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Movies in the category: Documentary film TV
Origin and features of a documentary filmsBritish director John Grierson is considered to be the author of the concept of a documentary film. In 1926 he used the term documentary to describe the work of Robert Flaherty Moan (1926). In Grierson's view, the documentary film aimed to give a creative shape to reality. Over the years there have been various attempts to explain the concept of a documentary film. Some definitions assumed that recognizing a film as a documentary requires the political commitment of the director. In other shots this was determined by specific workshop features (for example, the director's incomplete control over the filmed reality) or the financing of its production by state institutions.
The degree to which a given film can be considered a documentary depends mainly on the viewer's reception decision and their belief in the truth of the events presented on screen. Although some documentary filmmakers declared objectivity in filming events (for example, the Direct Cinema current), in fact the genre shows subjective features. A documentary always reflects the views of the director or the dominant ideology. It also uses rhetorical tricks, which serve primarily to persuade, not to show the truth. For example, the 1934 gathering of the Nazi party in Nuremberg was prepared especially for Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph of the Will. The German director's film elevated the arranged rally to a historical event.
The manipulation of the audience can also be done through editing, commentary and selection of the film material. The Soviet school of editing is an example of using this type of manipulation in practice. However, conscious manipulation of the film material can also be encountered in contemporary documentaries. For example, in the film Roger and I (1989) Michael Moore changed the order of the presented events, which concerned job cuts at the General Motors factory in Flint. The viewer was suggested that the visit of President Ronald Reagan and the initiation of construction projects in the village were the result of mass redundancies. Meanwhile, these events took place before the layoffs and the director's aim was to present the city authorities in a bad light.
Depending on the purpose of the documentary film, David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson are distinguished by its different genres:
- films compiled, juxtaposing images from archival sources;
- interviews, based on the testimony of people connected with the event;
- direct cinema documents recording events at the time of the event;
- nature films, historical movies museum, space documentaries, biographical / history film, catastrophic documentary movie, wanderlust travel video and others videos: science, sci hub, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, psychological, war, technology;
- portraits, devoted to the life and animals of one person.
Documentary movies - A theoryThe precursor of the documentary theory, which became famous as a pioneer of film thought, was a Polish photographer and filmmaker Bolesław Matuszewski. His two brochures Une nouvelle source de l'histoire (New Source of History) and La photographie animée, ce qu'elle est, ce qu'elle doit etre (Living Photography, What It Is, What It Should Be) from 1898, written in French, contained a postulate to create a cinematographic archive. Moving photography, as Matuszewski called it, has the characteristics of authenticity, accuracy and precision, its only proper, so according to the Polish filmmaker it was a historical document.
Dziga Wiertow, whose cinema-eye theory served propaganda purposes, was also an advocate of documentary film. Wiertow emphasized that a film with a well-thought-out dramatic structure should be based on good material, which is the result of registering everyday life. I force the viewer to see as I show him one thing or another. - After all, he wrote Drill, and one of the means of achieving this goal was to be assembly.
After John Grierson introduced the term documentary film, the issue of film as a document of reality was dealt with by such theoreticians as Erwin Panofsky, Roman Ingarden and György Lukács. Panofsky considered the medium of film as film reality as such, which, however, takes on the character of a work of art: Cinema captures material things and people, not the neutral medium, in compositions which are given style and which can be even fantastic or involuntarily symbolic not so much through interpretation in the artist's mind as through specific power over physical objects and recording equipment. Ingarden proposed the term reportage film for documentaries, applying it to a type of film that shows us certain real events and objects and gives the viewer the illusion of perceiving reality. Lukács claimed, on the other hand, that a film camera or a photographic camera is characterized by impartiality and infallibility in reflecting real objects.
Siegfried Kracauer, considering the film medium to be a derivative of photography, distinguished two cinematographic tendencies: realistic and creative. In his opinion, Georges Méliès was the representative of creation (equivalent to actor's cinema), while the Lumière brothers were the precursor of the documentary. In Kracauer's opinion, the photographs taken by Lumière were impersonal recordings. However, the German film theorist pointed out that real events recreated by staging create a stronger illusion of reality on the screen than the original event captured by the camera. This observation led Kracauer to the notion of a found thread, which defined a plot found in real, material reality. An example given by the theorist was Robert Flaherty's films, which dramatized reality by using plots taken from the lives of primitive peoples.
