Documentary film was the beginning of a new type of experimental cinema such as cinéma vérité. Unlike a documentary shooting, cinéma vérité experiments with the traditional approaches to the presentation of the material and is less informative. Documentary film has set itself the task of creativity in the description of reality based on historical facts, which may sometimes be only a hypothesis. This paper aims at touching upon a subject of creating documentaries in general as well as some of the main approaches and methods of the implementation. Social values as well as technical capabilities have a tendency to change with each generation, which gives this genre a new perspective and means of expression. Consideration of several major theories of documentary shooting helps to identify the main features of the evolution of the genre and find the best and unique way to create a professional documentary film.
NON-FICTION FILM: ITS NOTION AND MAIN FEATURES
Initially, documentary (documentary film) is a kind of cinema that films real people in the real environment of the world with its events and phenomena. According to Bordwell and Carroll, “nonfiction films are subspecies of nonfiction discourse in general – a broad grouping comprising films, essays, biographies, news reports, recounting the day’s events to one’s spouse, and so on” (Carroll, 310). Therefore, documentaries can be of different types: chronicle of an event, film chronicle (shooting that is created not for operational news magazines and history), film fixation for special purposes (scientific surveys, police reports, video surveillance), author journalism, and finally - the art. The last two species in turn are subdivided into many genres: news films, newsreel, research films, social film publicism, cinematic journal, cinematic journey, film-portrait, film-prose, film-drama, melodrama, comedy, cinematic poetry, and tragedy. It is impossible to conclude the whole set of documentary genres: they mutate and change and then there appear new experimental genres - at the crossroads of fiction and non-fiction films and various genres of documentary cinema, or the crossing genres of cinema with literature and music.
Basically, nonfiction film is another name for this kind of film in contrast to the fiction films, i.e. a feature film. However, this title is more accurate because obviously "documentary" movie may be artistic, i.e. phenomenon of art and anti-art. However, “this definition does not take into account a number of cases” (Bordwell, Noël, 301). One is often confronted with the fact that "non-fiction" movie includes a game where the author either provokes real heroes on certain human manifestations (joy, anger, baring nature) or makes this game means restore the documented events that took place in past. However, some film critics call into question the term "documentary". The fact is that according to many directors, any person at a camera begins to play to some extent, to perform a role and to behave unnaturally - and a film becomes staged. Therefore, many experts deny the existence of the documentary film considering it a subgenre of feature film. Indeed, these experts believe that documentaries are those films, which are shot with a hidden camera from beginning to end. They call “a true documentary the film shot with a hidden camera” (Butchart, 679). "True documentary" is the vanguard of modern film art that has attracted great interest of moviegoers.
Historical perspective and implication. In essence, exotic ethnography, fires, natural disasters, acts of war, life reigning persons, technical innovations like the Aviator on airplanes and airships, auto racing - anything sensational ("attraction") and everything that can attract the audience in the cinema halls have always attracted filmmakers. Operators traveled around the world looking for enticing stories often putting themselves at grave risk. History has preserved the legend of the cinema operator who turned the handle cameras up until the lion jumped at him and began to rumple him to death. According to Bruzzi, “Every documentary issues a 'truth claim' of a sort, positing a relationship to history which exceeds the analogical status of its fictional counterpart” (Bruzzi, 3). Therefore, main line between a film and a nonfiction or otherwise between fiction and documentary will be realized only much later. At first, neither the creators nor the audience did not think about it. In 1902, one of the pioneers of cinema, Maries-Georges-Jean Méliès staged a ‘false’ version of the pavilion in his studio in Montreux with the actors who wore more or less suitable costumes of extras on the eve of the coronation of King Edward VII at Westminster Abbey. His film had a great success even before the release of a truly newsreel shooting events. The audience watched the story with full confidence that it was true and even the Edward VII recognized himself in Méliès’ opus. It would take time for feature film to develop its own language (the change of plans, size, shot from different angles, with the movement, assembly techniques, principles of lighting, etc.), and “identify itself as an art in order to begin gradually realize its differences, uniqueness and its own inherent place in a number of screen arts” (Bruzzi, 21).
