaches to present their material.
Types of Documentary
• Like fiction films, documentaries have their own genres.
o The compilation film, produced by assembling images from archival sources (Ken
o Direct-cinema or cinema-vérité, which records an ongoing event as it happens, with
minimal interference from the filmmaker.
o The nature documentary (PBS, Discovery)
o The portrait documentary (History Channel, A&E).
o The synthetic documentary, which mixes forms.
“Facts” About the World
• Every doc. aims to
present facts about
the world, but the
ways in which this
can be done are as
varied as for
Cinema Verite (Cinema Truth) is a style of Documentary filmmaking
developed by Jean Rouch
Jean Rouch is an acclaimed filmmaker and explorer. He developed the
notion of ‘Truthfull cinema and spent sixty years making films in Africa
Rouch was inspired by Dziga Vertov’s theory about Kino Pravda (film
truth). He experimented with camera work and editing to highlight
subjects hidden behind the reality.
Cinéma vérité and some of Rouch’s films can be referred to as
observational or fly-on-the-wall documentaries
Moi, un Noir
Me, a Black [person]; also released as I, a Negro) is a 1958 French film by
Rouch. It is set in Abidjan, on the ivory Coast
Moi, un Noir depicts young Nigerian immigrants who left their country
to find work in the Ivory Coast in Abidjan, the capital. The immigrants
live in squalor, but dream of fame and fortune giving themselves the
names of Western actors
Jean Rouch spent nine months amongst his ethnographic subjects and
allowed them to tell their own story in a very personal way, inherently
challenging the rules of documentary.
He did not have a plan but filmed long continuous shots
The dialogue, voiceover and sound effects were recorded later
• Errol Morris is a prominent
documentarian whose films also re-
interpret reality to highlight often the
absurdity of life through a mixture of
interviews and re-enactments:
o The Fog of War (2003)
o Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter Jr.
o Fast, Cheap and Out of Control (1997)
o A Brief History of Time (1991)
o The Thin Blue Line (1988)
o Gates of Heaven (1978)
‘The intention is to put the audience in some kind
of odd reality.
It’s the perverse element in filmmaking. [Its} a kind
of ecstatic absurdity, things that make you question
the nature of reality, of the universe in which we
live. We think we understand the world around us.
..And I always, always have revered that element.
Ecstatic absurdity: it’s the confrontation with
• The Thin Blue Line (1988) - a documentary about Randall
Adams who was wrongly convicted and sentenced to a life
imprisonment for the murder of a police officer.
• The film relies on the conventions of interactive
documentary - interviews and confessions.
• Tension arises when statements contradict each other and this
draws our attention to the legitimacy of testimonies and
confessions recorded in the documentary.
• Randall Adams swears he did not kill the policeman but
competing statements are presented.
• Despite the quest for evidence, the film underlies the
uncertainty of what evidence there is.
• Thin Blue Line clip
The Thin Blue Line features a key technique used in documentary – the
Morris and other filmmakers use specific techniques to illicit responses
from their interviewees
Interviewees are put through experiences that can be quite artificial. It is
important to know how unsettling this experience can be
In preparation for an interview – you should complete a pre-interview in
order to go through the individuals story and discuss what will happen
• Formal interviews (studio/set up)
• Informal interviews (Vox pops)
Morris came to believe that fictional stories can draw our attention to essential
details or themes that factual accounts cannot. As Tim O’Brien wrote, “Our
myths are stories or images that are not always true in particular but entirely
true in general”
His work stands in stark contrast with the ideals of early documentary, which
sought truth by pure, unadulterated replication of reality through the lens of a
• Sometimes events are staged
(Thin Blue Line) to recreate an
approximation of what might
have happened, and
sometimes filmmakers just let
their subjects talk (Moi un
Noir). Either way, the
finished product is the result
of subjective choice.
• Both viewers and filmmakers regard some staging as
legitimate in a documentary if the staging serves the larger
purpose of presenting information.
• Regardless of the details of the production, documentaries
ask us to assume that they present trustworthy info. about
• Still, documentaries many not prove reliable. Throughout
film history, many documentaries have been challenged as
Recording Events Vs. Staging
• In some cases the filmmakers
are able to record events as
they actually occur.
• But the documentary may
convey information in other
ways as well – through
charts, maps and other
visual aids, or through
• Hoop Dreams
The Fog of War (2003)
• The Fog of War is About Robert McNamara, the Secretary of
Defense during the Vietnam War.
• It won the Oscar for Best Documentary.
• Mixes a number of documentary techniques including
compilation and portrait and is a mixture of both the
categorical and the rhetorical forms.
o clip from The Fog of War.
Categorical vs Rhetorical
• Categorical documentaries normally present their subject
matter in a subjective way
• Their purpose is to inform
• Olympia from last week is an example of categorical form as it
presents its information in a relatively straightforward way
• Rhetorical documentaries like The Thin Blue Line & The Fog of
War, attempt to convey an idea and persuade the viewer to
think a certain way.
• The Fog of War presents the viewpoint/opinions of Robert
Common aspects of categorical form:
• Begins by identifying it’s subject.
• Simplistic patterns of development
(small > large, local > national).
• Overall thematic goal.
Mixing the Form
• Many documentaries are a
mix of categorical and
rhetorical form, providing a
wealth of information and
than making an ideological
point about it.
o Watch the clip from The Celluloid Closet
• Capturing the Friedmans is
another example of
• With rhetorical form, the
filmmaker presents a
persuasive argument. The
goal in such a film is to
persuade the audience to
adopt an opinion about the
subject matter and perhaps
to act on that opinion.
• Errol Morris’ documentaries also contain examples of expository
technique – He has an investigative approach to telling his stories
like a detective so that the audience follows along with the
filmmaker discovering information
• Standard Operating Procedure (2008)
• Documented abuse and torture of suspected terrorists by US army
at Abu Ghraib prison
• This Directorial style is known as expository
• Often use a narrator as an authoritative voice
• He withholds information to build suspense and drama
Link to full film
• Morris uses a particular technique to film the interviews.
The Interrotron device allowed the interviewees to look
directly into the camera
Blurring Fact and Fiction
• As you might expect, filmmakers have sometimes sought
to blur the lines separating documentary and fiction.
Mitchell Block’s No Lies is an example.
• Mockumentaries such as This is Spinal Tap, are another
blurred form. They imitate the conventions of
documentaries but do not try to fool people into thinking
they portray actuality.
• JFK and Forrest Gump are other examples.
Define the following;
• An example of Cinema Verite/Direct cinema documentary
• Categorical form in Documentary
• Rhetorical form in Documentary
• Mixed form in documentary
Add a short paragraph to your blog with an example from a relevant film
Hand out date: 16/10/17
1000 word illustrated essay (learning outcome 1)
‘Describe the development of the Moving Image Documentary format with
reference to key films and filmmakers’
Hand in date: 03/11/17
Books to reference
Film Courage. (2014). Documentary Interview Techniques by Kevin Knoblock.
Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yp3RaJ0AOOc
Pavlus, J. (2016). Errol Morris’s Secret Weapon for Unsettling Interviews: The
Interrotron. Co.Design. Retrieved 3 July 2017, from
Resha, D. (2015). The cinema of Errol Morris. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan
D. Bordwell & K. Thompson., (1993). Film
Art: An Introduction. 4th ed. New York: