Archive for Documentary

Response To ‘Transcendental Realism In Documentary’ By Dr. Erik Knudsen

Posted in University Work (Old) with tags , , on October 27, 2010 by Adam Broome

And please do keep in mind, this is only a response to the first few chapters (which was plenty to allow me to get the idea).

Regarding the mini-interview thing I just did, it seems quite ironic that we have been set the task of reading this piece. It is irony in the way that, although Media Production is in no way and easy course to take on, occasionally we get faced with something like this, which makes everyone groan, and makes people thankful that such academic reading is usually minimal. One of the opening paragraphs states:

“I hope to speak as a filmmaker and not an academic; for the motive is to try and understand how,

in practice, one may evolve the documentary form – indeed, the cinematic form,

generally – in such a way as to deal with experiences not sufficiently touched by the form

as it is currently generally practiced.”

Did you get all that? He hopes to speak as a film maker, and not as an academic. If this writing was anymore academic, Einstein would have a hemorrhage. The bit from ‘indeed’ onwards in that quote basically sets out what the rest of this extract reads like. Sifting through the reams and reams and REAMS and general ‘stuff’ that seems to have no bearing on anything, I do manage to bag the central point of the article:

“If the language of documentary does not evolve and change, there is a real danger

that the form will become a hollow expression, built on clichés and that it will cease to be

an effective tool of understanding and knowledge.”

So, in a nutshell, the style of documentary needs to change the same way that cinema does, otherwise documentaries will be repetitive and boring (nay, they may already have). The purpose of this written piece is to investigate ways in which we can change the way we decide to report on the world around us. I immediately name two big ones – coincidentally mentioned in our documentary module last year – United 93, which was a to-the-minute accurate account of an incident occurring on 9/11, and Man On Wire, which involved standard interviews with cutaways of re-enacted drama mixed with real-life footage and photographs (in similar vein to Touching The Void, which I analyzed last year).

“The problem, and the solution, to the different kind of documentary I am suggesting in

this piece starts with the question of reality and the question of why we are making

documentaries in the first place.”

Thus concludes the prologue. Transcendental Realism is obviously at the heart of this investigation. Our author believes we have preconceived notion of what reality ‘is’, and therefore we should set out to change what realist is, so that we can thus alter the way we report ‘reality’. This is consistently hammered home by the use of case studies of films, and by the science of psychological studies.

“…since the documentary form is steeped in debates and discussions about fact, fiction, proof, imagination and reality, it is important to at least question what we mean by reality.”

The thing that the writer obviously goes up against is the fact of this concept of the misinterpretation of the term ‘real’. In my own mind, I created a fictitious event where a suicide bomber had attacked Luton airport. Now, if that really happened, and one was to make a documentary about it, surrounding the events, and the aftermath involving those affected, would the concept of reality be the first thing you’d think about? Sure, you can re-enact some of the scenes. You should interview the people, because they would have a lot to say, and their words would have meaning. It would be very real.

“If we, as human beings, are made up of mind, body and spirit working seamlessly together with such faculties as logical thinking, imagination, feelings, emotions and a propensity for mystical reflection and superstition, why should all of this, in its totality, not be considered as part of the reality of the real world?”

Around about this point, films start getting referenced. Much to my humour, the films sound really bad. If I recall correctly, some documentary about a load of bread in a supermarket? The camera just sits there staring at the loaf all day, with occasional cutaways of the people in the supermarket. Yeah, it’s different, but perhaps not the most exciting and innovating thing since *ahem* sliced bread. However, right now a film has been released called The Arbor , which innovates the documentary style by using actors to mime over previous recording of interviews that have occurred in the past. Having not seen it, I wont dwell on it, but innovation is indeed occuring, and it sounds a lot more interesting than the ‘bread’ one (especially given that The Arbor is about the woman who wrote ‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too!’ – awesome film!)

“Documentary, on the other hand, has too often been bound by boundaries of fact

and authenticity.”

The author goes on to write that emotion and feeling are two different things – one is internal, one is external etc. He throws in a bit of history, a bit more psychology, and repeats the word ‘paradigm’ to the point that you actually wonders he knows the meaning of the word. He goes off so far from the subject in question that you wonder if you’re reading about documentary at all. But then he brings it back, simply claiming that we can use feeling and emotions to varying effects in documentary. Yes, that is really the conclusion of the first chapter as far as I could read it.

“…there is a strong reality; but it is another side of reality than we are used to seeing. It is more mystical, transcendental, as it fills us with feelings of awe and sorrow.”

Ultimately, I appreciate what the man is trying to say. I agree that documentary is, as with most media, an art form. It is entirely open to interpretation, and it should really change over time to represent our culture at the time the artefact was produced (one of the main purposes of art if you ask me). However, his ideas of changing the style of documentaries largely depends on what the subject is about. My example earlier would not go down well if a surrealist artefact tapping into ‘fight or flight’ responses was made. At the end of the day, documentaries are made to inform people, so they will always need to report something. As this is their primary purpose, this does to a degree limit what you can do, and what rules you can bend or break.

Audience also affects his ideas, and to quite a great degree. Given that ITV just contracted The X Factor for a further three years, it is a sad truth that the majority of the population do perhaps enjoy repetition. They enjoy being comfortable, and knowing where they are with things. Alternative documentaries may not sell, and be solely aimed at the smarter people who have the effort to decrypt the arty meanings behind it. Or perhaps, nobody would want to watch the documentary at all.