Definitely, a documentarian unlike a master of feature films does not need to invent stories and characters or write dialogue. They do not need actors, make-up and decorations, their material is a life itself (Butchart, 688). And this gives life moments capable of striking, stunning, expressing big ideas and feelings. One just has to wait for this moment to be able to see it and just "grab" camera. However, initially the main advantage of non-fiction cinema lies in the opportunity to show the viewer what they could hardly see.
Flaherty’s methods. For example, Robert J. Flaherty (1884-1951) started out as a mining engineer. In 1910, he explored the Canadian Arctic searching for oil there. He kept a diary and in one of the expeditions took a camera and shot a lot of scenes from the life of the Inuit. Collecting material on the pasteboard, Flaherty, inadvertently, set fire to a cigarette film and destroyed all the negatives. Later, he would call that time a happy finger of Fate. He took the next expedition by camera too but the point of this was quite different: a future shooting of Nanook began the fall of 1919. The main character united all episodes of the film. He was an Eskimo leading a fierce struggle for the life of a hostile nature. The film ‘Nanook of the North’ (1922) had a stunning success with audiences. He hit and captured the audience not just with the exotic North but with its his humanity, a great love for the hero, its philosophy and a cosmic view of the world. But perhaps, the more important thing was something else: the film showed the representatives of small nationalities not as the colonialists would like to see them but the way they saw themselves. As Robert Coles mentioned, “Needless to say, a researcher, even, can move back and forth, draw upon one or another side of these various equations or again, polarities” (Coles, 28). Besides, it was the first experience of documentary filming by means of a long observation.
Therefore, Flaherty kept the theme of "the man in the natural world" a central within all his works. It sounded most powerfully later in another of his masterpieces Man of Aran (1934), the story of the life of the inhabitants of a small island producing food by hunting for sharks. In total, Flaherty did not shoot even a dozen of films. His ‘swan song’ was the story of Louisiana (1948), which he called a "fantasy", and film historians called it a nostalgic elegy “of a virgin nature and its inhabitants over the helpless who were in mortal danger; that is felt between the lines, between the frames, and between the episodes” (Coles, 29). In his documentaries, Flaherty filmed the heroes in ordinary circumstances and they (thanks to their behavior) were completely natural. That was the main principle of work of this great artist. For several decades the genre of documentary progressed quite rapidly acquiring new concepts and methods. With the advent of new formats of video and photography, it has become more portable and, thus, reached wider and important topics.
Reaction and influence upon the society. In the early 1970s, Craig Gilbert made a 12-part film ‘An American family’ (1973). It was the world's first sensational long-term follow experience for the characters. He had been shooting the film for seven months in Santa Barbara where the crew watched the lives of an ordinary Californian family called the Louds, which agreed to act in the film for free. The crew stayed at the neighboring hotel. They had been visiting the Louds for every day at six in the morning. The film crew mounted a camera in their house. In the course of filming, many events took place and much had changed. The life of the family hidden from prying eyes was shot too. The father got a new passion, the son went to New York, where he got mixed up with a homosexual, and so on. If someone (as the described above son of the Louds) moved somewhere far away, the operator was driving behind him. 300 hours of material was captured on film (with a limit of 1:25). Then the director mounted from it those 12 episodes. The series had been shown on television every week within three months. The reaction of the audience was wild and mostly sharply negative. People accused Gilbert that he had slandered the typical American family, “distorting its shape” (Butchart, 681). The Loud recognized that everything in it was true and they really behaved like that. However, when they learned that the company accused the director of libel they wanted to sue him in court for "distortion of appearance."
In 2002, the American documentarian Michael Moore (b. 1954) won an award for best documentary ‘Bowling for Columbine’ at the Cannes Film Festival. The Oscar and many others prizes marked this film shortly too. The film told about the terrible consequences of the free sale of US weapons. Two years later, Moore received "Palme d'Or" for his film "Fahrenheit 9/11" (2004). And it was the first case in the history of the Cannes Film Festival when the documentary won the main prize.
The fact of the main awards at the prestigious festival says that the social significance of documentaries is not a thing of the past years. The second event that confirms this thesis is the murder of the Dutch documentary filmmaker Theo van Gogh in December 2004. Muslim extremists revenged him for his film “Submission” (2004), which doubted the values of Islam. The film was based on the confession of the Muslim women escaped from Somalia telling about a violence against women. It is not difficult to predict that such a brutal reaction could only be on the movie that had really excited the society.
