Expert Answer:Wk 7 Direct Cinema, Cinema Verite, Reflexive Docum


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Reading Week 7
What justifies our assumption that a film is a documentary? For one thing, a documentary typically comes
to us identified as such—by its title, publicity, press coverage, word of mouth, and subject matter. This
labeling leads us to expect that the persons, places, and events shown to us exist and that the information
presented about them will be trustworthy. Every documentary claims to present factual information about
the world, but the ways in which this can be done are just as varied as for fiction films. In some cases, the
filmmakers are able to record events as they actually occur. For example, in making Primary, an account
of John Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey campaigning for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination,
the camera operator and sound recordist were able to closely follow the candidates through crowds at
rallies. But a documentary may convey information in other ways as well. The filmmaker might supply
charts, maps, or other visual aids. In addition, the documentary filmmaker may stage certain events for the
camera to record. It’s worth pausing on this last point. Some viewers tend to suspect that a documentary is
unreliable if it manipulates the events that are filmed. It is true that, very often, the documentary
filmmaker records an event without scripting or staging it. For example, in interviewing an eyewitness,
the documentarist typically controls where the camera is placed, what is in focus, and so on; the
filmmaker likewise controls the final editing of the images. But the filmmaker doesn’t tell the witness
what to say or how to act. The filmmaker may also have no choice about setting or lighting. Still, both
viewers and filmmakers regard some staging as legitimate in a documentary if the staging serves the
larger purpose of presenting information. Although the central figure of Man with a Movie Camera is a
real cinematographer, his actions were staged. “There are lots of in-between stages from shooting to
public projection—developing, printing, editing, commentary, sound effects, music. At each stage the
effect of the shot can be changed but the basic content must be in the shot to begin with.” — Joris Ivens,
documentary filmmaker In some cases, staging may intensify the documentary value of the film.
Humphrey Jennings made Fires Were Started during the German bombardment of London in World War
II. Unable to film during the air raids, Jennings found a group of bombed-out buildings and set them afire.
He then filmed the fire patrol battling the blaze. Although the event was staged, the actual firefighters
who took part judged it an authentic depiction of the challenges they faced under real bombing. Similarly,
after Allied troops liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp near the end of World War II, a newsreel
cameraman assembled a group of children and had them roll up their sleeves to display the prisoner
numbers tattooed on their arms. This staging of an action arguably enhanced the film’s reliability.
Regardless of the details of its production, the documentary film asks us to assume that it presents
trustworthy information about its subject. As a type of film, documentaries present themselves as
factually trustworthy. Still, any one documentary may not prove reliable. Throughout film history, many
documentaries have been challenged as inaccurate.. An unreliable documentary is still a documentary.
Just as there are inaccurate and misleading news stories, so there are inaccurate and misleading
documentaries. A documentary may take a stand, state an opinion, or advocate a solution to a problem. As
we’ll see shortly, documentaries often use rhetoric to persuade an audience. But, again, simply taking a
stance does not turn the documentary into fiction. In order to persuade us, the filmmaker marshals
evidence, and this evidence is put forth as being factual and reliable. A documentary may be strongly
partisan, but as a documentary, it nonetheless presents itself as providing trustworthy information about
its subject. Types of Documentary Like fiction films, documentaries fall into genres. One common
documentary genre is the compilation film, produced by assembling images from archival sources. The
interview, or talking-heads, documentary records testimony about events or social movements. The
Reading Week 7
direct-cinema documentary characteristically records an ongoing event as it happens, with minimal
interference by the filmmaker. Direct cinema emerged in the 1950s and 1960s, when portable camera and
sound equipment became available and allowed films such as Primary to follow an event as it unfolds.
For this reason, such documentaries are also known as cinéma-vérité, French for “cinema-truth.” An
example is Hoop Dreams, which traces two aspiring basketball players through high school and into
college. Another common type is the nature documentary, such as Microcosmos, which used magnifying
lenses to explore the world of insects. The Imax format has spawned numerous nature documentaries,
such as Everest and Galapagos. With increasingly unobtrusive, lightweight equipment becoming
available, the portrait documentary has also become prominent in recent years. This type of film centers
on scenes from the life of a compelling person. Terry Zwigoff recorded the eccentricities of underground
cartoonist Robert Crumb and his family in Crumb. A film may mix archival footage, interviews, and
material shot on the fly, as do Fahrenheit 9/11, The Fog of War, and In the Year of the Pig. This synthetic
documentary format is also common in television journalism.
