Week 2: Exploration of Documentaries

Apr 08, 2019

This week, I investigated documentaries as a genre. I watched a number of films that each made their mark on society through different techniques.

On Monday, I researched the different styles of documentaries but focused specifically on cinema vérité and direct cinema. Jean Rouch coined the term after filming the infamous French documentary Chronicle of a Summer (1961), which follows real life individuals. They discussed topics on French society and their experiences. However, the film ends with the subjects critiquing how they appeared on film. This is an example of cinema vérité, in which the camera unveils the truth of the subject while freeing them from deception. Direct cinema is similar but focuses on silent observation without interference to reveal reality. I chose to analyze these two techniques in particular after watching An American Family (1973), the first reality television show that followed the Loud family. Creator Craig Gilbert’s objective was to depict the typical nuclear family and become “a fly on the wall.” However, it became clear that many of the family members were influenced by the cameras and changed their behavior according to ratings.

On Tuesday, I watched Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004) and Casting JonBenet (2017). Although they are two very different films that illustrate a narrative in unique ways, their main purpose is to educate the viewer while forcing them to think critically. Fahrenheit 9/11 was directed, written by, and starred Michael Moore. The documentary presents an argument on President George W. Bush and his actions during September 11th and the War on Terror. This shows how powerful film and documentaries in particular can be, when presenting an argument in a certain way to psychologically effect how one thinks or feels on the subject. Casting JonBenet is an experimental documentary in which actors tell the JonBenet murder while relating their own stories to the case. It is very original in its own right, but was greatly impacted by The Thin Blue Line.

On Wednesday, My mentor and I sat down and talked about the different modes of documentary. For example, an observational documentaries tend to observe their subject without interference while a participatory documentary is when the filmmaker purposefully interacts with their subject. I wanted to understand the latter, so I watched Icarus(2017), in which the filmmaker attempts to dose himself with steroids to uncover the truth on the doping system in sports. However, the story transforms after he meets a Russian scientist. This film in particular exemplified how boundless this genre is, and how filmmakers can manipulate any part of the film to tell an honest and riveting story.

I hope to use this research to apply it to The Thin Blue Line and the effect it had on the industry as a whole. This week also improved my knowledge and understanding on documentaries in general that will help me in the weeks to come.


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