Intro to Film: Documentary

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Intro to Film: Documentary

  1. 1. WEEK 6Non-Fiction Film
  2. 2. Documentary Conventions• What is the last documentary thatyou saw and why did you have towatch it?• What are some of the conventionsthat documentary film frequentlyuses?• Why do you think these conventionsdeveloped?• What is the goal of a documentaryfilm?
  3. 3. What defines a documentary film?• There is a fine line between the realm of documentaryand narrative film, but traditionally we definedocumentaries as:• Existing in the same historical world that we live in• We believe that the events in the film happened within the samehistorical world that we occupy• Not fully re-enacted• There is an especially a blurry line between Biopics (Narrative filmsabout historical figures) and Documentaries• Discussion: What is the last biography film that youwatched? Would you define this as a documentary?• A film like American Splendor straddles this line as it mostly contains re-enacted scenes from the life of Harvey Pekar, however, it includes voiceover narration from Pekar as well as appearances from Pekar alongsidePaul Giametti, the actor who portrays him
  4. 4. What are some common Misconceptionsabout Documentaries?• Documentaries are boring• There is a documentary for any subject ofinterest• The storytelling of a documentary can bemore compelling than a narrative film• Documentaries are or should beobjective• This is a common criticism of filmmakerMichael Moore• In truth, every film is made from aparticular point of view and contains biases• Documentaries are easy/cheap tomake• While documentaries often do not requireas much pre-production and manpower asa fiction film, they can take a while to shootand edit
  5. 5. A little bit of doc history1900 – 1920:Early Muybridge ExperimentsLumiere Brother’s films (travelogues)Expeditions and Adventure – South (1919)1920s – 1940s:Nature films – Nanook of the North (1922)Poetic Reality – Berlin: Symphony of a City, Man with a MovieCameraPropaganda films1950s to 1970s:Cinema VeriteMaysles Brothers: Salesman, Grey GardensPolitical films: Primary, Harlan County, USA
  6. 6. Where are documentaries now?
  7. 7. Objectivity vs. Subjectivity• One of the best ways that we can analyze documentary films is bylooking at the relationship between the filmmaker and the subject.• Typically documentary films are categorized by the measurement of thisrelationshipMore Objective• Less intrusion on the part of thefilmmaker in the filmmakingprocess• Audience is left to make judgmenton the meaning, argument, andcharactersMore Subjectivity• More intrusion on part of the filmmaker,maybe even going as far as creatingeverything themselves• Filmmaker presents a very specificargument, or tries to evoke a specificemotionModes of documentaryfilmmakingPerformativePoeticReflexiveExpositoryObservational Participatory
  8. 8. Global and Cultural Awareness• One of the great uses of documentary filmmaking is that itcan foster awareness of cultures in us as both anaudience and as filmmakers
  9. 9. Modes of documentary films• Because documentaries cover such a wide variety oftopics, it is difficult to develop a classification system forall of them• Nichols (2001) devised modes by which we may organizethe conventions and expectations of documentary films:• Poetic Mode• Expository Mode• Observational Mode• Participatory Mode• Reflexive Mode• Performative Mode• Documentary films can borrow elements from each ofthese modes
  10. 10. Poetic Mode• Films in the poetic mode have a heavy concentrationon the power of the image and editing• There is not an emphasis on the transfer of informationabout the historical world, but rather the filmmakersseek to evoke emotion in the audience in reference to asubject• Often relies Heavily on music to create emotion• We can see influence now in many music videos• Style would be considered more subjective asfilmmaker is manipulating the way that we see thehistorical world in order to present a particular viewpointof it• Cons:• Films are incredibly abstract and audiences may find it difficult towatch as there is no traditional storyline• Examples (Click links to watch)• Berlin: Symphony of a Great City• Koyaanisqatsi : Music by Philip Glass• Baraka• Chemical Brothers: Star Guitar
  11. 11. Expository Mode• Films in the Expository Mode rely on voice-overnarration as the presentational mode• The images serve a supporting role to the narration –Evidentiary Editing• This voice over narration is often referred to asthe Voice-of-God, it is an attempt to beauthoritative and objective on the given subject• A common example of this mode is the HistoryChannel: They make documentaries on subjectsand use a top-down approach to history (i.e.“These were the people that were involved”, “thisis what happened”)• An objective approach to history• Often used for propagandistic purposes; To givethe illusion of authority and truth• Is closer to the objective end of the spectrum, butthis can be manipulated by the filmmaker• Cons: Can be overly didactic, not account for allperspectives on events• Examples:• Why We Fight Series (1944): A series of warpropaganda films made by Frank Capra to support WWII
  12. 12. Observational Mode• The observational mode is defined by thefly on the wall approach to a subject; thefilmmaker’s role is simply to observeactions as they take place• Mode allows audience to makejudgments on the nature of thecharacters as well as overall themes ofthe film• Purely observational films have littlenarration or editing• Cons:• Can be quite boring; no storyline• Lack of history; cannot give historical contextof the events• Examples:• Don’t Look Back: Film following Bob Dylanon Tour of England• Salesman
  13. 13. Participatory Mode• The film relies heavily upon theinteraction between the filmmaker andthe subject• Use of interviews to get a view of historyfrom people who participated in it• Filmmaker often has influence over theoutcome of the story because of theirinteraction with the subject• Cons:• Excessive faith in witnesses• May be seen as too obtrusive on the part ofthe filmmaker• Examples:• Roger and Me• Ross McElwee: Sherman’s March
  14. 14. Reflexive Mode• Questions the very nature of representation in documentaryfilm. Uses multiple methods of representation to draw attentionto the fact that the film itself is a representation.• Often uses actors to represent historical events• The filmmakers use of different techniques of representationmove it away from subjectivity to objectivity.• Cons:• Can be too abstract, may lose sight of the actual issues that need tobe addressed• Examples:• American Splendor: Uses many of these techniques even though itwould be classified as a narrative film• Thin Blue Line: Uses recreations of a crime to show subjectiveviewpoint
  15. 15. Performative Mode• Films in the performative mode areoften auto-biographical, based onthe experiences of the filmmaker.• Films in this mode try to tacklelarger issues through the lens ofthe subjects life• Often bridges on the Poetic orAvant Garde• A more personal approach tosocietal topics/problems• Examples• Tarnation
  16. 16. Assignments for this Week• Final Project Proposal• Screening• Quiz• Blog Post

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