Fact or Fiction: The changing world of documentary.

Documentary film has been described as addressing “the question of what constitutes the representation of social reality. Whereas Narrative film is more of an attempt to create an imaginative conception of what is called reality”[1] In the last few decades documentary film, has made significant inroads in box office popularity. With the result that the boundaries between documentary film and narrative film have become more and more blurred. John Grierson advocate of social realism in film took a more middle road view describing documentary as “an instrument of information, education and propaganda as well as a creative treatment of reality”.[2]. This was clearly applicable in his era and in times world war but in the modern age of documentary where does “creative treatment” move beyond information gathering into the world of entertainment or “creative reality”? What impact does this have on the truth of the story being told? If as stated by Lord Puttnam the role of documentary is to challenge out diminishing consciousness’s”, we must be more critical of the blurring of these lines. With many documentary features depending on re-enactments and staging of historical events, based on subjective interpretations of individual experience how can we judge this footage objectively? As stated by Grierson, propaganda may have been an accepted element in documentary film but only where it benefited “the greater social good”[3].

Conversely, many of today’s war films are hugely steeped in realism and the banalities of modern warfare. Gruesome battle scene’s central to the most famous war films such as Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Platoon (1988) are no longer applicable to the modern context in which combat is conducted at a far more remote level. If directors cannot re-create battles documentary stylings offer a realism and depth to modern war films. In Jarhead (2005) actual battle scenes are not re-created but rather only referred to. With fictional war films taking a more realist approach and documentary films evolving more into entertainment it is becoming more and more difficult to distinguish the lines between fact and fiction in this genre. As a result a new genre of “hybrid film” is being produced reflecting the merging of documentary and narratives styles. Royston Tan director of the film 15 describes the “hybrid film” in the following terms“”In telling what you’re trying to tell, a narrative story can be more truthful than a straight documentary, creating a narrative fiction can be extremely effective.”[4]

[1] http://www.documentary.org/magazine/hybrid-reality-when-documentary-and-fiction-breed-create-better-truth%20

[2] Pg90

[3] Ibid

[4] http://www.documentary.org/magazine/hybrid-reality-when-documentary-and-fiction-breed-create-better-truth%20


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