Saturday, May 23, 2009


Role of a Documentary DirectorThe role of a documentary director varies considerably from project to project, and from filmmaker to filmmaker. Great documentaries have had origins in the dark depths of a research centre; others haves been born out of curiosity in street graffiti, and still others are out of decades-old home movie video-diaries. There is very little that is similar in how two directors approach the same topic, or even how they’d define legitimate, film-worthy subject matter.

Despite varied approaches, the relationship a director forms with a film’s subject is critical. As cinema verite director Chris Hegedus describes it -

“I think you can’t help but want to protect your characters in the film, especially in situations where you become friends with them, which we were in There were so many different aspects during the process of making that film were difficult for me as a filmmaker. One was that in filming the dissolving of a relationship I was party to certain information that I felt like I wanted to pass on to the other persons, and tell them. But I couldn’t quite do it, because even as filmmakers we didn’t really know the whole story. So you just have to let what happens. In front of you! And then when you’re editing it, you also want to be protective of them. You don’t want to make somebody seem like they’re jerky, or being villainous, or being a victim, because everybody in their lives is all those things at one point. There’s a time that you’re a victim, there’s a time that you’re a villain. As a filmmaker, its very complicated. The hardest thing is when you show the film to the people in it, and they see themselves”

Director Erol Morris – whose work in many ways stands a critique of cinema verite filmmaking – sees himself as an investigator exploring subjectivity, exploring “how people see the world, their mental landscape, their own private ways of seeing themselves and the world around them” Rather than follow his subjects throughout their days, capturing their mundane activities and waiting for a moment of natural drama, Morris brings his characters into a studio where he controls the scope of the conversation. Peering at them, the director with his image projected in front of them through the Interrotron, a dual TelePrompTer contraption he invented, Morris uses an assertive interview style to encourage his participants to tell their story in what he calls “true first persona” cinema. His stylized editing reveals exceptional aspects of the subject’s story, but his aspects of the subject’s story, his documentaries are heavily directed. Morris's films possess a controlled editorial voice, draped in dramatic musical scores and lavish cinematography. Through fictional re-enactments, moviegoers are given Morris’s interpretation of what the interviewee’s stories might look like.
A note on objectivity
In the first day of film class everybody ought to just completely forget about objectivity. God is objective, and she is not telling us. So each form of film is an attempt to organise the chaos that is life, the universe. I think we come to a kind of shorthand that fiction is narrative and untrue, and that documentaries are true and objective. And that’s not true. We know from literature that some of the greatest truths emerge from fiction, and that it is possible for a fiction film to carry incredible amount of truths.

I work in a medium – documentary – that’s interested in fact-based dramas, fact based narrative, and that’s a huge difference. I think what makes the documentary a kind of lesser animal, in the scale of things, is that for too long it was a didactic, essayistic thing, an expression of someone else’s already-arrived-at ends, and not interested in the narrative.


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