What Is Non-Fiction Cinema? On the Very Idea of Motion Picture Communication

By Trevor Ponech | Go to book overview
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Introduction

Why do some motion pictures count as non-fictions? A few moments' reflection will, I think, lead most of us to realize that we are often ready, willing, and able to say that this or that film, television program, cinematic artwork, and so on isn't fiction, or is a documentary. 1 Audiences, as well as filmmakers and the people who fund, market, and exhibit movies, do not sound to one another as if they are talking gibberish when they assert that a given work is different from others because it is non-fictional. Granted, for what now seems like a long time, it has been fashionable to demur at the suggestion that the line between fiction and nonfiction can ultimately be anything but blurry. Indeed, the term "non-fiction" seems to whisper that representation is pre-eminently fictional -- that fiction is always already there and must with effort be negated. Many scholars and cineastes think that the pull of fantasy and illusion on the cinema is too strong for any of its genres to exist beyond fiction's rings. Hence there are those who doubt that an exact fiction/non-fiction distinction, if any at all, can be traced. Such people undertake exercises in filmmaking, interpretation, and critique geared toward revealing, or instating, the two modes' fusion. Academic cinema scholars, especially, have put a lot of energy into getting us to appreciate how incomplete the split is. Yet those who would collapse a distinction, or set out to show the underlying undifferentiation, must first be able to hold in mind a working concept of that distinction. Before one discounts the existence of something that is uniquely and finally non-fiction, one must think through the distinction in the first place.

The present study is an attempt to define non-fiction's special difference, if only to give other scholars a more substantial, thickly etched boundary to try to erase. To date, there has been a lot of confusion about the terms in which to define non-fiction, which has lead to faulty constructions as well as "deconstructions" of the genre. I hope my own formulation is at once precise and commonsensical. In any case, it is doubly set off from other research into the topic: first, by its argument that authorial intentions and actions fully determine whether a cinematic representation will be a non-fictional work; and second, by its position that the

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