What is a Documentary Film? A documentary film is a movie that attempts, in some way, to document reality. Even though the scenes are carefully chosen and arranged, they are not scripted, and the people in a documentary film are not actors. Sometimes, a documentary film may rely on voice-over narration to describe what is happening in the footage; in other films, the footage will speak for itself. Often, a documentary film will include interviews with the people in the film. Three Parts • Visual Track – Primary footage – Archival – Edits • Audio Track – Narration • Text Key Questions • What information is included? – Facts, evidence, and how presented? – Word choice, topics? – Who is interviewed and how? – Backgrounds and affiliations of everyone? • How is information presented – Text & visual tracks • What information is NOT included? – Always ask what am I not seeing, reading, hearing? • What is this film’s perspective, point of view, bias, agenda, argument? • Theme – What is the main idea of the film? Early documentary films The film maker Mustafah Arrafat used the term documentary in 1926 to refer to any nonfiction film medium, including travelogues and instructional films. The earliest "moving pictures" were, by definition, documentaries. Essentially, this makes the Lumiere Brothers first films the first real documentaries that existed. “Travelogue” or “Scenic” films Travelogue films were very popular in the early part of the 20th century. Some were known as "scenics". Scenics were among the most popular sort of films at the time. An important early film to move beyond the concept of the scenic was In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914), which embraced primitivism and exoticism in a staged story presented as truthful re-enactments of the life of Native Americans. Wartime Propaganda films The propagandist tradition consists of films made with the explicit purpose of persuading an audience of a point. One of the most notorious propaganda films is Leni Riefenstahl's film Triumph of the Will. In the USA, Frank Capra's Why We Fight series was a newsreel series in the United States, commissioned by the government to convince the U.S. public that it was time to go to war. Consider the difference between propaganda, truth, commentary, and non-fiction. Cinema verité One type of documentary film that became popular in the 1950s was called cinema verité, which is the literal French translation of "cinema truth." Cinema verité is a type of documentary film that includes no narration; the camera simply follows the subject. One famous example of such a film is Don't Look Back a biographic film about Bob Dylan, covering his tour of the United Kingdom in 1965. The Changing Nature of Documentaries The nature of documentary films has changed in the past 20 years from the cinema verité tradition. Landmark films such as The Thin Blue Line by Errol Morris incorporated stylized re-enactments, and Michael Moore's Roger & Me placed far more interpretive control with the director. Indeed, the commercial success of these documentaries may derive from this narrative shift in the documentary form, leading some critics to question whether such films can truly be called documentaries; critics sometimes refer to these works as "mondo films" or "docu-ganda." Some Types of Documentaries Mockumentary Films Mockumentary is a genre of film and television, or a single work of the genre. Although a mockumentary may be one of the comedy genres, serious mockumentaries also exist. The mockumentary is presented as a documentary recording real life, but is actually fictional. It is a commonly used medium for parody and satire. They are often used to analyze current events and issues by using a fictitious setting around it. Political Documentaries Political Documentaries in the narrow sense of the term is a cinema which portrays current or historical events or social conditions in a partisan way in order to inform or to agitate the spectator. Religious Documentaries Religious Documentaries in the narrow sense of the term is a cinema which portrays religious issues in a partisan way in order to inform or to agitate the spectator. Faux Documentary Films Faux documentary films are fictional films that use the concept of first person point-of-view to create a documentary-like feel for the film. Examples of films like this include Blair Witch Project and Cloverfield. Nature Documentaries A nature documentary is a documentary film about animals, plants, or other non-human living creatures, usually concentrating on film taken in their natural habitat. Such programs are most frequently made for television, particularly for public broadcasting channels, but some are also made for the cinema. Docudramas A docudrama is a dramatization of actual historical events. Docudramas are distinct both from the main line of historical fiction, in which the historical setting is a mere backdrop for a plot that could be set in many periods, and from straight documentary or journalistic writing in its creation of a coherent narrative out of the materials of history. A Few Important Documentary Filmmakers Leni Riefenstahl Helene Bertha Amalie "Leni" Riefenstahl (August 22, 1902 – September 8, 2003) was a German film director, dancer and actress widely noted for her aesthetics and innovations as a filmmaker. Her most famous film was Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will), a propaganda film made at the 1934 Nuremberg congress of the Nazi Party. Riefenstahl's prominence in the Third Reich along with her personal friendships with Adolf Hitler and Joseph Goebbels thwarted her film career following Germany's defeat in World War II, after which she was arrested but never convicted of war crimes. Michael Moore Michael Francis Moore (born April 23, 1954) is an American author and Academy Award-winning director and producer of Fahrenheit 9/11, Sicko, and Bowling for Columbine, three of the top five highest-grossing documentaries of all time. He has also written and starred in the TV shows TV Nation and The Awful Truth, both of which continue his trademark style of presenting serious documentaries in humorous ways. Ken Burns Kenneth Lauren Burns (born July 29, 1953) is an American director and producer of documentary films known for his style of making use of original prints and photographs. Among