Evolution of trends and techniques. In the course of its development, documentary took a number of steps that changed understanding of the nature and objectives of the variety of cinema that combined the feature films and journalism. The trends that prevail in the film at every stage do not always coincide with the main creative achievements of this period but reflect a particular political system, level of censorship, the viewer's perception of culture, technical development, film production and film distribution. Thus, films and directions related more to cinema than to journalism and propaganda “often outside of the conditions for distribution and further development” (Plantinga, 319).
It was accepted to talk about the "boom" of documentary film that took place around the world since the mid-90s. Such business publications as "Variety" and "Hollywood Reporter" write about them and create a market of documentary cinema, which opens to broad international cooperation of filmmakers around the world. In the US and Europe, it is a question of the popularity of the investigative journalism that usually makes a row within society, which have moved from the scope of television documentaries into the sphere of the film documentaries. Such films get major film awards and collect millions of dollars at the box office. That means a great interest from both critics and a wide audience. Largely thanks to these pictures, the West formed a functioning infrastructure of production and distribution of documentary films. It includes “film, television, video carriers, and other distribution channels” (Sanders, 533). Documentary films or at least one of its tendencies regain the viewer and become the industry generating a lot of income to its participants after a long existence on the periphery of public life.
The method of direct filming. The method of "direct filming" as it was called in America, “discovered the possibility to create a film-drama of a material life itself” (Plantinga, 310-11). Thus, a film ‘On the Pole’ (1961) by Ricky Leacock became one of its best examples. For two years, the filmmaker (it was the way the documentarists used to call themselves) had been watching a racing driver Eddie Sachs and his preparing for the race. The racer had lost many races coming the second, and the winner took all under the terms of rules. And the second racer had nothing. The viewer recognized from the final credits that the racer had died at the next race, because he had collided with another car ahead.
At the same time the French documentarian Jean Rouch and a philosopher Edgar Morin filmed “Chronicle of a Summer” (1961) stopped passersby at a boulevard asking them "Are you happy?" And the answers, conversations and the most common destinies formed the image of the country during the experienced time. This tape marked the emergence of the "new wave" in documentaries. Rouch called this method a Cinema-trust using the name of issues by Dziga Vertov.
The value of the documentary film has surpassed many expectations. In reality, documentary filming is much older than the fiction filming and is much deeper than feature filming. The genre of documentary film is able to influence public opinion and even control it. With the advent of the Internet and social networks, the impact of documentary films has increased as never before. Today, almost anyone can try themselves in the role of "directors of their life". Moreover, distribution and evaluation of the documentary films are much wider nowadays. The information era is making a documentary film a very powerful weapon in the hands of an artist. Documentary does not bring its creators a great fame or big money. Many of its creators have died in oblivion and poverty. But yet, this kind of movie does not cease to attract that audience who comes to the cinema not just for fun and those artists who see it as a unique means of understanding of the world and self-expression. Documentaries can be very different: propaganda with political engagement, sensational and full of genuine tragedy and comedy, and poetic and philosophical - all sorts of human true feelings. The possibilities are very wide for those who chose it as a profession. The matter lies only in extent of talent and ethical feelings of artists.
Bordwell, David, and Noël Carroll. "Nonfiction Film and Postmodernist Skepticism." Post-theory: Reconstructing Film Studies. Madison: U of Wisconsin, 1996. 283-306. Print.
Bruzzi, Stella. New Documentary. Second Ed. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.
Butchart, Garnet C. "Camera As Sign: On The Ethics Of Unconcealment In Documentary Film And Video." Social Semiotics 23.5 (2013): 675-690.
Coles, Robert. Doing Documentary Work. New York: New York Public Library, 1997. Print.
Plantinga, Carl. "Moving Pictures and the Nonfiction: Two Aproaches." Post-theory: Reconstructing Film Studies. By David Bordwell and Noël Carroll. Madison: U of Wisconsin, 1996. 307-24. Print.
Sanders, Willemien. "Documentary Filmmaking and Ethics: Concepts, Responsibilities, and the Need for Empirical Research." Mass Communication and Society 13.5 (2010): 528-53. Web.