Documenting facts?

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Lecture notes charting the origins and aims of documentary (mainly UK focus), with emphasis on ideological claims and critique of the various formats Video playlist:

Text of Documenting facts?

  • 1. Documenting Facts? Documentary, truth, hidden agendas

2. Overview Documentary History Formats Critique Ideology Hidden agendas/global media2 3. Documentary3 4. Truth? The power of documentary to reveal a truth grants it special status To document a subject implies keeping a factual record for future reference4 5. John Grierson (1930s-1940s)Education + Propaganda = Social reform?5 6. Expositional documentary See Bill Nichols (1991/2004) Tended to depict institutions, communities and traditions Public mode of address: Highly formal Serious Educational Aimed at informing citizens in a mass democracy.6 7. Observational documentary 1950s onwards cinema vrit (cinema truth or direct cinema) observe and record the reality of everyday life as it happened without the usual organisational planning and structured direction7 8. Fred WisemanHigh School (1968, USA)8 9. Planet Earth (BBC, 2006)9 10. Planet Earth Episode 6 Ice Worlds10 11. Faking it?11 12. real / reality / realism12 13. Genre hybrids fly on the wall Paul Watsons The Family (1974/2008) Roger Graefs Police (1982) Filming events exactly as they happened Agreeing in advance the specific subjects to be filmed Showing the edited version to the participants, but only to ensure any factual errors may be corrected13 14. Critique To be sure, some documentarists claim to be objective a term that seems to renounce an interpretive role. The claim may be strategic, but it is surely meaningless. The documentarists, like any communicator in any medium makes endless choices. He (sic) selects topics, people, vistas, angles, lens, juxtaposition s, sounds, words. Each selection is an expression of his point of view, whether he is aware of it or not, whether he acknowledges it or not. Erik Barnouw (1993: 287) 14 15. Ideological construction15 16. BBC2 (2004), Adam Curtis16 17. Contemporary developments Genre hybridity Deregulation of broadcasting Competition for attention Driving School (BBC, 1997) 11 million viewers17 18. Participatory mode Welcomes direct engagement between filmmaker and subject(s) Filmmaker: becomes part of the events being recorded is acknowledged (even celebrated) for their impact on events Michael Moore Nick Broomfield18 19. Reflexive mode Acknowledges the constructed nature of documentary Artifice is exposed Not truth but a reconstruction of a truth, not the truth Frequently features the film-maker making the documentary De-mystifying its processes19 20. Reflexive mode20 21. Performative mode Emphasizes the subjective nature of the filmmaker Polemical, evocative and aiming for affect Morgan Spurlock Louis Theroux Nick Broomfield Michael Moore21 22. Authored documentaries Fronted by an investigative anchor who is frequently positioned at the centre of an unfolding narrative The process of film-making is selfconsciously foregrounded. Deeply personal22 23. 23 24. Louis and the Nazis (2003) 24 25. Crisis in public communication - influence of state: corrupted by press officers, public relations experts, spin doctors, good day to bury bad news: 9/11 and Labours Jo Moore and Martin Sixsmith 26. Crisis in public communication - impact of market forces: need to be entertaining, need to make complex issues understandable to broad audience, adopt preformed positions26 27. Crisis in public communication - impact of the personal: emotional issues, fear of personal repercussions, paranoia, xenophobia27 28. Crisis in public communication28 29. Global media We live in the global age. We live in a world that has become radically interconnected, interdependent and communicated in the flows of information and culture including, importantly, news journalism. Simon Cottle, 2009: 129 30. Global media we have a consciousness of the world, as a whole. That is a bounded, holistic and finite place. (emphasis added) Cottle, 2009: 130 31. Ideology In exercising their symbolic and communicative power, the media today can variously exert pressure and influence on processes of public understanding and political response or, equally, serve to dissimulate and distance the nature of the threats that confront us and dampen down pressures for change. In such ways, global crises become variously constituted within the news media as much as communicated by them Cottle, 2009: 231 32. Immigration32 33. Unpeople The great moral citadels in London and Washington offer merely silent approval of the violence and tragedy. No appeals are heard in the United Nations from them The distant voices from there should be heard, urgently (Pilger, 2009)33 34. Channel 4 (2011) 34 35. Ideology In recent years a substantial amount of research has been carried out by various organisations in order to discover what the British public thinks about immigration and asylum. Most of this research has discovered that public opinion tends to be significantly hostile towards asylum seekers. For example, a MORI poll conducted in 2001 found that 44% of people agreed that Britain should not take any more asylum seekers. The same poll also estimated that 74% of people believed that refugees came to the country because they thought Britain was a soft touch ( Saeed, 2007: 18235 36. Summary Long history of documentary production origins in educating with the aims being to bring about social change. Special power of documentary to report the truth to expose hidden agendas and ideological malfeasance. However, this attempt to speak to the truth is also ideological the film-maker selects what should be seen, structures it, etc. Various genre transformations to draw attention to the constructed nature of the format36 37. Sources Erik Barnouw (1993), Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film, Oxford University Press Stella Bruzzi (2000), New Documentary: a critical introduction, London: Routledge Simon Cottle (2009) Global Crisis Reporting: Journalism in the Global Age Bill Nichols (2004) Introduction to Documentary - 2nd Edition, Bloomington, Indiana University Press. Amir Saeed (2007) 'Media, Racism and Islamophobia: The Representation of Islam and Muslims in the Media', Sociology Compass (1) (2007) (available at