Documentary Paper

Documentary Paper

        One of my favorite documentary filmmakers is Joris Ivens, who was an important Dutch documentary filmmaker in the 20 century. We have watched two of his well-known documentaries, The Rain, and The Spanish Earth, in the class time. It is commonly believed that The Rain was an early representative work, and The Spanish Earth was his masterpiece. Moreover, Ivens takes a number of documentary films in his life, a part of them records in China. For instance, in 1938, he made The 400 Million when he traveled to China. In 1970’s, he created a long-time documentary film about the Cultural Revolution in China, How Yukong Moved the Mountains. So he was a famous documentary filmmaker, especially in some Asian countries, such as China and Indonesia.

        I can get much information about him from both language websites. To list, this is a good platform to search Joris Ivens’ information, photos, and news (; in the IMDB, I can find all his works in the list (; In Oapen Library website, the book, Living Dangerously: A Biography of Joris Ivens is also very helpful ( Furthermore, two pieces of article in our textbook about him as well; I have read them before doing my research. 


22nd Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival

        Last Friday, 18th Oct, Professor Dojs took us to Hot Springs to watch the documentary films in the 22nd annual Hot Springs documentary film festival. This is my first time went to Hot Springs in which is a beautiful city and it also is the hometown of the ex-president Bill Clinton.

       Honestly, I really enjoyed the day because I have much free time to watch the documentary films. During the day, I saw four different types of documentary films, which gave me various feelings, laughing, touching, and profound. In detail, I saw some short documentaries which were selected by Arkansas Educational Television Network’s students. No debate that these filmmakers are the stars of the future of the documentary; however, many of the problems can be found in their documentaries. For example, the theme of the documentary cannot gain my attention; I mean the theme can be more interesting.

        Linsanity was the second documentary. From my point of view, this documentary is the best one in the documentary films which I have seen in the documentary film festival. The documentary follows the growing process of an NBA player, Jeremy Lin, and the duration was chosen since he was a teenage boy until he became a well-known basketball star. A good documentary film usually includes many wonderful elements to gain the audiences’ attention. Linsanity is a great example; the director attempts to display Jeremy Lin in every respect, such as Jeremy’s nice family, his endeavor to win the game, his daily life, and some pieces of the game video. A good movie always makes them quick; ninety minutes pass too fast to feel it. However, documentary films are different with other narrative films, so a good ending becomes very important in the documentary films. Linsanity has not a perfect ending, which seems to finish the film and then continue to roll the film again.

        To be honest, the last two films, Stranglehold: in the shadow of the Boston strangler, and Punk in Africa were not so interesting to me. Some reasons bother me to understand the documentaries. Firstly, both of two documentary films base on the historical background. The event of the Boston Strangler happened in 1970’s, and some African punk bands existed in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Secondly, two documentary films focus on a professional field, criminology and music history. From another aspect, both of two documentary films have an excellent making, a good narrate describing, and the great editing.

        Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival is undoubtedly significant to the documentary filmmakers and the audience. Moreover, this is a good chance to face to face with the directors (filmmakers) to know what he or she thinking when he or she created the documentary. As a digital cinema major student, I feel so glad to attend the film festival, and I obtain much experience which may help me to make a good documentary at next semester. 

The Documentary, Which I would like to make

        Stan Brahkage’s personal documentary films give me a lot of enlightenments. With the development of technology, everyone is able to record a private video by his or her Smartphone. So it is just a matter of time that the personal documentary will become more and more popular. I also want to make my own documentary as well, and I think the themes of the documentary. As a personal documentary, the theme can be simply from our lives.

        I consider the first idea, which started from last semester, to record the process of creating a digital cinema. For the most of audiences, they don’t really know how making a movie; despite they may love the movie. On the other hand, nowadays, a growing number of behind-the scenes look documentaries are issued with the great film works and the Hollywood movies. So I would like to record the process of creating the movie. In detail, the process can include cast the actors, find the fitting scenes, the relationship among the film crews, the discussion between the director and the other crews, the interesting things during the shooting time, and the preparedness of the crews. Finally, the documentary will display the whole process of the movie, and it also is a nice recall for all the crews who work for the movie.

        Another idea came up on my traveling way by air last Christmas vacation. I saw a documentary about the Shanghai travel guide. A host guides the audience to travel around the city, and explores the nice places, tasty foods in the city. The guide video may also make for Magnolia as well. Despite I know Magnolia is not a big city; it just is a quiet town in the south of America. However, the documentary still can display some characteristics of Magnolia. For instance, SAU students are the main population in Magnolia; so there is a big contrast between the studying duration and the vacation duration. Magnolia is a quiet and peach town; I mean the documentary can highlight some special points in Magnolia.

        Both of the ideas are available to record them. Personally, I prefer to make the first idea. Because we had made a fifteen-minute movie — Fade to Black, at last semester. So I feel I am familiar with the process of shooting, and display it in a depth.

