m 9 The documentary form
DOI link for m 9 The documentary form
m 9 The documentary form book
This chapter offers an overview of one of the most important and enduring forms of cinematic expression – the documentary. The past two decades or so have seen something of a renaissance in terms of documentaries finding an audience in cinemas – big-screen successes such as Hoop Dreams (1994), Touching the Void (2003), Supersize Me (2004), Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), An Inconvenient Truth (2006), Man on Wire (2008) and The Cove (2009) attest to the potential popularity of documentary films. At the same time, investigative journalism such as that seen in John Pilger’s The War You Don’t See (2010) – an indictment of the complicity and ‘embeddedness’ of the mainstream media in the so-called ‘War on Terror’ – demonstrated that there is still a vital role for documentary to play in educating the public and holding the powerful to account. The film was shown on television but also received a limited theatrical release and is also available to view on YouTube (see: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p7wXhN5h_Pg). Indeed, the film’s use of footage from WikiLeaks and other forms of ‘citizen journalism’ show not only how important documentaries can be hewn from such material but also how they can be distributed and exhibited via ‘new media’ outlets. There has also been a major expansion in critical and scholarly attention to the form particularly concerning how documentary addresses its viewers in this new media landscape, how it makes meaning and the relationship it has to fictional filmmaking. I use a more or less chronological framework to outline some of the key moments in documentary’s history and examine the key figures involved. The most important questions addressed are:
m How do we actually recognise and define documentary as a distinct form? m What types of documentary are there, and how do they overlap and interact with
each other? m What relationship does documentary have with fiction, drama and reconstruction? m In what ways does the notion of performance problematise documentary as a form?