What Is Documentary Film

Matthew Foster Intro to Documentary Film Midterm Paper What Is Documentary Film? I once heard a quote from an unknown man who said, “Words are only words until you invest some meaning into them. ” I didn’t fully comprehend what he meant by this statement. Surely every word has its own definition, giving it some type of meaning. So why would they being meaningless without me? Not until I entered this class and focused on documentary film did I re evaluate this statement.
What the man meant was we can all see the same sentence and read it for its literal translation. But when you apply your unique perspective to the words, they take on a greater meaning, resulting in a unique significance and new perspective on the sentence. Thats what I think documentary film is. An unique outlook of a common ground. Documentary film is the creative manipulation of real historical events to present a certain perspective or point of view. It is a representation of our real world through the eyes of a particular person or party.
Many theorists have stated that the true essence of documentary is the actuality, recording life as is with real social actors on real world locations. Actualities, predecessor to documentary, dealt with footage from real events, places, and things without any structure or arrangement into a argument or coherent whole. This gave an stance of objectivity, being free of point of view, relating it more to newspapers in its approach. Without this element of arrangement, recorded content would be just that, a record of historical events.

For if we define documentary as “objective” or as a “record,” we set an unreachable standard for the genre, and limit our understanding of the ways in which actual documentary films function. (Plantinga, 41) Neither a fictional invention nor a factual reproduction, documentary draws on and refers to historical reality while representing it from a distinct perspective. Documentary films speak about actual situations or events and honor known facts; they do not introduce new, unverifiable ones. They speak directly about the historical world rather than allegorically. Nichols, 7) This is where they differ from non fictional cinema. Documentaries represent the real world, the world that it is depicting. The images and people shown in documentaries are that of the same one we share. The fictional narratives of Hollywood create one world to stand for another, generating a second meaning which we use in turn to help understand the real world we live in. This perspective of historical reality is shaped through the documentaries voice. The voice of a documentary is each films specific way of expressing its way of seeing the world (Nichols, 68).
Although history is looked at as being objective, documentaries are not necessarily. While the world being shown in a documentary is shared by the viewer, the voice of the documentary establishes a perspective of a certain individual of the world that we share. Documentaries are not necessarily objective. Neither do they imitate or re-present reality. Documentaries are fundamentally rhetorical, expressive constructs which make assertions and implications about reality through their images and sounds, and which express and consider claims about a subject (Platinga, 47).
Voice is constructed through the creative manipulation of the documentary process. This manipulation of raw footage employs style and conventions to develop a works perspective and produce particular meanings and effects. Documentary manipulation and interpretation of reality is expressed through representational styles and conventions and forms of argument and narrative which together work to produce a realistic and authoritative representation of the socio-historical world. (Beattie, 14)
With the creative manipulation of raw footage, it has been a debate in the cinematic world if the depiction of the socio-historical world is factual and truthful. Documentary can be defined, generally, as a work or text which implicitly claims to truthfully represent the world, whether it is to accurately represent events or issues or to assert that the subject of the work are ‘real people’ (Beattie, 10). This truth claim rest on a contract of trust between filmmaker and viewer.
Producers of these documentary films and filmmakers adhere to a list of mandates handed down by governing authorities and associations, having extensive research guidelines and reporting of of witnesses, as well as its structured conventions to shape the audiences perception and interpretation of what is viewed to be an accurate depiction of the world. In conclusion, documentaries would lack to be documentaries if not for the creative manipulation of its content. Without a voice, a subject, meaning, it would merely be records of what happened, much like the guy from Exit Through the Gift Shop.
We would have boxes and boxes of raw footage, but with no purpose or direction. We still see the common world we share, just from a different perspective. Works Cited Nichols, Bill. “How Can We Define Documentary Film? ” Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 2001. N. pag. Print. Platinga, Carl. “The Mirror Framed: A Case For Expression in Documentary. ” Wide Angle 13 (1991): 41-42. Web. Beattie, Keith. “Believe Me, I’m of the World: Documentary Representation” E. S. Bird Library. Syracuse, NY (2010): 10-14. Web.

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