978-1457663543 Chapter 8

Document Type
Homework Help
Book Title
The Film Experience: An Introduction 4th Edition
Authors
Patricia White, Timothy Corrigan
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CHAPTER 8
DOCUMENTARY FILMS: REPRESENTING THE REAL
KEY OBJECTIVES
Recognize that documentary films are best distinguished as cultural practices.
Describe how documentary films employ nonfictional and non-narrative images and forms.
Identify how documentary movies make and draw on specific historical heritages.
Explain the common formal strategies and organizations used in documentary films.
Summarize how documentary films have become associated with cultural values and traditions from which
we develop filmic meaning.
CHAPTER OVERVIEW
Chapter 8 is the second chapter in the section dealing with movie genres and narrative, documentary, and
experimental films. This chapter is devoted to documentary film, a term that was first coined in 1926 to describe the
visual and auditory representation of real events and actual experiences. The chapter begins with a short historical
overview of documentaries, from the traveling exhibitions of the 1890s to the digital documentaries of today. It then
examines the interplay of nonfiction and non-narrative in documentary. Finally, it looks at the organizational
patterns and rhetorical positions employed to convey the social, political, historical, cultural, and educational value
of documentary as a movie form.
In this chapter, students investigate the similarities and differences between narrative and documentary
cinemas. They learn how documentary cinema creates a film experience that expands how we see, listen, and think about
a person, an event, an idea, or the larger world.
TEACHING THE OPENING VIGNETTE
Zero Days offers students an opportunity to consider the ways in which documentary filmmakers have engaged
creatively and imaginatively in their practice. While students may not associate these terms“creative” and
“imaginative”—with documentary films, Gibney’s film demonstrates how vital creativity and imagination are to the
practice of documentary filmmaking. Errol Morris uses dramatic reenactments in provocative and illuminating ways
in his acclaimed documentary The Thin Blue Line (1988); and while computer generated imaging is a late twentieth
and early twenty-first century development, the use of optical effects was an essential component of Dziga Vertov’s
The Man with the Movie Camera (1929). Some traditions in documentary filmmaking stress an objective non-
engagement with events (cinema verité and direct cinema), but it might be instructive to remind students of the
section in Chapter 2 on Soviet Silent Films (pp. 62). While Vertov was committed to non-fiction filmmaking, he
understood that “cinema elicits different ideas and responses according to how images are structured and edited.”
Compare the opening moments from The Man with the Movie Camera with some of the fast-paced montage
sequences of cityscapes in Zero Days. Consider, too, the self-reflexive moments of the latter, particularly Gibney’s
voiceover in which he expresses frustration in his efforts to solicit answers from military personnel.
TEACHING THE CHAPTER
Documentary cinema has generated numerous and complex traditions, from the many types of social
documentaries to the many kinds of ethnographic films. As a form, it sometimes overlaps and exchanges tactics with
narrative cinema, but documentary films emphasize the educational pleasure of obtaining new information or insight
about events, people, and even ideas. The strategies and formal features that these films use include expositional
organizations that contrast, accumulate, or develop facts and figures. In addition, documentaries can occu py any
number of rhetorical positions to explore, analyze, persuade, or even “perform” the world. Documentaries provoke
us to see the world with fresh eyes.
To teach this chapter, draw parallels between documentary’s educational and intellectual objectives with the
way in which this course also aims to lead students’ intellectual activities down new paths. Members of the class are more
knowledgeable about documentary cinema than they may realize. Emphasize that many of the broadcasts on PBS,
Discovery Channel, and History can be considered documentary movies. With that in mind, ask students to name the
documentaries they have seen, and refer back to specific titles on that list where appropriate as you work through the
contents of this chapter. Instructors new to teaching documentary are encouraged to consult Patricia Aufderheide’s
Documentary Film: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2007) to familiarize
themselves with the central issues of documentary filmmaking.