The 1970s began a period in film theory when the impartiality and objectivity of documentary films was called into question. Film reality, according to Jean-Louis Comolli and Jean Narboni theorists representing ideological criticism, is simply a way to express the dominant ideology. Left-wing critics point out that the documentary film was created by the European middle class to perpetuate the dominance over people deprived of property and privileges and to counteract opposition movements. In the 1980s, Jean Baudrillard's theory of simulacrums came to fruition with the aim of directing attention to the separation of a film performance from the actual reality it represents. Henry Giroux noticed, using the example of Larry Clark's film The Kids (1995), that virtually any film fiction can be directed in such a way as to resemble a documentary.
Documentary film history in the worldThe beginning of a documentary film (1895-1933)
Establishing the beginning of documentary cinema depends on the definition. The first documentaries can be considered experimental image registrations made by Thomas Edison's team. However, more often cited in this context are the programmatic works of the screening of the Lumière brothers' cinematograph of 28 December 1895. They recorded everyday life, providing viewers with information about the world through a new form of media coverage. The Lumière brothers' subsequent documents, including those produced abroad, recorded reality as much as they processed it. Since the beginning of cinematography, a documentary has been susceptible to directorial manipulation. In the filming of James Williamson's Attack on the Chinese Mission (1898), actors and extras were used to depict the real events of the boxers' uprising. The Danish producer Ole Olsen, on the other hand, bought animals at the Copenhagen Zoo for his African Safari films. Starting with the Lumière brothers' show, chronicle screenings have also gained in importance. Through the film, ceremonial events were shown, for example Queen Victoria's funeral (1896). Since 1910, the French company Pathé has been showing the Pathé Journal's weekly newsreel in cinemas with the latest news.
Robert J. Flaherty became a pioneer of the document as a form of ethnographic recording of reality. Nanuk from the North (1922), Moana (1926), Man of Aran (1933) and other films by the American director were based on a reliable observation of the life of communities undertaking a wasteful fight against nature. At the same time, Flaherty's works avoided stereotypes in portraying distant enclaves. He developed a method called salvage ethnography, recreating real customs that no longer applied in practice. For example, in Nanuku, seal hunting is carried out using tools no longer used by Inuits at the time of film production. However, the people who made the heroes of his films were real people. The director interfered with the way they behaved in front of the camera to a minimum extent. Similarly, Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack followed a romantic vision of the conflict between man and nature, making Grass (1925). However, while Flaherty focused on the experiences of individuals, Cooper and Schoedsack presented contemporary Bachtiars as a decoration for the elevated mountain landscapes. In order to elevate the wandering of the people in search of the titular grass, the directors used the cinematography in a far-off set.
Flaherty's saving ethnography was counterpointed by the works of the Soviet editing school. The representatives of the documentary trend understood the editing of photographs from authentic events as a tool for a specific ideological message. The most famous of them, Dziga Wiertow, processed authentic outdoor recordings through formal experiments (time reversal, multiple exposures, specific use of sound). Thanks to them he achieved the desired effect consistent with the interpretation of Marxism-Leninism. Drilling works such as Kino-oko (1924), The Sixth Part of the World (1927), Enthusiasm. The Donbass Symphony (1930), despite its avant-garde style, served educational purposes. Least saturated with ideology, Man with a Camera (1929), made in the convention of an urban symphony, introduced an autothetical theme into the document. The film deals with the process of making a film, editing the collected material and showing it in the cinema. Apart from Wiertów, the documentary filmmakers who distinguished themselves included Esfir Szub, Yakov Blioch and Mikhail Kalatozov. Szub was the author of the first great editing film The Fall of the Romanov Dynasty (1927). Yakov Blioch created Shanghai Documentary (1928), a film devoted to the massacre of Chinese communists by Kuomintang. Mikhail Kalatozov, on the other hand, made the film Salt of Svanetia (1928), which recreated with drastic means of expression the miserable life of the inhabitants of the village of Ushguli in Upper Svanetia in the Caucasus, cut off from the world.
