Wednesday November 14, 2012 – FILM LECTURE
Today’s topic: Documentary
Start thinking about preparing for term test! th
First part of test administered in tutorial during last full week of classes (on Friday 30 of
Second part happens during following Tuesday (during class time)
On blackboard, there is a description of the term test format (found in a word doc)
There is also a study aid on blackboard (list of terms we need to have under our belt for
the term test)
We are finally finished with our first section (cinematic techniques)
So far, we have only dealt with fiction, live-action film
Now we turn our attention to other types of films (documentaries, experimental…)
We still need to be thinking about all the things in chap 2 of the textbook (function of
strategic elements, similarities and repetitions, difference and variance, development,
presence or not of unity/disunity)
Need to think about mise-en-scene, cinematography, editing and sound
We want to continue to use the tools we have learned, but must expand this project.
In the next 3 weeks, we will be engaging in more general questions.
This week, we will look at documentaries.
Documentaries need not be narrative. Having said that, they very often are (like
Forbidden Lies). Narrative documentaries are very commonplace. Even nature
documentaries are narrative. However, they can be organized in accordance with another
principle. Documentaries can be categorical or rhetorical.
They can be constructed to as to inform the audience of certain aspects of the subject ->
They can also be constructed to as to persuade the audience of something -> rhetorical
But what is a documentary? First one was in 1926, John Grierson defined documentary as
the “creative treatment of actuality”. This definition is really helpful -> It acknowledges
that the raw material of documentaries is social reality. It does not involve fictional
characters and events. Definition also posits some agent (the filmmaker) and some means
(process of filmmaking) treat shapes and transform the raw material of actuality
For Bill Nichols, this duality (actuality + creative treatment) is critical in documentaries.
He says: “Documentary re-presents the historical world by making an indexical record of
it; it represents the historical world by shaping this record from a distinct perspective or
point of view. The evidence of the re-presentation supports the argument of the
By virtue of its photographic nature, film can produce a trace of social reality. Social
reality imprints itself onto film. The audiences see a re-presentation of social reality (see
something that has a bond to the real world). The actuality is put in the service of its
creative treatment, of the vision the filmmaker has. But certain action films also represent
a social reality. Documentaries also can be defined by expectations we have of them ->
we expect that the characters seen are real, and that the situations we see are real. Both filmmakers and institutions that support them say they want to represent a slice of social
reality. We therefore expect something truthful from those who define their intentions as
depicting something truthful.
There are certain codes and conventions that tend to convince us that we are seeing
something real, honest and authentic. Some codes and conventions: most documentaries
use real people instead of actors, shoot on location and provide evidence of the
phenomenon they are representing. Also, we associate certain techniques to
documentaries (style contributes to the way we perceive and respond to material).
Documentaries have existed as long as film has existed (early films by Lumieres were
supposed to capture a slice of life). Workers leaving the factory captures workers leaving
the Lumiere factory -> there films are referred to as actualities (show what was
happening at that moment). Later films of Lumiere brothers captured reality in places
other than France of Europe. They brought the representations of other realities to France.
They invented an early genre called the travelogue (ex: Indochina, the village of Namo).
The first film called a documentary or considered a documentary