his most notable productions are The Civil War (1990), Baseball (1994), Jazz (2001) and The War (2007). Burns's documentaries have been nominated for two Academy Awards (Brooklyn Bridge in 1982 and The Statue of Liberty in 1986) and six of his documentaries have been nominated for one or more Emmy Awards. He won three Emmy Awards for The Civil War, for Baseball and for Unforgivable Blackness. The Ken Burns Effect http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWZiS1YsPqs In common with the makers of documentaries on subjects where principally still material is available, Burns often gives life to still photographs by slowly zooming in on subjects of interest and panning from one subject to another, a technique first used in Alistair Cooke's 13 part PBS mini-series "Alistair Cooke's America" in 1973. For example, in a photograph of a baseball team, he might slowly pan across the faces of the players and come to rest on the player the narrator is discussing. A Sampling of Recent Documentary Films Bowling for Columbine (2002) Bowling for Columbine is a 2002 Academy Award-winning American documentary film written, directed, produced by, and starring Michael Moore. It brought Moore international attention as a rising film director and won numerous awards, including the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature, and the César Award for Best Foreign Film. Paper Clips (2004) Paper Clips is a film about middle school students from the small southeastern Tennessee city of Whitwell who created a monument for the Holocaust victims in Nazi Germany. It started in 1998 as a simple 8th-grade project and evolved into a project gaining worldwide attention. At last count, over 30 million paper clips had been received. Paper Clips, an award-winning documentary film about the project, was released in 2004 by Miramax Films. Spellbound (2002) Spellbound is a 2002 documentary that was directed by Jeffrey Blitz. The film follows eight competitors in the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee. The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Documentary Feature; Spellbound won the Emmy for Cultural/Artistic Programming and Jeffrey Blitz was nominated for directing. In 2008, it was voted one of the "Top 5" documentaries of all-time by the members of the International Documentary Association. March of the Penguins (2006) March of the Penguins is a commercially and critically successful French nature documentary film which won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature. It was directed and co-written by Luc Jacquet, and co-produced by Bonne Pioche and the National Geographic Society. The film depicts the yearly journeys of the emperor penguins of Antarctica. Dear Zachary (2008) The film was made by Kurt Kuenne, whose friend, Dr. Andrew Bagby, was murdered in 2001. The murderer, Bagby’s girlfriend Shirley Turner, fled to Canada, where she gave birth to a baby, Zachary, fathered by the man she had killed. Bagby’s parents went to Canada to try to get custody of Zachary, but during during the court battle had to “play nice” with Turner so they could see their grandson. Man on Wire (2008) Man on Wire is a 2008 documentary film directed by James Marsh. The film chronicles Philippe Petit's 1974 high-wire walk between the Twin Towers of New York's World Trade Center and is based on Philippe Petit's book, To Reach the Clouds, which has recently been released in paperback with the new title Man on Wire. In February 2009, the film won the BAFTA for Outstanding British Film, the Independent Spirit Awards and the Academy Award for Best Documentary. Murderball (2005) Murderball is a 2005 documentary film about quadriplegics who play wheelchair rugby. It centers on the rivalry between the U.S. and Canadian teams leading up to the 2004 Paralympic Games. It was directed by Henry Alex Rubin and Dana Adam Shapiro, and produced by Jeffrey Mandel and Shapiro. It was nominated for Best Documentary Feature for the 78th Academy Awards. American Teen (2008) The documentary American Teen is set in Warsaw, Indiana, and focuses on five graduating high school seniors as they struggle through school and life. The five students prominently featured in the film fit typical high school archetypes, such as a popular student, a nerd, a jock, and a loner. When the Levees Broke (2006) When the Levees Broke, directed by Spike Lee, consists largely of news footage and still photos of Katrina and its aftermath interspersed with interviews. Interviewees throughout the film include politicians, journalists, historians, engineers, and many people from various parts of New Orleans and the surrounding areas who give first hand accounts of their experiences with the levee failures and the aftermath. Watch the previews linked on the next slide Then, fill out the survey on Moodle. Thanks. Which of these movies do you want to watch? • Restrepo http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCPnJaxC17o&feature=related&s afety_mode=true&persist_safety_mode=1 • Enron: The Smartest Guys In the Room http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zMakN- EMLg&safety_mode=true&persist_safety_mode=1 • American Teen Trailer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a0E0E55ts- A&safety_mode=true&persist_safety_mode=1 • Thin Blue Line http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dB7OcOKwZ- s&safety_mode=true&persist_safety_mode=1 • Hearts and Minds http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcE6CdR60NY&safety_mode=tr ue&persist_safety_mode=1 If you have more time… • Explore the links for other documentary films that may interest you. • You will get the chance to watch a documentary of your choice & compare it to whatever we watch together in class. Documentary Film Viewing Guide Three Parts • Visual Track – Primary footage – Archival – Edits • Audio Track – Narration – Diegetic, Non-Diegetic • Text Key Questions • What information is included? – Facts, evidence – Word choice, topics – Who is interviewed – Backgrounds and affiliations • How is information presented – Text & visual tracks • What information is NOT included? – Always ask what am I not seeing, reading, hearing? • What can I assume about this film’s perspective or point of view? • Theme – What is the main idea of the film?
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