With the film Man with a Drillow camera, he became part of the European avant-garde documentary genre, referred to as an urban symphony. The symphony's creators focused on showing the dynamism of urban life using editing experiments. Berlin, Walter Ruttmann's symphony of the great city (1928), is considered to be the main work of the current; alongside it stands out the Bridge (1928), Rain (1929) and Industrial Symphony (1931) by Joris Ivens, as well as Jean Vigo's A propos Nice (1931). At the same time, the city's symphonies were opposed to films on social issues. In 1932, Ivens made a film about Borinage Misery, devoted to the dramatic situation of workers affected by the great crisis. Luis Buñuel, on the other hand, dedicated the Land of the Hurds (1932) to the extremely backward region of Las Hurdes in the north of Spain, attacking the viewer with drastic images of the suffering of the local population.
Document in the service of propaganda (1933-1945).
After the introduction of the doctrine of socialist realism in the USSR and the simultaneous rise to power in Germany of Adolf Hitler, the document became one of the most desirable tools of totalitarian propaganda. The formal experiments with this film form ended in the USSR, and the main goal of the documentary filmmakers was to directly glorify the state leader Joseph Stalin through film chronicles. For example, Three Songs of Lenin (1934) Wiertowa sanctioned Stalin's role as the heir to the politics conducted by Włodzimierz Lenin. In Nazi Germany, a similar aim was to poverty Hitler's figure, but also to promote the purity of race and to fetishize the romantic ideal of beauty. This is evidenced by two monumental films by Leni Riefenstahl, Triumph of the Will (1934) and the Olympics (1938). Known mainly for their staging momentum, apart from the character of the Führer, they also promoted the cult of a beautiful, muscular Aryan body, according to Susan Sontag taking on the form of a kampu (high variety of kitsch). Nevertheless, the innovative techniques used in the Olympics for the Berlin Olympics (including underwater photography) were later used by the sports broadcasters.
The authors of the more civic, pro-government documents were mainly Americans and the British. The British documentary school, formed as part of the state-owned Empire Marketing Board (1927-1934) and the General Post Office (1934-1939), created documents on social issues under the supervision of producer John Grierson. The subject of observation were fishermen (Herring Catchers, 1929, by Grierson), miners (The Face of Coal, 1935, Alberto Cavalcanti), post office workers (Night Post Office, 1936, Basil Wright and Henry Watt), and slum dwellers (Housing Problems, 1938, Arthur Elton and Edgar Anstey). Although the British school of documentaries elevated the average human work and took up social criticism, its creators were always mindful of compliance with government policy. In the United States, in turn, the activities of the League of Film and Photography became apparent. Its representatives, such as Pare Lorentz, Leo Hurwitz and Paul Strand, were commissioned by the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt to produce ambitious documents encouraging government investments. Examples of the League's work include Plough, which crossed the Great Plains (1936) and Lorentz River (1936), Hurwitz and Strand's Homeland (1942), as well as Flaherty's Current and Land (1940) and Joris Ivens' Land (1942).
During World War II, documentary films played a special role as their creators were harnessed to the process of strengthening the morale of soldiers and civilians during the warfare. The Nazi film chronicle Deutsche Wochenschau (1939-1945), as well as the films Kampania w Polsce (1940) by Fritz Hippler and Chrzestrzestowa ogniowy (1940) by Hans Bertram, were clearly propaganda-like. They served to whitewash the crimes committed by the Germans in the occupied territories and shift the blame on the enemies of the Nazi state. The Eternal Jew (1940) Hippler also called for an additional campaign against European Jews, sanctioning the later genocide of this nation. The Soviet aggression against Poland was similarly justified by Oleksandr Dovzhenko in the liberation of western Ukraine (1940). After the attack of German troops on the USSR, Soviet documentary filmmakers broke through to the consciousness of Western countries thanks to such films as The Smash of German troops near Moscow (1942) by Leonid Warlamov and Ilya Kopalin and The Day of War (1942) by Mikhail Slutsky. Also many works by American directors, such as John Ford's chaotically edited Battle of Midway (1942) and Frank Capra and Anatole Litvak's instructional series Why We Fight (1942-1945), explained the reasons for the United States' involvement in the bloody conflict. In a more subtle, lyrical manner, Humphrey Jennings' strategy of keeping up the spirits among the British people was realized with the films Listen to Britain (1942), Exploded Fires (1943), or the Diary for Timothy (1945), which summarized the achievements of World War II. The English public learned about the context of the outbreak of the war also thanks to Polish documentary filmmakers, including Romuald Gantkowski (My Mother's Country, 1943) and Stefan and Franciszka Themerson (Calling Mr. Smith, 1943) who were active in the United States.