Documentaries are an art form, and that point I agree with. But they are an art form that needs to be respected, just like paintings. Everything was hunky dory until photography came along. Photography is another art form entirely. If you keep changing a concept, it will eventually cease to be a documentary and become something else. Documentaries need to tick certain boxes with the mass audiences it’s aimed at (always masses, as they usually have a message or point to get across). Therefore, it is questionable if documentaries need to change. They can change, and they can be done differently, with mixed results. Whether these ploys will be proven successful is something I’m not entirely convinced about. After all, if you change a documentary so much it becomes something else, nobody will watch it, and thus it will defeat the purpose of making the documentary in the first place.


The ‘Demo-Lition’ Protest March Documentary (+260MC Week 2 Questions)

Posted in University Work (Old) with tags , , , on October 24, 2010 by Adam Broome

I have been planning over the last week to produce a media artefact around the student protest march up ahead, taking place on November 10th in London against proposals to lift the cap on tuition fees. The artefact would be a documentary, interviewing students at Coventry University, and possibly some of the lecturers as well, so each side can voice their thoughts.

For 260MC, this week we have also been set a task similar in vein. This week involved us producing a media artefact which involved doing an off-the-wall style interview, and then contemplate creating something that was more personal to us. Now, although politics have never truly been my forte, I do believe that raising tuition fees to £7.5k a year is a bad thing, and that’s why I am doing the documentary, to report, and also to further understand, the incident. I was doing it for portfolio, and also for me own private interest, but since this module seems to be asking for something of the like, I shall use this future project as a basis for this week’s work.

The interview produced earlier in the week was about the misrepresentation of media students. Coincidentally, this is actually a relevant artefact, as the protest march will be directly linked to how students represent themselves as a collective. It is all in future terms – on the day of the march, anything could really happen. Misrepresentation is clearly the word at the heart of the protest – perhaps students are seen as being alcoholics, and young people who use taxpayer’s money to stay out of work for as long as they can. Incidents such as this didn’t help:

Indeed, from my own experience, drinking seems synonymous with student culture nowadays. When at college, I had the naive notion that university could have been boring, surrounded by intelligent people that made me feel like an idiot, and unintentionally made me feel small. This was not the case, which is perhaps a good thing – I am not the brain of Britain, but I like to think that with 300 UCAS points, I earned my right to have a place at university.

This is where I shall insert a side-argument – are the exams getting easier? GCSE and A-Level results continuously get better with each passing year. I remember feeling quite happy when I heard that my year were the most academically successful thus far. But now, such results are almost expected. Was a B, a B and C at A-Level really a true test of my intelligence? Are people who should not be deemed ‘worthy’ of university being let in? Crucially – are these people the students who have the least amount of money?

I was born on what was effectively a council estate. Little by little, me and my mum eventually managed to migrate to a middle-class suburbia around the corner. Through personal reasons, I came to have a little money to my name. Had I not got that money, could I have come to university? The first thing every MP seems to jump to is the Student Loans Company. It is a business so inundated with applicants that it’s system crumbles almost every year under the strain. I am eligible for ‘maximum everything’ because my household income is so low. Yet, even this year, my halls of residence ask for the money up front, otherwise they deny you accommodation. Money to the tune of £1,500, before the loans have even gone through. Then there’s the trips, and social events. If you really want the best out of the university experience, you need to have some money stored somewhere to fall back on when you need it.

So, why raise tuition fees? To stop the poor students getting in – stereotypically the lesser intelligent of the social ladder? Is it to make the cutbacks, which our PM seems to be promoting – stop students using the SLC so the government doesn’t have the lend so much money to so many people. Is it a case of making the education system look more competent? Being able to say that not just anybody can go to university anymore. Restrict it to the privileged. It has taken many years for the education system to get to where it has, and these proposals will be a backward step – but for better, or for worse?

In relation to the questions, the media certainly represents students in a bad light. We are always in the spotlight for drinking, partying, and generally doing anything except studying. Of course, this is not wholly the case – yet I can testify that there are small truths to the stereotypes. Next week there’ll be a ‘Carnage’ night taking place, one such event which the above student was taking part in. It caused a media storm of outrage, and according to my mum, students were never seen in the same way again. In other words, all respect for us was lost from that point onwards.

Lest not we forget people were paid to go to university not so long ago, until we were accused of ‘dossing’ and abusing the system, at which point they implemented the tuition fees once more. Currently at approximately £3,500 a year on loan, the proposals will add another £4,000 to the sum, increasing debt by double, but reducing the number of students by half. On the surface it seems illogical – in terms of money, half the students paying double the money gives no financial gain to a government that claims the education cuts have been purely economical.

These matters are largely seen through the eyes of the government and the public, which appear to be the two main driving factions behind the media of today. I find that since neither are being directly affected, it seems to make much more sense to interview those who are – the students who may pay more, and the lecturers who may benefit.

I am choosing to do a documentary on this, although much as we have been exploring this week, there are a variety of ways I can conduct my report on the event. I will, as always, make it as interesting as possible. I plan to interview students before the events, and then take footage of the march from within the march itself. ‘Vox Pops’ style footage may be taken during the march with fellow campaigners. This documentary will also serve to tell my story of the event, and what the day actually entailed (including the journey there, and the return journey). Interviews with the public may be beneficial, as would footage of any political speeches. Generally, I’ll take footage of as many different things as I can, and mix them the way that looks right in the editing suite.