The Bleeding Fact

        If the documentary wants to record the exact details and display the real facts in some special fields; the controversial scenes seem to be hardly avoided. In detail, the controversial scenes include the dead bodies, a lot of bleeding scenes, and over the ethics of the human being. Night and Fog is a documentary film, which describes the lives of prisoners in the camps. It was directed by Alain Resnais in 1955. No debate the documentary, Night and Fog, is an historical archive, and it also is a significant way to know the prisoners how to live in the Nazi camps. However, the documentary is too real to watch it. As a controversial issue, it can be discussed from two different sides.

        The scenes of extreme violence and blood exert negative effects on the audiences, especially for youth. In the documentary film, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields describes the conflict in the Sri Lankan Civil War. Actually, the documentary was filmed by civilians and Sri Lankan soldiers. They are not professional filmmakers; they even haven’t good recording machines. However, the documentary is so real; “The documentary showed numerous clips from the conflict zone showing the harrowing ordeal endured by civilians” (Wikipedia, Civilian video). Moreover, a number of fighting scenes display through the documentary. This phenomenon not only exists in the film or the documentary, but also exists in the news. For instance, in the Boston Explosion in 2013, a photograph shows a man lost his leg and seated in a wheelchair. But the audiences only can watch half of the photo, which was cut the bleeding part of the photo, broadcast on the TV News. Of course, over-violent and over-bloody hardly to be accepted to the audiences.

       From another perspective, the bleeding facts have to display in a bleeding way. Maybe the bleeding documentary is able to make most of audiences discomforting, but it also can gain more peoples’ attention. The good example still is Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields, despite the documentary makes the audiences feel sick, it gets a huge influence in the international field, and “elicits reactions from foreign governments, international human rights groups and various public figures”. The human right of Sri Lanka has aroused the international social’s attention. In other words, the bleeding documentary likes an SOS message to spread the emergency information to ask for more concerns.

        The camera can be a weapon in the documentary filmmakers’ hands. To record the fact what the mass never known before; to spread the information what even still is blooding; to express the opinion what the director trusts the truth. However, the filmmakers have to pay more attention to control the content of the documentary. A documentary may include a bleeding fact, but may not have too much bleeding scenes.




Wikipedia, Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields,’s_Killing_Fields

“Making of Callum Macrae, via Tamil Tigers, Adel and ‘Operation Discredit Sri Lanka’.”

“Filmmaker Callum Macrae on Sri Lanka documentary ‘No Fire Zone’,”

Wikipedia, Night and Fog (1955 film),

The Position in the Documentary

      To be honest, in general, most of people hardly have an objective position; even in the documentary. In other words, the documentary filmmakers usually consider and make a documentary from his or her subjective opinion. Joris Ivens, the director of the documentary The Spanish Earth, claimed that “a documentary filmmaker has to have an opinion on such vital issues as fascism or anti-fascism – he has to have feelings about these issues, if his work is to have any dramatic or emotional or art value” (Imagining Reality, p. 138). Maybe some questions will appear in our brains; why a documentary impossible has an objective position? Why the audiences confuse with the documentary and the propaganda film?

        It is undeniable that the documentary plays a significant role in the propaganda field. A directly reason is the tendentious documentaries are made under the control of the government. For example, Triumph of the Will, which a documentary and propaganda film made by Leni Riefenstahl in 1935. Actually, the film was commissioned by Adolf Hitler, so his name appeared in the opening titles. And then Hitler gained a high prestige due to the huge success of the film.

        Moreover, the documentary has a powerful purposiveness, which usually displays the director’s subjective opinion, as well as his or her filmmaking philosophy, approach and style. However, the directors often like to hide his or her subjective opinion as an objective opinion to spread in his or her works. For instance, the filmmaker, Michael Moore, hides the true instead of some untruth facts to prove his opinion in the documentary film, Fahrenheit 9/11. This is not the only example; actually, most of the filmmakers follow their opinions to highlight some points in the documentary, to edit the documentary from their understanding, to allow the shooting source roll in their ways.

        From another perspective, more and more the documentary filmmakers create their projects in order to earn much money. In other words, a documentary is not only to real record an archive, but also create a big benefit for the filmmaker. Shut Up and Sing, which directed by documentary filmmaker, Barbara Kopple. She followed the music band, Dixie Chicks, and recorded their music, and their political stand on the Iraq War. However, the information “might make the film’s message seem a bit less credible”. Likewise, Riefenstahl has a large budget for her Triumph of the Will; furthermore, Hitler made the extensive preparations for the documentary.

        Do I mean all the documentary films are subjectivity? No! From my point of view, many nature documentaries are regarded as objectivity documentaries. For instance, the Discovery channel, and BBC Documentary channel made a lot of series of nature documentary films, such as “Planet Earth”, “The Magical Forest”, and so on.

