Showing posts from August, 2013

The Historical Turn and Documentary Studies

I also want to follow up on a through thread of discussion at the conference: the historical turn. It was hardly the main theme but rather a comment Jane Gaines made in her keynote about the need to revisit and ultimately resist the historical turn in film studies. There's a broader debate and discussion to have about this but let me focus on the specific case of documentary studies, which I would argue is still awaiting or maybe is just entering its historical turn. 
By this I do not mean that there's not a great wealth of historical research being done or that prior histories (Barnouw, Barsam, Ellis, etc) are not valuable. To the contrary. In my eye, the historical turn, which I might associate with Wisconsin school historiography does a few worthwhile things that documentary studies would be well-served to take up. 
Revisionism. We don't want revisionism for revisionism's sake but we should where possible interrogate standard histories to see if they hold up to the em…

Is Documentary Studies Self-Hating?

I've spent the last few days at Visible Evidence XX, the 20th anniversary for what was, by happenstance, the first academic conference I ever attended. I think I've written before how I like mid-sized conferences and VE in particular. It's a great community and manages to strike the right balance between substance and social-ness. It's international, at least considering its US origins, and manage to be a home for theoretically inclined media makers as well as scholars. This conference lived up to my expectations and was four days of smart, energizing papers. 
As I reflect on the conference, though, I want to focus on the aporia and the areas that could be explored further. Perhaps the oddest thing to me was the repeated tendency to repeat the post-structuralist critique of documentary truth to the point of dismissing documentary as it's usually practiced and consumed. On top of which is a political-institutional critique of ways that docs have furthered the goals o…

The Hermeneutics of Found Footage

I will be heading off to the Visible Evidence conference next week, and in advance of one of the screenings, I watched Cinema Komunisto (Mila Turajlic, 2010), a Serbian documentary about the Yugoslav film industry. Personally I found it helped orient me to the history of a national film industry I was only passingly familiar with, and I can imagine using the film in a film history survey to deal with national cinema, coproduction, and transnational genre. On top of which, the film presents a theoretical understanding of cinema as national imagined community - I'm not sure the analysis fully holds up, but it's provocative and savvy nonetheless.

But the film also raised for me a theoretical issue. Much of the documentary balances relatively straightforward present-day with interviews with archival footage and footage from the period films. Thematically this makes sense, since the film's stated thesis is that people's relation to the nation state was mediated by the Yugos…