The above mentioned documentary films were dominated by a battleground narrative. Films kept in a more pacifist tone were unconditionally censored or not allowed for distribution. Examples of forbidden works include The Battle of San Pietro (1945) and Let There Be Light (1946) by American filmmaker John Huston. In the first of the films, Huston showed in a defeatist tone the bloody course of American-German military action in Italy. The second one was devoted to former soldiers in a psychiatric hospital due to combat stress.
The post-war years (1945-1960)
After the end of World War II, the documentary was marginalised as a method of film-making, as state institutions of Western countries withdrew from its financing. The tragedy of the war events had an impact on the involvement of some documentary filmmakers, who, on the basis of the collected film materials, presented the enormity of Nazi crimes. The pioneering film in this respect turned out to be a marginalised film about the death camp in the title village, which was marginalized by the western critics of Majdanek - the cemetery of Europe (1944) by Aleksander Ford. A similar criticism of Nazism was taken up by Alain Resnais in the documentary Night and Fog (1955), showing the crimes committed in various concentration camps in Europe. Nazism was also discussed in such works as Roman Carmen's Court of Nations (1948), Paul Rotha's Life of Adolf Hitler (1961) and Mikhail Romm's Ordinary Fascism (1965).
Since the post-war period, the documentary film has been subject to far-reaching commercialization, which was reflected in Flaherty's collaboration with Standard Oil in the production of Stories from Louisiana (1947). There was a development of nature films, with particular emphasis on the works of Swedish filmmaker Arne Sucksdorff and the American Walt Disney label. Ethnographic films, as well as biographies of artists (Van Gogh, 1945, Alaina Resnais) and films devoted to mental illnesses also gained increasing importance.
In the 1950s, the Free Cinema stream gained fame, which opposed the British bourgeoisie presenting the working class in a bad light. The workers, poorly represented in feature films, became the main characters of such filmmakers as Lindsay Anderson (Dreamland, 1953; London Market Halls, 1957), Tony Richardson and Karel Reisz (Mama Doesn't Allow, 1955) and Claude Goretta and Alain Tanner (Entertainment Time, 1957). Free Cinema's films were devoid of the didacticism characteristic of previous documentaries. They were characterized by an anarchic tone and the aesthetic appeal of the film message, manifesting itself mainly in a loose narrative structure. The screenings of films belonging to Free Cinema also featured films from the black series of Polish documentaries, which in a journalistic tone showed the lives of the poorest residents of metropolitan centres. The beginning of the black series is considered to be the film Attention, hooligans! (1955) by Jerzy Hoffman and Edward Skórzewski, although its theses were more clearly heard in Warsaw 1956 (1956) by Jerzy Bossak and Jarosław Brzozowski. The two authors of the black series, Kazimierz Karabasz and Władysław Ślesicki (Where the Devil Says Goodnight, 1956, People from an Empty Space, 1957), will later become co-authors of a new formula for a Polish documentary.
The era of direct cinema (1960-1970)
The turn of the 1950s and 1960s was marked by fundamental changes in film technology. Thanks to improved microphones, portable magnetophones, light 16 mm cameras and an innovative mechanism of synchronization of image and sound, it became possible to record people's behaviour in their natural surroundings. The emergence of these technologies led to the emergence of two phenomena. The first one, known under the French name cinéma-vérité, took the form of recording interviews with the characters of the film or statements directly to the camera. The presence of the camera was open, and sometimes the directors themselves appeared before the camera. Among the most important artists associated with cinéma-vérité there are two names. The first of the current's filmmakers was Jean Rouch, a director of ethnographic films (The Human Pyramid, 1960) and those devoted to the difficult post-war past of the French (Chronicle of One Summer, 1961). The second was Chris Marker, author of Beautiful May (1961), an extremely critical film about the current political situation in France, in which he did not hide his left-wing political views.
