Crafting Truth: Documentary Form and Meaning

Crafting Truth: Documentary Form and Meaning

Crafting Truth: Documentary Form and Meaning

Crafting Truth: Documentary Form and Meaning

Synopsis

Documentaries such as Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman's Born into Brothels, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, Jeffrey Blitz's Spellbound, along with March of the Penguins and An Inconvenient Truth have achieved critical as well as popular success. Although nonfiction film may have captured imaginations, many viewers enter and leave theaters with a nanve concept of "truth" and "reality"-for them, documentaries are information sources. But is truth or reality readily available, easily acquired, or undisputed? Or do documentaries convey illusions of truth and reality? What aesthetic means are used to build these illusions?

A documentary's sounds and images are always the product of selection and choice, and often underscore points the filmmaker wishes to make. Crafting Truth illuminates the ways these films tell their stories; how they use the camera, editing, sound, and performance; what rhetorical devices they employ; and what the theoretical, practical, and ethical implications of these choices are. Complex documentary concepts are presented through easily accessible language, images, and a discussion of a wide range of films and videos to encourage new ways of thinking about and seeing nonfiction film.

Excerpt

On the fifteenth of November, 1897, at the opening of the Empire Palace Theatre on Dame Street, citizens of Dublin were treated to a program of films that Alexandre Promio, an itinerant cameraman and promoter for the Lumière brothers’ Cinématographe, took and developed just days before. Arriving in Ireland from Liverpool, Promio filmed the Belfast docks, the Belfast Fire Brigade, Castle Place, and Queen’s Bridge. He traveled to Dublin by train and filmed various places, ten scenes in all, along the way. Once in Dublin, as was his habit, he used the device to film ordinary people in the streets, his intended audience, in the morning, inviting them to come and see themselves on screen the next day. In Dublin he shot the Carlisle Bridge, Sackville Street, and a display by the Dublin Fire Brigade in Saint Stephen’s Green with cheering onlookers. Promio and other Lumière operators demonstrated the triple-purpose apparatus (capable of filming, developing, and projecting) in more than thirty present-day countries, taking films of Belfast and Dublin; the new beach in Schwerin, Germany; St. Petersburg and Moscow, including the coronation of Tsar Nikolai II in May 1896; the waterfalls in Avesta, Sweden; a tennis game on the grass courts of Saltsjöbaden, the seaside resort near Stockholm; footage taken from a gondola in Venice; views of Berlin, Amsterdam, Warsaw, New York City, Chicago, Mexico City, Constantinople, Bombay, Sydney, Jerusalem … and exhibiting them throughout the world. By the end of 1897, after two years of promoting the Cinématographe abroad, the Lumière catalogue had swollen to 750 films, the . . .

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