Independent Contemporary Documentary Films Journalism Term Paper

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This does not mean that the documentary filmmaker is not taking a perspective; it means that the presentation of a perspective is original within the subject matter. It does not mean that the filmmaker has not sought to understand and to capture that perspective, much the way that Scranton captured the perspective of the soldiers and Longley captured the perspective of the vying groups in Iraq.

Audiences of all stripes do what they will with images, no matter how instrumental their makers. (Rabinowitz 1)." This is the goal of documentary filmmaking. It places the information, the perspective, into the sphere of the viewer, and the viewer is then inclined, or not, to act or to develop his or her own view with the support of the documentary film's information. It does not mean that the viewer is not going to seek to inform his or herself with other sources of information.

The nature of documentary filmmaking requires a subjectivity on the part of the filmmaker. Michael Renov (2004), says:

The documentary film has long been tied up with the question of science. Since the protocinematic experiments in human and animal locomotion by Eadweard Muybridge and others, the cinema has demonstrated a potential for the observation and investigation of people and of social/historical phenomena. In the 19305, noted avant-garde filmmaker Hans Richter described this potential with particular urgency:

Technology, overcoming time and space, has brought all life on earth so close together that the most remote "facts, " as much as those closest to hand, have become significant for each individual's life. Reason has given rise to a secularisation of the divine. Everything that happens on earth has become more interesting and more significant than it ever was before. Our age demands the documented fact.... The modern reproductive technology of the cinematograph was uniquely responsive to the need for factual sustenance.... The camera created a reservoir of human observation in the simplest possible way (Renov 171-172)."

This is perhaps what documentary filmmaking is most about, turning the story over to the camera to capture the images and voices, and to give those images to the viewers. When Renov says, "Our age demands the documented fact (172)," he is saying that the documentary has a place in the public arena because other sources of information are filtered and strained and do not always give the public the story, or stage the story from a perspective of a corporate agenda or political agenda.

The documentary also normally conveys to the viewer that there are many perspectives, and journalism today fails to do that. Journalism today seems more of an effort to persuade the public to adopt the journalists' perspective, and to surrender to the journalist their free thinking, and to allow the journalist to think for them. Documentary film encourages introspection and thought, encourages investigation and, if it is successful, motivates the viewer to look to other sources for more information and new perspectives.

Choosing the subject of a documentary usually means that the filmmaker is assessing the public's interest in a news worthy subject of historical impact or interest. It also means that someone, most notably the filmmaker, understands that perspectives are incomplete without providing the direct perspective from the people who are the story.

Stella Bruzzi (2000) writes that documentary filmmakers are not unaware of their roles as the purveyors of truth and fact, and says that there are, for contemporary documentary filmmakers, rules to guide them. Bruzzi writes:

To initiate an analysis of documentary as a perpetual negotiation between the real event and its representation (that is, to propose that the two remain distinct but interactive) this opening section will juxtapose the notion of film as record with the use of voice-over. This is not an arbitrary selection, but a decision to establish this book's underlying thesis that documentary does not perceive its ultimate aim to be the authentic representation of the real through an examination of (a) the component of documentary that uniquely exemplifies the ideal of a non-fictional image's 'purity' (film as record), and (b) the component that most overtly illustrates the intrusion of bias, subjectivity and conscious structuring of those 'pure' events (narration). In 1971 the German documentary dramatist Peter Weiss offered a definition of documentary theatre that is pertinent to this argument. In 'The Materials and the Models', Weiss argues that, whilst documentary theatre 'refrains from all invention; it takes authentic material and puts it on the stage, unaltered in content, edited in form' (Weiss 1971:41), it also 'presents facts for examination' and 'takes sides' (p. 42). Weiss manifestly does not automatically perceive the imposition of a structure (whether through editing or other means) to mean the loss of objectivity, instead he advocates documentary theatre rooted in dialectical analysis, the principal components of which are the raw material and the theatrical model. His intention in a play such as the Investigation - as he intimates later in 'The Materials and the Models' - is to extract from the material 'universal truths', to supply 'an historical context' and to draw attention to 'other possible consequences' (p. 43) of the events encompassed by the play. The raw material is incapable of drawing out or articulating the truths, motives or underlying causes it both contains and implies, so it falls to the writer to extract this general framework. Weiss's notes towards a definition of documentary theatre suggest that documentary is born of a negotiation between two potentially conflicting factors: the real and its representation; but rather than perceive this to be a problem that must be surmounted - as is perceived in much documentary film theory - Weiss accepts this propensity towards a dialectical understanding of the factual world to be an asset and a virtue (9)."

Documentary film has a legacy, Bruzzi says, and just as we see the precursors of contemporary documentary film in the archives and footage of World War I and II, documentary filmmakers are keenly aware of the historical place of their works, and that those works will stand to shed light and perspective on historical events and people to both serve as information to the public and to a future public, but to also serve as an official historical record of those events (2000).

Not since the Vietnam conflict has an event been more hotly debated than the American occupation of Iraq. This makes it very important to document as much of that event as possible, and to capture those images, as well as the voice of the people who are there, in the moment of the events. Documentary, Bruzzi says, has a purpose that is not met by film today (Bruzzi 67).

The observational mode, despite the vigorous arguments mounted against it, remains extremely influential, for it freed both the style and content of documentary. The films of Drew, Leacock, Pennebaker, the Maysles brothers and Wiseman focused on the individual, the everyday, the contemporary; they attempted to keep authorial intervention to a minimum by adopting a more casual, observational style that had as its premise the desire to follow action rather than dictate it, to see and record what happened to evolve in front of the cameras. Of course, these aims, as Morris and de Antonio point out, were unrealistic, but nevertheless, an understanding of direct cinema is seminal to any study of documentary. Although this section of the book will not rehash the same old discussions of the 1960s pioneers, but will instead look at the important influence that American observational documentary has had on more modern work, this Introduction will tackle the issue of why direct cinema's legacy has proved so problematic to the evolution of documentary practice and theory alike. Most practitioners recognize, by now, that documentary film can never offer a representation of real events indistinguishable from the events themselves, although theory has not yet come to terms with the value of such a realization (Bruzzi 67-68). "

In Voices of Iraq (2004), Martin Krunef is the "uncredited" director of the film, and the "credited" directors of the film are listed as the "People of Iraq (IMDB, online at ( conveys the essence of documentary filmmaking, that the storytellers are the story, the subject, the event, in its more pure and visually impacting way.

Today, given the environment of politics and corporate ratings and individual ambitions, documentary film may be the most pure form of unedited and unbiased information available to the public.

Works Cited

Bruzzi, Stella. New Documentary: A Critical Introduction. London: Routledge, 2000. Questia. 14 Dec. 2007

Kunert, Martin. Voices of Iraq, Documentary Film, Booya Studios, Iraq, 2004.

Longley, Jams. Iraq in Fragments, Documentary Film, Daylight Factory, 2006.

Rabinowitz, Paula. They Must Be Represented: The Politics of Documentary. London: Verso, 1994. Questia. 14 Dec. 2007


Renov, Michael. The Subject of Documentary. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004. Questia. 14 Dec. 2007

Scranton, Deborah. The War…[continue]

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