The second, much more influential phenomenon was called Direct Cinema. Its representatives strived for the most objective recording of the filmed reality and the least possible interference with it. The precursors of Direct Cinema were Canadian filmmakers from the B National Film Board, an institution founded by John Grierson. Their reportages broadcast in the television series Candid Eye (1958-1959) used full synchronization of image and sound, and their characters were shown in their natural surroundings. However, direct cinema was only popularized by American cinematographers with Robert Drew, Richard Leacock, D.A. Pennebaker and Albert Maysles at the head. Their debut film Primary (1960), made jointly by them, reported on the course of the primary elections of the Democratic Party in Wisconsin, which ended with the victory of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Despite numerous editing errors and problems with image and sound synchronization, it was Primary that gained worldwide fame, which led Drew to establish his own label Drew Associates. In an attempt to maintain their impartiality, the filmmakers addressed the problem of racial discrimination against African-Americans (The Children Were Watching, 1960; The Chair, 1962; Crisis: Behind the Presidential Commitment, 1963), drug addiction and crime (Petey and Johnny, 1960; David, 1961), as well as the career paths of sportsmen and singers (On the Pole, 1960; Susan Starr, 1961).
After 1963, when Drew Associates left some of his associates, direct cinema developed an aesthetically more mature formula. Leacock made portraits of conservative America in A Happy Mother's Day (1965) and Chiefs (1969). Pennebaker, in turn, devoted himself to a specific variety of documentary cinema, called musical documentary. His films analyzed the phenomenon of American protest, making such characters as Bob Dylan (Dont Look Back, 1967) and Timothy Leary (You're Nobody Til Somebody Loves You, 1964-1968). Brothers Albert and David Maysles analyzed the collapse of the mythology of the so-called American Dream (Salesman, 1969) and the contestation. The latter topic was dealt with by Gimme Shelter (1970), who symbolically closed the direct cinema. A significant part of it was devoted to the theme of recording a murder committed on an African-American by members of the Hells Angels gang during concerts on Altamont, which questioned the content of Michael Wadleigh's counterculture-friendly hippie documentary Woodstock (1970). Frederick Wiseman's documentaries were a separate work. In films such as Titicut Follies (1967) and High School (1968), Law and Order (1969) and Hospital (1970), he observed the pathologies prevailing in state institutions (prisons, schools, etc.), while avoiding an unequivocal stand against institutions as a whole.
The methods developed by the cinéma-vérité and direct cinema were imitated in Central and Eastern European countries. In Czechoslovakia they were imitated by Jan Špata (The Greatest Wish, 1963), while in Poland by Marian Marzyński (Return of the Ship, 1963). However, Polish documentary filmmaking was then dominated by a different trend, known as the Karabasz school. Initiated by Kazimierz Karabasz in Musicians (1960), documentary poetics was based on careful observation of people and resignation from authorial commentary. The protagonists of the current were mediocre people, but had a specific goal set for themselves. Apart from Musicians - documentation of rehearsals by an amateur tramway orchestra - Karabasz also produced the Year of Frank W., for example, about a young worker from a volunteer work troop. Among other representatives of the current there were: Władysław Ślesicki, author of the poetic family portrait The Human Family (1966); as well as Krystyna Gryczełowska (Her name is Błażej Rejdak, 1968) and Danuta Halladin (My Street, 1965).
Docudrama vs DocusoapDevelopment of national documents (1970-1990)
Beginning in the 1970s, television became the main medium for displaying documentary films. Chronicles were replaced by reportages, and more intimate journalistic interviews and documentary series devoted to specific topics spread within the television. Among the latter, paradoxical forms of television emerged, in which factual events are staged using professional actors (docudrama), or, on the contrary, stories with a storyline structure are given the appearance of documentaryism thanks to the presence of naturists (docusoap).
