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Modes of Engagement in

Theatrical Documentary

Annie Fergusson
B Arts (German & Spanish), Grad Dip (J ournalism)

Submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for
Masters of Arts (Research)

Creative Industries Faculty
Queensland University of Technology


Theatrical documentary, Cinema documentary, Documentary voice, Definition of
documentary consciousness, Film semiotics, Modes of engagement, Spectator
comprehension, Bowling for Columbine, Etre et Avoir (To Be and To Have),
My Architect, Baraka.


This research aims to chart four modes of engagement in post-verit documentary
films, devoted to an exclusive examination of theatrical formats, that being those
documentaries which are originally intended for a cinema audience. As these
theatrical documentaries provide a means for spectators to see through the cinema
screen and into the real world, it is important to understand how this seeing through
is constructed by the documentary production itself. This thesis acknowledges that
the learning of documentary stories and subjects has broadened for the global
audience of today. After exploring various separate critiques of documentary voice
theory, the definition of documentary and film semiotics, I have devised eight
paradigms for creating this learning or documentary consciousness in these
theatrical or cinema documentaries. I have explored how these eight paradigms can
be observed to function in four different modes. These modes contribute to an
evolving understanding of viewer comprehension; that thing called documentary
consciousness. This is demonstrated through the audio-visual appendix of clips taken
from the proto-typical theatrical documentaries I have chosen to analyse, which are:

Bowling For Columbine by Michael Moore (2003), which is illustrative of
what I have dubbed the 'Outcome Mode';

Etre et Avoir (To Be And To Have) by Nicholas Philibert (2004), which
exemplifies what I call the 'Participant Mode';

My Architect by Nathaniel Kahn (2005), an example of the 'J ourney Mode';

Baraka by Magidson Films (1996), a model of the 'Mandala Mode'.
Table of Contents

Part One: Theoretical Critique................................................................................. 1

Chapter 1 Introduction........................................................................................... 2
1.1 The State of Play in Documentary Theory......................................................2
1.2 Research Aims.................................................................................................4
1.3 Thesis Scope & Limits.....................................................................................7
1.3.1 Scope and limits of theoretical critique..................................................8
1.3.2 Scope and limits of filmic analysis.......................................................12
1.4 Methodology..................................................................................................14
1.5 The Structure of This Thesis..........................................................................17
1.6 Applications for this Research.......................................................................23
Chapter 2 Contextualising Documentary Voice Theory ................................... 34
2.1 The Maturation of Documentaries.................................................................34
2.2 The Documentary Voice of Nichols..............................................................35
2.3 Explanation of Nichols Documentary Voices...............................................34
2.3.1 The Performative Documentary...........................................................36
2.4 Corners Image-voice and Speech-voice.......................................................37
2.5 Barnouws Documentary Motives.................................................................39
2.6 The Direct Cinema and Cinema-verit Divide..............................................40
2.7 The Post-verit Evolution of Documentary...................................................42
2.8 Moving Towards Better Integration of Reception and the Viewer ...............44
Chapter 3 Opening the Can of Definitional Worms .......................................... 46
3.1 Early Definitions of Documentary.................................................................47
3.1.1 Definitions of Subject...........................................................................48
3.1.2 Definitions of Style..............................................................................49
3.1.3 Broadcaster definitions.........................................................................50
3.2 Reasons for Current Definitions....................................................................52
3.3 Definition for This Thesis..............................................................................54
3.4 Different Ways of Reading............................................................................55
3.4.1 The newsreel.........................................................................................56
3.4.2 Relationship between readings and sociological variables..................58
3.4.3 Three value systems & readings...........................................................58
3.5 Updating the Ideology...................................................................................59
3.5.1 The unreal real world...........................................................................62
3.6 Fundamental Points of Change in Documentary Representation..................64
Chapter 4 Film Semiotics and Deep Structure in Documentary Reception.... 70
4.1 Deep Structure...............................................................................................70
4.2 Shifting Focus of Film Semiotics..................................................................72
4.3 Linguistic Beginnings....................................................................................74
4.4 Linguistics, Universal Grammar and the Deep Structure Debates................77
4.5 Less Universal, More Complex Post Structuralism....................................80
4.5.1 Post-structural semiotics.......................................................................83
4.6 Psychoanalytic Models of Cinematic Engagement .......................................85
4.6.1 Lacanian Psychoanalysis......................................................................85
4.7 Towards a New Approach.............................................................................86
Chapter 5 The Creation Of Documentary Consciousness ................................ 90
5.1 Enunciation....................................................................................................91
5.2 The Grande Syntagmatique...........................................................................92
5.3 Transformationalist Approaches....................................................................93
5.4 Pragmatics......................................................................................................95
5.5 New Psychology and Cognitive Science Becoming Conscious.................96
5.6 Meuniers Psychoanalysis and the Filmologie ............................................100

