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Introduction to Documentary, 3d Ed. by Bill Nichols

Obregon Obregon

Is from: Southold, US
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Sat 08-Jul-23 11:37 AM
At the risk of revealing my own insecurities, the most valuable lesson I learned from this book is that my own videos fit into the traditional definition of documentary.

I imagine this is a textbook for students of documentary films and videos. It certainly is not, with the exception of a chapter on preparing a proposal for a documentary film, a how-to book. Instead it is more aimed at the history of documentaries, and with distinguishing between different types of documentaries. The book starts by defining a documentary (about the real historic world, rather than imagined). It then discusses the ethical issues surrounding documentaries; what makes them engaging and persuasive; their history, the different kinds of documentaries (poetic, expository, reflexive, observational, participatory and performative); and how documentaries address social and political issues. It shows its academic credentials by concluding with advice on how to write effectively about documentaries.

Each of the chapters is profusely illustrated with discussions of significant documentaries and how they fit in with the idea of the chapter. Indeed, it was as a guide to suggesting documentaries to view that I found the book most useful. At the same time, many of the films and the ideas behind them were referred to over and over, beyond need and sometimes with difficulty understanding.

With regard to my own work, and many of my colleagues who came to documentary through photography, I found it was in the poetic mode, in that it was engaged with film form rather than social actors. “The poetic mode is particularly adept at opening up…alternative forms of knowledge” rather than the transfer of information, or argument, or problems in need of solution. I might have been reflecting my above-mentioned insecurities, but I felt the author might have called the poetic “pretty pictures”.

The book did not include footnotes, but there was something called “Notes on Source Material that referred to many books about documentary. I may be wrong but it looked as if the references had not been updated since the original 2001 first edition of this book.

If you are interested in making documentary films and videos, this book will not be much help to you. If you want to have some basic ideas about documentaries reiterated with extensive examples, this might help.