In the 1970s, further documentary schools connected with national cinematographs also began to stand out. Some of them, especially in Western Europe, found themselves under the influence of protest movements. They particularly intensified in France, where collectives such as the Dziga Vertov Group sought to deconstruct traditional film productions and proposed counter-cinema. In the next decade two directors became famous: Raymond Depardon, as reticent as Wiseman in criticizing various state institutions (San Clemente, 1982; New York, N.Y., 1986), and the director of the breakthrough film Shoah (1985), Claude Lanzmann, who made a breakthrough for thinking about the extermination of Jews. In Austria, the phenomenon of new documentary cinema was formed around the independent Medienwerkstatt company, which made films about the lower social strata, such as Auf Amol a Streik (1978) by Josek Aichholzer and Ruth Beckermann. Against this background, the work of German director Werner Herzog was separate. In his films such as Fat Morgan (1971), The Land of Silence and Darkness (1971) or the much later Grizzly Man (2005), he emphasized his fascination with nature and at the same time showed his horror at its cruelty. Representatives of Central Europe also have their own achievements, including Marcel Łoziński in Poland (PMicrophone Testing, 1980; Everything Can Happen, 1995) and Helena Třeštíková in the Czech Republic (Marriage Studies, 1980-1987).
British documentary filmmaking of the 1970s was marked by the work of Ken Loach, who together with Jim Allen produced drastic documentaries on the poverty of the working class for British Broadcasting Channel, such as The Big Flame (1969) and the four-part The Days of Hope (1975). In the latter documentary, Loach and Allen followed the fate of the three protagonists while criticizing the then ruling Conservative Party. Another outstanding British director, Nick Broomfield, in works like Who Cares? (1971) and Juvenile Liaison (1976) revealed his presence in front of the camera, giving his film style a performative character. The Canadian documentary has also recorded numerous achievements, especially within the D National Film Board. The group produced, among others, the Oscar-winning: I'll Find a Way (1977) by Beverly Shaffer about a child suffering from spina bifida, the anti-nuclear essay If You Love This Planet (1983) by Terre Nash and the impressionistic Flamenco at 5:15 (1984). In Australia the most important documentary personality has become Tom Zubrycki, whose films such as Waterloo (1981), Kemira: A Diary of a Strike (1984) and Friends and Enemies (1987) were handheld.
The 1980s, the birth of postmodernism, provided an opportunity to question the credibility of a documentary through parody or pastiche (mockumentary). In This is Spinal Tap (1983) by Rob Reiner, the viewer follows the story of a fictional music group and the form of the film is a parody of musical documentaries. The Czech filmmaker Jan Svěrák has been daring to make natural documentaries, showing in The Oilmen (1989) the film crew's efforts to find a valuable species of oil-eating toads. British animator Nick Park gave his work Creature Comforts (1989) a form of an interview in which animals commenting on living conditions in the zoo were given voices by authentic immigrants.
Contemporary documentary films (from 1990)After 1990, television documentaries that use purely fictional elements in their narration began to gain popularity. For example, History Channel productions devoted to events and historical leaders staged events of the era, which act as interlocutors between archival footage and interviews. When Discovery Channel's film Mighty Times: The Children's March (2004) won the Film Academy Award for Best Documentary of the Year, a similar treatment (combining archival footage with acting sequences) aroused controversy, provoking questions about the boundaries between documentation and fiction. The development of information technologies (video, Internet) also caused the splitting of film production. The authors of documentaries can increasingly often be amateurs using digital cameras and other mobile devices. This is evidenced by the collective documentary Dzień z życia (2011), which was edited by the Ridley brothers and Tony Scott from amateur recordings made all over the world in one day. In 2014, Perry Bard edited his own version of Man with Camera from amateur recordings provided by internet users. Editing on found material plays an increasingly important role in both compilations created on YouTube and other video streaming services. A reflection on the use of found footage for artistic purposes can also be found in the works of Péter Forgács (Exodus across the Danube, 2002), for which the output is a private archival footage from several decades ago.
Experiments are still being carried out which redefine the documentary film. Some filmmakers, such as Marcin Koszałka, focus the viewer's attention primarily on their own experiences and relations with their families. Others continue to use documentary cinema for political purposes, such as Michael Moore, author of the Cannes Golden Palm Awarded pamphlet for George W. Bush Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004). Ari Folman's Waltz with Bashir (2008), in turn, creatively combines factual material (interviews) with animation and elements of acting cinema. Others, such as Joshua Oppenheimer (Crime Scene, 2014), are working on a human tragedy, collecting the confessions of witnesses to the events without using archival material. The very status of a document as a pure recording of a fact is constantly being undermined by ideological criticism, especially in the face of increasingly efficient techniques of free editing and post-production of content for propaganda purposes.