I’m always worried when a reading starts with a question.
Henrik Juel begins his piece, “Defining Documentary Film” with the simple question to his film students; what are documentaries? Juel then goes on to reject his students definition of a “a type of film that is based on the real world and real people, depicting things as they are or telling about historical events in a supposedly truthful or objective manner”, pointing out that by that definition any average CCTV recording would be a documentary.
It was with this that my delve into documentary began. Previously, I had always considered documentary to simply be the portrayal of fact in a film medium; “representation of reality” (Nichols, 1991), albeit presented in an engaging manner, I had assumed that documentary existed solely to inform or persuade. As Juel goes on to explain, it is so much more. Lucky for me, the exact definition is left open, so I don’t have to try and create my own. Documentary can include everything from the bland presentation of reality to twisted art films and propaganda. Unlucky for me something that I had always considered to be a genre of objective productions does not even have an objective definition.
With that, I’m going to move on to Japanese bondage porn. I’m renowned for my smooth segues. The film, Lovely Andrea by Hito Steyerl, is easily classed as a documentary. Even, at times, it appears objective and simple. The more of the film one watches, though, and the closer one looks at it, the less straightforward it becomes. Though I did not exactly enjoy it personally, the film becomes the perfect example of how a documentary becomes art. The relatively straightforward plot, the hunt for relics from the filmmakers brief career in pornography, quickly becomes a metaphorical vessel for an artistic examination of power and power relationships all over the world. Whilst maintaining the depiction of fact and reality, the film inspires its audience to turn the story into a power relationship think piece with the simple question; “What is your film about?”
I believe that we were shown this film in the first week for a number of reasons. Not only was the direct subject matter of the film supposed to challenge us, but the initially simplicity and then surprising complexity of the film is supposed to leave us questioning what can be done when we expand our definition of documentary and begin to see the depiction of reality as another form of artistic expression.
Juel, H 2006, ‘Defining Documentary Film’, P.O.V, no. 22, p. 5.
Nichols, B 1991, Representing reality : issues and concepts in documentary, Bloomington : Indiana University Press, c1991.
I stole the image from the class blog. Sneaky.