Documentary Mode Activity 1

I will be forever fascinated by light and shadow. Within them I find a remarkable exchange of meaning, a dichotomy where one often does not exist without the other. The genesis of the idea of my documentary came from a moment of inspiration when at one time I was discussing this interest with my sister and I realized that the presence of both can become a metaphor of sorts for life. I realized that just as the blend of light and shadows on the leaves of a tree can create a beautiful and enriching scene, a mixture of the highs and lows of life can enhance our growth, increase our strength, and change us into better individuals capable of facing challenges.

Thomas S. Monson illustrates the idea perfectly when in an address at a BYU Women’s Conference he expressed,

“Our mortal life … was never meant to be easy or consistently pleasant. Our Heavenly Father … knows that we learn and grow and become refined through hard challenges, heartbreaking sorrows, and difficult choices. Each one of us experiences dark days when our loved ones pass away, painful times when our health is lost, feelings of being forsaken when those we love seem to have abandoned us. These and other trials present us with the real test of our ability to endure.”

It was with this perspective in mind that I sought to create a poetic mode documentary about how light, shadow, and growth often work in tandem. It is a sentiment I’ve thought a lot about with experiences I’ve endured in my own life and observed in the lives of others.

The project is deeply inspired by documentary giant Joris Ivens’ film Rain. Within Ivens’ mesmerizing film, he assembles a narrative arc by chronicling a rain shower. Just as the documentarian shifts his focus throughout the different periods of the occasion, I took a similar approach when capturing and assembling the sights of shadows, light, and plants in the world around me. I too assembled a narrative arc in creating a metaphor in that just as light can penetrate even the darkest of shadows to facilitate profound growth within nature, we can likewise embrace the tragedies of life, because it is most often through our trials that we grow into stronger, compassionate, and more authentic individuals.

Poetic documentary films regularly stress ambiguity through a series of fragments. They often emphasize the filmmaker’s voice in giving an area of the world a formal aesthetic. Poetic documentaries enable audiences to see and experience the world in a particular, calculated way. In my documentary, the concept and meaning is generally ambiguous and unclear. Instead, the fragmented images act as a vehicle through which my voice, perspective, and vision as a filmmaker is conveyed. As a filmmaker, I was involved with the film form itself, as is often the case with poetic documentary films. I altered the lighting and saturation in multiple areas in an effort to communicate a particular mood. Initially, the film begins with shadows, signifying life running smoothly as normal. Then, small growth begins with the presence of plant life. It isn’t long before trial and shadow strike, consuming and perhaps even stalling progression. And then light is introduced and a remarkable change takes place. This is when the greatest growth occurs, when the plant and individual have each faced the highs and lows, and have come out resilient and stronger than ever before. Ultimately, I believe the documentary successfully conveys a perspective I have regarding the world with enough ambiguity andmetaphor that it has transformed the idea into something quite profound. Above all else, I am grateful for the chance I had to articulate this idea, for the experiences I’ve had, and for every trial and triumph I endure in life.

Works Cited

Thomas S. Monson Address –

Perspective of the Persuasive

Documentary filmmaking has evolved in a number of significant ways. One such way is through the development of the various modes that the genre can embody. From rhythmically poetic documentaries to detached observational documentaries and more, the filmmaking style takes many forms. There is one particular mode, however, that remarkably navigates the complexities of both appearing objective and yet still subtly proposing a persuasive argument or perspective. This mode is the expository mode. Ultimately, it is the style’s very impression of being objective that gives the expository mode its persuasive success.

Documentaries that fall within the classification of the expository mode are known for possessing calculated clarity. As a result, many expository mode documentaries give the impression of an objective perspective supported by compelling evidence. As Bill Nichols highlights in his book, Introduction to Documentary, it is the expository mode that “emphasizes the impression of objectivity and a well-supported perspective…it has the capacity to judge actions in the historical world without being caught up in them. (123)” By way of narrator, whose authoritative, informed, voice-of-God-like commentary guides the content, expository documentaries are able to lay out their positions clearly. The filmmakers themselves regularly voice the dialogue and are able to succinctly articulate the arguments.

The examples of how a film gives the impression of being objective through its coherent narration are many. In Zana Briski’s Born into Brothels, for example, it is through her dialogue and narration that the audience gains a sense of how familiar she is with the situation of the children living in Calcutta. Briski, who lived for a number of years with the children teaching them photography, repeatedly refers to them as her students. She knows their families, is invested in their wellbeing, and even expresses concern for their futures. All of this places her as an informed, authoritative figure who likewise happens to be narrating within the film and guiding its commentary. Another—albeit somewhat removed—narrator that guides the argument of an expository documentary is the never-seen, omniscient voice in The Corporation. This voice illustrates an authoritative, steady, collected presence throughout the film, which ultimately gives it the impression of being objective. Whether the narration is seen or not, it is through its eloquent and intelligent commentary that expository films appear objective.

Due to the fact expository documentary films lead with their narration, the visuals of the films are left with the task of conveying the meaning of the dialogue. The Corporation is a prime example of how imagery mirrors what is being expressed. Within this film, as the narrator discusses how pervasive “the corporation” has become in our society today, a rapid succession of logos flash before the screen. When an interviewee mentions the comparison of the corporation to being a jigsaw puzzle, an animated depiction of a jigsaw puzzle appears. The visuals within expository films do not guide the narrative. Instead, they supply the illustrative evidence that makes the filmmaker’s perspective appear objective and valid.

The expository mode of documentary filmmaking successfully gives the impression of being objective in its educated commentary as its arguments are delivered through authoritative, well-versed narrators. With imagery that strictly supports what is being said, the expository mode has evolved to become remarkably effective in its persuasion. By giving the impression that it remains objective, this documentary mode garners a sense of credibility, which is ultimately how it is so successful in its argumentation.

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Works Cited

Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington Ind: Indiana University Press, 2001. Print.