Realer Than Reel: Global Directions in Documentary

Article excerpt

Realer Than Reel: Global Directions in Documentary. David Hogarth. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2006.198 pp. $50 hbk. $19.95 pbk.

The documentary form was originally a genre created for film distribution. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, documentaries began to be broadcast on television in Britain and the United States on CBS, NBC, ABC, and the BBC. Today, hundreds of television channels and production houses across the world produce documentaries and circulate them domestically and globally. There is no doubt that the documentary form is now a well-established popular genre. Within this context, the Griersonian idea of the documentary as a tool for public service and social change seems to be losing ground.

David Hogarth's Realer Than Reel addresses this genre's transformation into a televisual commodity for global consumption. Hogarth provides us with an assessment of "documentary as a genre and global television as a medium." This well-written and easy-to-read book focuses on public affairs, nature, and reality shows produced in various countries. The book's major arguments are the following: state-sponsored cultural or social institutions are no longer the exclusive producers of documentaries; documentary is no longer necessarily linked with the notion of public service and education; consequently, documentary's epistemological connection to truth and interpretation of the real world is unstable.

Hogarth examines variations of this genre being developed internationally and focuses on how documentaries produced in a variety of formats-"first person reallife experiences," "docusoaps," and "staged but real"-represent places and public issues. He suggests we not dismiss these new formats as deformations of the documentary but rather that we rethink documentary "as a generic category in a global television age" where factuality may be technically manipulated and authorship and point of view may be shared because of the decentralized production of television series and the franchising of formats.

This book will interest researchers, teachers, and students of documentary, global media, and culture, as well as political economy of media. The book is useful for understanding the economic, political, and cultural forces influencing the transformation of documentary into a variety of docutainment formats that blur factuality with fiction. It analyzes different markets and the production and scheduling of factual programming in local networks. In looking at global corporations that produce internationally and distribute via satellite or terrestrial cable, the book examines how mainstream and independent producers seek co-productions, funding, and distribution. It also considers the role international documentary festivals play in connecting people, promoting the trade of television programs, and securing co-productions regionally and on a global scale. …