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Documentary basics

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  1. 1. Documentaries And Expository Documentaries Understanding what a documentary actually is and what makes a documentary expository
  2. 2. For the next few weeks you will be studying documentary to prepare you for your practical coursework. • Origins and historical development • Different modes (genres) • Different features • Theory and issues with the genre
  3. 3. What is a documentary? Write a definition: A documentary is… Features: A documentary has to/often has… Examples: Some examples of documentaries are:
  4. 4. Documentary • Offer the audience a guarantee of integrity – that we are watching ‘the truth’ • This ‘truth’ can be undefined, have a narrative structure, be misinterpreted, distorted or faked – but we still continue to have faith in it. • This ‘truth’ may be informed by a narrator, musical moods or montage sequences.
  5. 5. Recent Resurgence in popularity of Documentary Films • Fahrenheit 9/11, • Supersize Me, • Touching the Void • ‘Making of…’ documentaries in DVD package.
  6. 6. What is a documentary? Documentaries are so-called because they attempt to ‘document’ some feature of the ‘real’ world. McQueen
  7. 7. What is a documentary? • They can be used to verify, or provide irrefutable ‘proof’, of an event or a point of view – a function that may take precedence in the narrative organisation of material. McQueen
  8. 8. ‘The creative treatment of actuality’ John Grierson 1926
  9. 9. But how much creativity? It is often suggested that the aim of documentary should be to present an impartial narrative with no imaginary elements. McQueen
  10. 10. This is questionable: factual texts are as inevitably structured as their fictional counterparts through selection and omission and the need to present separate details and incidents as a coherent whole or documented argument.
  11. 11. Issue of Authenticity Carlton TV’s The Connection. Large sections proved to be fake and company fined.
  12. 12. But isn’t all film fake? ‘Everyone who makes a film is putting their truth on the screen’. Diane Tammes
  13. 13. Different styles/genres or modes. Thin Blue Line (1988)borrows heavily from film noir to get across exposition/argument of documentary.
  14. 14. Common thread remains: - use of recorded images and sound of actual reality or lived experience.
  15. 15. Facts are used to create a socially critical argument (exposition ) .
  16. 16. Interviews • Used as a contrast with observation scenes • Interviewer seen or unseen • Pictures can be dubbed over interview • Participant witnesses or experts • Question of performing for camera raised
  17. 17. Dramatisation • All use this through observation method – audience eye-witness to dramatic events • Some use dramatisation to portray people they can’t gain access to in real life - ‘based on fact’
  18. 18. Mise en scene • Shots are carefully composed to contain the images the film-maker wants audience to see • This helps advance the argument
  19. 19. Exposition • The line of argument – what the documentary is ‘saying’ • Can be plain and direct • or indirect and hidden – • but always exists.
  20. 20. What are the features of Expository Documentary? • Narrator – ‘voice of God’ – authority – explains what we are looking at… • Script – the exposition/argument – provides a structure, anchors visual material • Reconstructions – re-tells the ‘truth’ • Stereotypes – simplifies issues, shorthand • Interviews – eye-witness/expert.
  21. 21. SET UP BLOG
  22. 22. Discussing Nanook • What makes it an expository documentary? • Can you explain what Flaherty does that is successful? • How can you compare it to any of the documentaries you have seen.
  23. 23. Controversies Flaherty has been criticized for deceptively portraying staged events as reality. [8] "Nanook" was in fact named Allakariallak (pronounced: []), while the "wife" shown in the film was not really his wife.ɢ According to Charles Nayoumealuk, who was interviewed in Nanook Revisited (1988), "the two women in Nanook - Nyla (Alice [?] Nuvalinga) and Cunayou (whose real name we do not know) were not Allakariallak's wives, but were in fact common-law wives of Flaherty."[9] And although Allakariallak normally used a gun when hunting, Flaherty encouraged him to hunt after the fashion of his recent ancestors in order to capture the way the Inuit lived before European influence. On the other hand, while Flaherty made his Inuit actors use spears instead of guns during the walrus and seal hunts, the prey shown in the film were genuine, wild animals. Flaherty also exaggerated the peril to Inuit hunters with his claim, often repeated, that Allakariallak had died of starvation two years after the film was completed, whereas in fact he died at home, likely of tuberculosis.
  24. 24. Visit to the trade post of the white man Another scene that is much discussed is the visit to the "Trade Post of the White Man." In this scene, Nanook and his family arrive in a kayak at the trading post and one family member after another emerge from a small kayak, akin to a clown car at the circus. Going to trade his hunt from the year, including foxes, seals and polar bears, Nanook comes in contact with the white man and there is a funny interaction as the two cultures meet. The trader plays music on a gramophone and tries to explain how a man 'cans' his voice. Bending forward and staring at the machine, Nanook puts his ear closer as the trader cranks the mechanism again. The trader removes the record and hands it to Nanook who at first peers at it and then puts it in his mouth and bites it. The scene is meant to be a comical one as the audience laughs at the naivete of Nanook and people isolated from Western culture. In truth, the scene was entirely scripted and Nanook knew what a gramophone was.
