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In this situation, it made it possible for the audience to feel that the individuals were salvageable despite the negative elements of their lives, such as engaging in prostitution or drug abuse. This is much the same as the empathy which may be created in stories where the main characters engage in similar vices, where the author wants the character to be likeable and understandable. In addition to creating a sense of caring what happens to the character, this also facilitates the conveyance of the underlying message. As the audience builds this empathy, it is more likely that they will want to take action based on the information presented to them, and feelings created by the documentary.
It is also possible that certain topics may be broached in a more sensitive manner through use of a pseudo-fictional element. One example of this is in 'Unmade Beds' in which Brenda Monte discusses ethnic and Jewish men in a somewhat derogatory way. As the tone of the entire section is somewhat conversational, it is quite easy to brush past the somewhat discriminatory undertones of the monologue. If a more formal interview style were to be adopted in this film, it is likely that the interviewer may feel uncomfortable and attempt to redirect the conversation, or any derogatory comments may be edited out. In this instance however, they form an integral part of the conversation, and as such provide a deeper understanding of Brenda and her thought processes. There is of course a negative side to this style in that it may make certain sections of the documentary quite uncomfortable for some to watch.
Integrity of the Documentary
The main criticism of introducing pseudo-fictional elements to a documentary may be that it endangers the quality of the content in terms of educational value. It is unlikely however that adding pseudo-fictional elements to a documentary would call into question the integrity of the work. It is well-recognized that any documentary, with or without an incorporated fictional element, may not present an entirely accurate account of an issue. For example, the direction and frame of what is captured on film may greatly affect the image which is seen (Higgins 24), as may editing and production, particularly with recent advances in digital technology. This means that what may appear to be an entirely factual incident captured on film may actually be construed as something entirely different to the real event.
The nature of a pseudo-fictional documentary is likely to actually raise the integrity of some documentaries. The nature of a documentary is such that the information and the scenes which are presented may be taken out of the context of other events and factors integral to the issue (Bruzzi 3). One example of a more formal documentary style in which this happens is 'Hearts and Minds' which caused controversy by the inclusion of some very disturbing scenes. Although these were hard-hitting and may have achieved the desired effect of making the audience take notice, the stark presentation may not have presented a full account of the situation. In contrast to this, in a film such as 'Streetwise' the inclusion of some seemingly inconsequential scenes may in fact increase the overall coverage of the Erin's life, placing other events in context.
The use of a pseudo-fictional style in documentaries allows for a less formal representation of the issue, and may be particularly useful where the director desires the audience to feel empathy. The technique is therefore likely to be particularly effective where the main issues focus on social justice, or where the main aim of the documentary is primarily entertainment. While some may suggest that such a technique may present a somewhat false impression, it may actually add to the integrity of some documentaries by placing the main storyline into context.
Bickford, Donna M. "Using testimonial novels to think about social justice." Education, Citizenship and Social Justice 3.2 (2008): 131-146.
Bruzzi, Stella. New Documentary: A Critical Introduction. London: Routledge, 2000.
Corner, John. "What can we say about 'documentary'." Media, Culture and Society 22.5 (2000): 681-688.
Higgins, Lynne a. "Documentary in an age of terror." South Central Review 22.2 (2005): 20-38.
Onion, Rebecca. "King Corn, a film by Aaron Wolf, Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis, Dir. Aaron Wolff, 2007, ITVS/Mosaic Films, ISBN (DVD): 1-59458-701-9, 88 min. (Distributed by…[continue]
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