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From a Historical Perspective
1930-1945: The Politics and Propaganda of Documentary:
Consider comparing Triumph of the Will with U.S.
propaganda films like the Why We Fight series (1943-1945) or even certain racist and nationalistic Warner Bros.
cartoons, such as Herr Meets Hare (1945).
From a Formal Perspective
A fun way to explain exposition to students is to look at the character Basil Exposition from Austin Powers:
International Man of Mystery (1997) and discuss his role in providing the movie’s backstory.
Teaching Technical Vocabulary and Key Concepts
One way to evaluate students’ comprehension would be to administer short quizzes after screenings. Ask
students to name the major and minor characters in the film, describe the organizational patterns, list the narrative
time and locations, and identify the kind of narration or rhetorical position used. Ask students to use as much
technical vocabulary as possible to describe what new or ignored realities the film reveals and what assumptions and
opinions it confronts.
TEACHING THE VIEWING CUES
Nonfiction and Non-Narrative, p. 292
Is the film you have just seen in class best described as nonfiction or non-narrative? What elements helped you
decide which categorization was more appropriate?
Assign this Viewing Cue to students to complete after your screening to guide post-film discussion, or use it as an
exam question. Alternatively, consider screening an excerpt from a documentary like Planet Earth (2006), which uses
voiceover narration and music to sculpt narratives around images of nature. Ask students whether a documentary that
contains stories but does not truly tell a story is nonfiction or non-narrative.
Expositions: Organizations That Show or Describe, p. 295
Examine carefully the organization of this clip from The Cove (2009). Does it follow a clear formal strategy?
Explain.
To supplement this Viewing Cue, show the opening minutes of Super Size Me (2004) and Grey Gardens (1975)
during class, and ask students to comment on how each opening scene functions to bring the viewer into the film. Then ask
them to do the same on their own after watching the clip on LaunchPad for The Film Experience.
Persuasive Positions, p. 298
Watch this clip from He Named Me Malala (2015). Describe the presiding voice or attitude with as much detail as
possible. How does the dominant rhetorical argument position the subject it addresses? Can you imagine another way of
filming this subject? Explain.
This Viewing Cue is a good candidate for prompting discussion of the Film in Focus movie Man of Aran
(1982). Ask students what the film would be like without its “voice-of-God” narrator or a different score, or even a more
straightforward ethnographic approach.
Making Sense of Documentary Films, p. 300
What makes a documentary film you have recently seen meaningful? How does it achieve its aims and make its values
apparent?
This Viewing Cue would make an excellent essay question on an in-class or take-home exam, allowing the
students to demonstrate their mastery of the vocabulary and the concepts covered in this chapter.
TEACHING HISTORY CLOSE UP, p. 304
As scholar Michael Robert Evans has noted, Inuit art is among the fastest growing forms in terms of global
recognition and popularity. Consider his recent book Isuma: Inuit Video Art (Montreal: McGill - Queen’s
University Press, 2008) a useful resource. A particularly strong feature of Inuit culture is video art, and it competes
favorably with other indigenous media at numerous film festivals, such as the imagineNATIVE film festival, the
largest of its kind. In 2016, Alethea Arnaquq-Baril’s Angry Inuk won the imagineNATIVE award for Best
Docuemtary. Zacharias Kanuk’s Atanarjuat: Fast Runner, too, was celebrated at festivals, winning the Camera d’Or
award at Cannes in 2001. Because of the way it is situated in the prior millennia, Kanuk’s film is especially useful in
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thinking about the juxtapositions of old and new, low tech and high tech, pre- and post- industrial, that are central to Inuit
video art and indigenous media in general.
Discussion Question: Is indigenous media a platform, a genre, or a form of cultural activism? Is it all of these?