  25. 25. Hunting of the walrus It has been pointed out that in the 1920s when Nanook was filmed, the Inuit had already begun integrating the use of Western clothing and were utilizing rifles to hunt rather than the harpoon;[13] but this does not negate that the Inuit knew how to make traditional clothing from animals found in their environment, and could still fashion traditional weapons; and were perfectly free to utilize them if found to be preferable for a given situation. The film is not technically sophisticated; how could it be, with one camera, no lights, freezing cold, and everyone equally at the mercy of nature? But it has an authenticity that prevails over any complaints that some of the sequences were staged. If you stage a walrus hunt, it still involves hunting a walrus, and the walrus hasn't seen the script. What shines through is the humanity and optimism of the Inuit. —Roger Ebert, Flaherty defended his work by stating that a filmmaker must often distort a thing to catch its true spirit. Later filmmakers have pointed out that the only cameras available to Flaherty at the time were both large and immobile, making it impossible to effectively capture most interior shots or unstructured exterior scenes without significantly modifying the environment and subject action. Building of the igloo The building of the igloo is one of the most celebrated sequences in the film, but interior photography presented a problem. Building an igloo large enough for a camera to enter resulted in the dome collapsing, and when they finally succeeded in making the igloo it was too dark for photography. Instead, the images of the inside of the igloo in the film were actually shot in a special three-walled igloo for Flaherty's bulky camera so that there would be enough light for it to capture interior shots.
  26. 26. At the time, few documentaries had been filmed and there was little precedent to guide Flaherty's work. Since Flaherty's time both staging action and attempting to steer documentary action have come to be considered unethical amongst cinéma vérité purists, because they believe such re-enactments deceive the audience.
  27. 27. Cinéma vérité Cinéma vérité (/ s n mə v r te /; French: [sinema ve ite], truthful cinema) is a term, referring to aˈ ɪ ɨ ɛ ɨˈ ɪ ʁ style of documentary filmmaking, invented by Jean Rouch, inspired by Dziga Vertov's theory about Kino-Pravda and influenced by Robert Flaherty’s films. It combines improvisation with the use of the camera to unveil truth or highlight subjects hidden behind crude reality.[1][2][3][4] It is sometimes called observational cinema,[5][6] if understood as pure direct cinema: mainly without a narrator's voice-over. There are subtle, yet important, differences among terms expressing similar concepts. Direct Cinema is largely concerned with the recording of events in which the subject and audience become unaware of the camera presence: operating within what Bill Nichols,[7] an American historian and theoretician of documentary film, calls the "observational mode", a fly on the wall. Many therefore see a paradox in drawing attention away from the presence of the camera and simultaneously interfering in the reality it registers when attempting to discover a cinematic truth. Cinéma vérité can involve stylized set-ups and the interaction between the filmmaker and the subject, even to the point of provocation. Some argue that the obvious presence of the filmmaker and camera was seen by most cinéma vérité filmmakers as the best way to reveal the truth in cinema.[8][9][10] The camera is always acknowledged, for it performs the raw act of filming real objects, people, and events in a confrontational way. The filmmaker's intention was to represent the truth in what he or she was seeing as objectively as possible, freeing people from any deceptions in how those aspects of life were formerly presented to them. From this perspective, the filmmaker should be the catalyst of a situation. Few agree on the meanings of these terms, even the filmmakers whose films are being described.
  28. 28. “ Early documentary film critic, Grierson's principles of documentary were that cinema's potential for observing life could be exploited in a new art form; that the "original" actor and "original" scene are better guides than their fiction counterparts to interpreting the modern world; and that materials "thus taken from the raw" can be more real than the acted article. Grierson's definition of documentary as "creative treatment of actuality" has gained some acceptance, though it presents philosophical questions about documentaries containing stagings and re-enactments. With Robert J. Flaherty's Nanook of the North in 1922, documentary film embraced the artistic trends of romanticism (emotionalism, celebration of the traditional, human passions and shortcomings, etc.), Flaherty filmed a number of these documentary films during this time period, often showing how his subjects would have lived 100 years earlier and not how they lived right then. For instance, in Nanook of the North Flaherty did not allow his subjects to shoot a walrus with a nearby shotgun, but had them use a harpoon instead. Some of Flaherty's staging, such as building a roofless igloo for interior shots, was done to accommodate the filming technology of the time. ” - John Frazier
  29. 29. Triumph of the Will Leni Riefenstahl