         A documentary filmmaker makes a documentary at his or her stand; the world under the camera lens only belongs to the filmmaker. So the audiences can understand why most of documentaries are unable to create a real objective. However, how about the audience? Do they have an objectivity position to watch the documentaries? The answer is worth to be discussed.



Wikipedia, Triumph of the Will,

Website Information I,

Website Information II,

Wikipedia, Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing,

Film Archives or Performing Films

        Bolesław Matuszewski, a Polish cameraman in the second half of the nineteenth century, claims that the cinematograph “is unquestionable and of an absolute truth” (Imagining Reality, p. 14). However, known as the “e-Age” today, the development of technology has completely changed our life, even in film. A lot of preforming elements are able to add into the documentary by technological means. So the current documentary is not only like archives to collect the audiovisual materials, but also likes a performing movie to express the ideas of the director.

        In some fields, the documentary still plays the role to record and archive some information, especially in the war and special events. “Apocalypse: The Second World War” (2009), which is a precious World War II documentary film shown in color, is filmed by “war correspondents, soldiers, resistance fighters and private citizens”. No debate that “Apocalypse” is a significant film archive; a lot of historic moments, bloody fights, and truth scenes make up of this documentary to display us a reductive World War II. Moreover, the war documentary is different with other documentaries. Usually, the cameraman works in the war zone also has the responsibility of the director. As we all know, they have one of the most dangerous careers in the world, war correspondent. Tim Hetherington, the co-director in the documentary film Restrepo (2010), which describes about the Afghanistan war. As a cameraman and a director in the war field, Tim brings us a lot of war film archives under the high risk. Unfortunately, he was killed in the Libyan civil war in 2011. In fact, not only the war documentary like a film archive, the observational documentary and a part of participatory documentaries display the truth to the mass.

        On the other hand, a growing number of preforming documentaries are accepted by the audiences. In 1958, the Walt Disney Pictures produced a documentary film, White Wilderness, which is an Academy Award-winning nature documentary. It was an impressive scene in the documentary, a number of lemmings jumped off a high cliff to terminate their lives; so until now many of the audience still believe the lemmings like to take their own lives. Actually, it is not the fact. The surely fact is they created the scene on the table in a photo studio. And the lemmings didn’t jump into the sea; in fact, they just jumped off the table. It is not a wrong thing for a film; however, this is not a good example of the documentary.

        With the fast progress of the age; the documentary makers inevitably use some methods to highlight their productions. So documentary not only has the feature to record the truth, but also is a good way to express the directors’ opinion. In other words, nowadays, the documentary film is changing to keep the pace with audience’s demand.




Wikipedia, Apocalypse: The Second World War.,

IMDb, Restrepo,

Wikipedia, White Wilderness (film),, White Wilderness,


The “Kidding” in the Documentary

        Please do not surprise the title of the blog; it lists some facts of the documentary. In general, most of people believe that the documentary reveals the truth, which should be a definite thing. However, as we all know, the documentary is a kind of art; it comes from true life but is elevated above life. In other words, the documentary describes a fact, which may be has happened a lot of times once upon a time or it was not exactly same with the things.

        No debate that the documentary film can be manipulated by technological means, art making and artificial changing. What makes the documentary film different from other media projects is that the documentary film displays a fact in an artistic way. Initially, the director of the documentary usually emphasis some points, which he or she want to highlight them in the documentary. From my point of view, any documentaries will lose some facts when they have to highlight other facts. For instance, Moore, who is the director of “Fahrenheit 9/11”, emphasized the anti-war theme in his documentary film. He claims that “out of the 535 members of Congress, only one had an enlisted son in Iraq”; however, that’s not the truth. Secondly, some documentaries spent a lot of time to record one project due to the place emphasis on the artistic effect. So some audiences confuse and misunderstand for the time of the documentary, they prefer to believe that the documentary film can be finished in one day. For example, Rain, which was shot by Joris Ivens in 1929, describes a rain from begin to end in the city. In the documentary, the rain seems like fall at the same time; however, the fact is Ivens shot a lot of times of rainfall to make up of a documentary. Moreover, some documentary was recorded in order to get the result. Okay, when the result has become a significant thing, thus the process maybe seems unimportant. Morgan Spurlock’s documentary film, Super-Size Me, is a good example. He recorded that he never ate any food except McDonald’s meal in one month; finally, he got fat after 30-days fast food eating. But the “fat” result is untrue; according to the scientific analysis, Spurlock exaggerated his results in the documentary.

        As we all know, the documentary is different with the film and the news. However, how to exactly define and distinguish the documentary still sparked much debate. The truth of the documentary does not mean every element should be true in the documentary, the true means record a documentary to tell a truth by a “true” attitude.