Below is an article about the future of documentary written in the 1940’s
Controversies with Documentary Fundamental to a democratic society is the assumption that the people
shall have the information and the understanding on which to base intelligent decisions. Yet in an age of
mass populations the fulfillment of this assumption becomes increasingly difficult. Impediments to the
free flow of ideas develop on both the dissemination and the reception end. Some of these barriers are
discussed in the following three articles. Mr. Pratzner asks what can be done to get more educational
moving pictures before the public. Dr. Kercher’s analysis reveals a rather limited audience for two
important documentary broadcasts, and leads to questions of how the situation can be improved. Dr.
Hyman and Mr. Sheatsley point out psychological characteristics of human beings which limit their
perception and absorption of certain information
DESPITE Its admitted value and Its Wide war time usefulness, the documentary or educational film has
suffered a comparative eclipse since V-J Day. Its high promises as a training and fact-disseminating
medium are not being widely fulfilled. Its function in promoting understanding and fnendly attitudes
among the nations of the world has been realized scarcely at all. In seeking the causes of the current
situation and suggesting means of overcoming it, the writer does not hesitate to point out the failures and
responsibilities of educators, producers, and the public alike.
THE motion picture has had a two-pronged development: as a medium of entertainment, on one hand; as
an educational tool, on the other. It is with the latter that we are concerned here.
The documentary film has been a boxing ring for the experts in their discussions as to what a
documentary film really is ever since it first attained notice on the educational horizon. Action-minded
Charles Hoban, Jr., declared that the documentary is “produced to dramatize some significant social
situation and to develop an awareness of the condition and a willingness to do something about it.” Paul
Rotha stated more dryly that “documentary films are the recording and interpretation of fact.” But
whatever definition an educational leader may formulate or accept, he is in fundamental agreement with
his colleagues that the documentary film is important. In schoolroom, business office, factory, or
community hall, it quickens perception, shortens learning time, and promotes retention.
The pre-war sponsored film. Just previous to the war, a flood of sponsored films appeared on the market.
The film-hungry educational world booked these pictures without regard to selection or value. It was soon
realized, however, that most of the sponsored product crowned its audience with messages—so that the
Reading Week 7
educational value of the film was lost and it became, in effect, nothing more than a moving picture
Advances during the war. The greatest impetus to the documentary or educational film was given it from
the period of 1940 through 1945. Training divisions of the armed forces were directly responsible for this
He attests to the worthwhile qualities of films, stating that “Motion pictures (a) have helped to standardize
training, (b) have helped to improve instruction, (c) have been useful in the field of attitudes— in bringing
up what we might call the ‘fighting spirit,’ and (d) have lent themselves to a flexible training program.’
The total number of films produced and shown by the United States Army and the Air Forces is not
immediately known, but it would seem safe to assume, based on the Navy program, that at least five to
eight million prints were made.
Robert E. Schreiber, of the University of Chicago, tells in Educational Screen how thoroughly opposed
some educators are to the use of motion pictures. “As education in general viewed the possibilities of the
new medium, some thought they saw a frightful monster leering from behind the projector—a monster of
mechanization bent on welding into one mind their little charges. They envisioned themselves turned out
in the streets—victims of cinematic technology. The witchhunt abated, but some of education’s personnel
had been badly scared. The group formulated for its own protection the philosophy that the motion picture
might remain in the classroom only as instructional raw material—concern itself exclusively with the
delineation of facts without organization.”
Noel Meadow, executive editor of the Writers’ Journal, comments on the situation in a recent issue of The
Screen Writer. “The documentary film, regarded as one of our chief warborn boons, need not be an endof-the war casualty, like female welders. Observers in the fields of both education and the cinema have
expressed concern over the apparent circumstance that the documentary film, which gave such bright
promise of permanence, went into comparative eclipse on V-J Day. Their disappointment is justified, but
need not turn to despair.” “No one,” Mr. Meadow says, “will dispute that there is a genuine social need for
a program of documentary film production, but no one has yet adequately explained the solution. There
must be an incentive. During wartime, the incentive was the indoctrination of military personnel and the
civilian population with our war aims and the methods of their achievement. The need for such
accomplishment was critical and urgent.
From an over-all standpoint we have learned many things during the history of the documentary or
educational film. We know how potent a force it is—for good and for evil. Motion pictures create many
desires in the mind, show us how our neighbors live, how they dress and what they like to do. The
wonderful things films do makes a never-ending list. One couldn’t begin to estimate the real value of
pictures; and with it all, their potentialities have only begun to be explored.

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