Documentary refuses to fit into a particular genre, form, or mode. In this class, we shall encounter documentaries in educational TV, digital stories, docudramas, activist polemics, autobiographies, and ethnographies. While many acknowledge that documentary is not mere actuality or raw footage, there remain perspectives that suggest that documentary offers us access to “the world” while fictional films create “a world.” This perceived grounded-ness of documentary provides it with a particular evidential and affective charge. In this course we will examine contested histories and theories about documentary. How does documentary promote a discourse of sobriety and becomes the medium to express desire and evoke emotions?
In the course, we shall be watching and analyzing a wide range of documentary films with a particular focus on trauma and testimony, reenactment practices, visual anthropology, and ecological documentaries. As historically witnessed, a change in sound recording equipment or the introduction of handheld camera can impact documentary practices and politics, and might reshape relationships between documentarian, filmed subject, and the documentary audience. We shall journey through these transformations beginning with avant-garde experiments and classical documentaries to cinema verite and direct cinema, and then toward contemporary reality TV and digital documentaries. Along the way, there will be many other momentous film-making happenings and writings: political propaganda, feminist themes, Third Cinema, performative gestures, and new ways of collaborating to produce documentary films.