TEACHING THE FORM IN ACTION
The Contemporary Documentary: What Happened, Miss Simone? (2015), p. 308
In recent years, the music documentary has become one of the most engaging and popular types of
documentaries. One critic has suggested it is one of the fastest-growing genres in recent years (see Simon Reynolds,
“Tombstone Blues: The Music Documentary Boom,Sight & Sound, Vol. 7, no. 5, May 2007). What makes What
Happened, Miss Simone? especially engaging is that its subject, the musician and activist Nina Simone, is an artist
of her turbulent times. In this way, the film is about the complex relationship between music, culture, race, and
politics. While the “Form in Focus” refers to Simone’s performance of “Backlash Blues,” consider screening her
performance of “Mississippi Goddam,” which comes only moments prior. The “Backlash Blues” performance is
intercut with archival footage of police violently attacking black demonstrators, while the “Mississippi Goddam
performance is intercut with footage of an interview with comedian and activist Dick Gregory shot specifically for
the documentary. Ask students to compare the two sequences. Do their formal differences elicit different responses
from the viewer?
TEACHING THE FILMS IN FOCUS
Nonfiction and Non-Narrative in Man of Aran (1934), p. 294
Man of Aran employs a cumulative organizational pattern.
Discussion Question 1:
What are the tasks in which the Aran islanders engage on a daily basis?
Discussion Question 2:
How do human rhythms coordinate and clash with natural rhythms? Replace the film’s
soundtrack with contemporary music to draw out the patterns and repetitions—the Velvet Underground’s Live
MCMXCIII
works surprisingly well.
ADDITIONAL SUGGESTIONS
Alternative Activity
FILMS CITED
American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs (2013)
Apropos of Nice (1930)
Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner) (2001)
Atomic Cafe (1982)
Baseball (1996)
The Battle of Algiers (1966)
Borat (2006)
Born into Brothels (2004)
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)
Chimpanzee (2012)
Chronicle of a Summer (1961)
The Civil War (1990)
The Cove (2009)
Dead Birds (1965)
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Dogtown and Z-Boys (2001)
Don’t Look Back (1967)
Drifters (1929)
The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (1927) F
for Fake (1974)
Fog of War (2003)
56 Up (2012)
Gimme Shelter (1970)
Grey Gardens (1975)
Grizzly Man (2005)
A Healthy Baby Girl (1996)
Hearts and Minds (1974)
Heaven (1987)
The Hour of the Furnaces (1968)
If God Is Willing and da Creek Don’t Rise (2010) An
Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Japanese Relocation (1943)
Jungle Adventures (1921)
The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (2007)
Koyaanisqatsi (1983)
Land Without Bread (1933)
Leaving Jerusalem by Railway (1896)
Listen to Britain (1942)
Lost, Lost, Lost (1976)
The Magicians of Wanzerbe (1949)
Man of Aran (1934)
Manufacturing Dissent: Uncovering Michael Moore (2007)
Man with a Movie Camera (1929)
Moana (1926)
Moi un noir (1958)
The Motion Picture Camera Goes to War (1898) My
Father’s Camera (2001)
Nanook of the North (1922)
Night and Fog (1955)
Night Mail (1936)
Of Great Events and Ordinary People (1979)
Paris Is Burning (1990)
Planet Earth (2006)
President McKinley’s Funeral Cortege at Buffalo, New York (1901)
Primary (1960)
Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer (2013)
The Queen (2006)
Rain (1929)
The River (1937)
Rough Sea at Dover (1896)
Salesman (1968)
Searching for Sugar Man (2012)
7 Up (1963)
Sherman’s March (1986)
Shoah (1985)
Sicko (2007)
Simba (1928)
Song of Ceylon (1934)
A Song of Ceylon (1985)
The Spanish Earth (1937)
Stories We Tell (2012)
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Sunless (1982)
Super Size Me (2004)
Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989)
Tabu: A Story of the South Seas (1931)
Take This Waltz (2011)
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993)
This Is Spinal Tap (1984)
The Times of Harvey Milk (1984)
Titicut Follies (1967)
Triumph of the Will (1935)
The Up series (1964-2012)
The War (2007)
The War Room (1993)
Waste Land (2010)
The Watermelon Woman (1996)
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts (2006)
Who Killed Vincent Chin? (1988)
Why We Fight series (1943-1945)
Wordplay (2006)
Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory (1895)

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