We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
One of my degrees from college was in TV/Film Production. I never used it, but it was a strong interest of mine when I was younger. I wanted to make documentaries.
Today, the documentary world is full of nonsense. Outside of Ken Burns, whose work usually captures my eyes and ears, there aren't many documentary works which are interesting at all. Most documentaries today seem to be paid for by either corporations or left-wing nutjob organizations. They are more propaganda than documentary.
Which is a shame. The term documentary used to mean something, and not just mean "telling you a story I'm paid to tell you because it's what my paymasters want."
"Nanook of the North" was one of the first documentaries, and this work comprised at least 3 full classes in one semester of documentary study. Even then, much was known about how much Robert Flaherty had scripted, rather than actually documenting 'Nanook's' life. Flaherty defended his position, pointing out the issues a producer has in trying to recreate reality. As a class, we agreed that Flaherty's limitations, based on the bulkiness of his equipment and limited capacity for being in the right place at the right time, gave him some leeway to play somewhat fast and loose with the generally accepted rules of documentary film-making. Even so, his work perpetrated and reinforced some stereotypes, rather than helping to inform people about how accustomed to modern life Eskimos really were.
We followed Flaherty's work with a review of Sergie Eisenstein. Eisenstein was not technically a documentary film-maker, though his first two works, Strike and Battleship Potemkin were quasi-documentary in nature. They sought to tell a story about real events. However, Eisenstein's real gift to documentary was his ability to find new methods of telling a story. He famously buried a camera in the rails, to film the underside of a passing train. His use of montage, cuts to still shots such as the lions in Battleship Potemkin, offered new methods and approaches to making a documentary effective.
The one person about whom we learned the most, however, was John Grierson. Grierson is relatively unknown outside of film or documentary circles. He is considered the father of documentary film-making, and not just because he coined the term in 1926. As the head of the General Post Office Film Unit, Grierson took documentary to a whole new level, and attracted some great talent. He then leveraged that talent in 1937 by opening Film Centre, which became a focal point for the burgeoning documentary movement. Grierson, more than any other single person, is a name which is highly related to the work he did. He is considered the father of both British and Canadian documentary film-making.
It's no surprise that Grierson, since he was closely tied to the government through much of his life, viewed film as a means to right social wrongs, and felt film should be used primarily to instruct and inform. The goal of the documentary, under Grierson, shifted away from just telling a story to making a point as sharply and clearly as possible.
It was Grierson who, while I was a young student, became one of my heroes. While studying abroad, I was lucky to attend a 3 day seminar (free for college students!) at the Canadian Embassy in London on documentary and the impact of John Grierson. Those 3 days were both enjoyable, but in listening to the speakers, most of whom were radical left-wingers seeking to 'change society', I saw my future unraveling.
I hesitate to recommend much in the way of documentary anymore. While making my senior project, I learned the deafness which overcomes the documentary film-maker in the course of their work. I had been preparing a 30 minute piece on a local dump which had been leaching pollutants into the local groundwater with 2 other graduating seniors. I tended to be a bit more sympathetic to the company in question, and felt we should have interviewed them more. Instead, the other two overruled me, seeking to promote only the agenda of 'evil company versus faceless citizenry' in the documentary. As the project continued, my role became less inspired. I eventually closed out my degree with a piece of work which I had little or no say in, and very little agreement with. My cohorts did not do me any favors with the professor, either, and I managed to get the only "D" I ever received. I was on my way out, and a "D" got me my degree, but it was the defining point in my decision to not pursue film-making as an occupation. Thankfully, I had more than one major, and my interests at this point had shifted enough to pursue graduate studies.
Yet I've never stopped loving documentaries and what they have to offer. The problem is being able to sift through the nonsense. Ultimately, a good documentary isn't much different from a good film in general. A story has to be told, and nobody can make a story neutral. The best you can hope to do is present as many sides as you can as fairly as possible.
The word documentary is problematic for me. Everybody thinks they know what they mean by it but I don't. It's a term that masks or clouds the realities of film experience, seeming to deny that fiction can tell useful sober truths and affirming that documentary can do nothing but. When I teach documentary, I use a substitute term, "films of edification," because I think the best way to describe this group of films is by their stance. All non-fiction films claim to edify. (Whether they do or not is another matter.)~Jill Godmilow
yes there is a large bias with Ken Burns, I would liken his work as more fiction then truth. the dates may be correct but the narrative is definitely misrepresented to provide a leftist/progressive slant. Well rewriting history might be the correct term.
His work is very slick but then it should be he has the taxpayers footing his documentaries.