Part Two: Filmic Analysis.................................................................................... 104

Chapter 6 The Modes of Engagement............................................................... 105
6.1 Classic Theory Questions............................................................................106
6.2 New Semiology Questions...........................................................................106
6.3 Explanation of Paradigmatic Sets................................................................108
6.3.1 Ideological roots.................................................................................108
6.3.2 Truth aim............................................................................................110
6.3.3 Audience framing...............................................................................111
6.3.4 Argumentation style...........................................................................112
6.3.5 Audience positioning..........................................................................115
6.3.6 Linguistic registers.............................................................................116
6.3.7 Philosophy & logic.............................................................................117
6.3.8 Narrative style....................................................................................119
Chapter 7 The Outcome Mode .......................................................................... 121
Chapter 8 The Participant Documentary ......................................................... 129
Chapter 9 The Journey Documentary .............................................................. 137
Chapter 10 The Mandala Documentary ........................................................... 143
Chapter 11 Conclusion ....................................................................................... 151
11.1 Aims Addressed...........................................................................................152
11.2 The Conscious & Perceptive Spectator .......................................................154
11.3 Beyond This Thesis.....................................................................................157
11.3.1 The craft: illusory technology..........................................................157
11.3.2 Economic: expanding horizons........................................................158

Tables and Figures
Table 1 Nichols History of Documentary Voice.......................................34
Table 2 Corners Image and Speech Voices in Documentary....................38
Table 3 Cinema Verit Versus Direct Cinema............................................41
Table 4 - Possible Readings of 9/11 American Twin Towers Collapse.......63
Table 5 A summary of influential linguists & theories...............................74
Table 6 Post-Structural Semiotics (Theories and Theorists).......................83

Figure 1 Ultra Concentrated Media............................................................67
Figure 2 The Shifting Focus of Film Semiotics..........................................72
Figure 3 The Development of Film Semiotics............................................87
Figure 4 The Multiple Register for Language.............................................95
Figure 5 - The Creation of Documentary Consciousness..............................98
Figure 6 Meuniers Three Spectatorial Modes of Consciousness.............101

Statement of Original Authorship

The work contained in this thesis has not been previously submitted to meet
requirements for an award at this or any other higher education institution. To the
best of my knowledge and belief, this thesis contains no material previously
published or written by another person except where due reference is made.

Signature: _______________________________________________

Date: ___________________________________________________


Thanks to the constant and incredibly reliable support of my supervisor, Dr Angela
Romano, and her consistent input through these birthing times. Also, sincere
gratitude to Michael Bromleys initial direction and Luke J aanistes final, timely and
insightful assistance. To the many others who have inspired and informed me with
their work (there are far too many to mention), I look forward to a future with an
even brighter realness in our theatres. Ultimately though, this thesis would never
have seen completion if it werent for the support of J anet, J ohn and Teaupito.




Fluidity, intellectual diversity, breadth of application, invention these must be the
new watchwords for the documentary scholar of the twenty-first century. The
documentary horizon is a virtual terra incognita, studded with promise and peril for
the resourceful analyst. And the stakes have never been higher.
(Renov and Gaines, 1999, p324)

1.1 The State of Play in Documentary Theory

It has been nearly 100 years since the genre of documentary was first recognised as a
distinct art of representation. Many changes have influenced the documentary
evolution; ideological and technological trends have been significant to the genre as
a theory and as a practice. However, although many brilliant insights have been
produced by documentary-makers over the years as they contributed to the
maturation of documentary film-making, there remains a degree of incertitude about
the genre as a whole from a theoretical view. In practice, the forms and styles of
documentary making continue to evolve in ways which have not been seen before,
through non-linear and digital film production, through the growing DVD and home
theatre market, and through a changing world-view. As Michael Renov indicates in
the opening quote (above), the scholastic understanding of the documentary genre
remains a virtual terra incognita; the genres full identity still remains somewhat
hidden or disguised, waiting to be properly discovered.

Perhaps one could go so far as to compare this virtual terra incognita to previous
centuries when European man first thought that the world was flat. With fear and
imagination, people wondered what might have happened if they sailed off the edge,
lost in a universe without gravity or direction or reference. Indeed, the documentary
evolution may be maturing to a heightened sense of self-awareness and, with that,
confidence in exploring new styles, themes, formats and subjects. This exploration is
clearly witnessed in the theatrical documentary and, like any journey, can be
enhanced by the process of charting and re-assessing maps to guide the knowledge-
building process. This thesis will provide an example of one such map, in relation to
the way which new theatrical documentary films are brought into the public
documentary consciousness through distinct modes of engagement in these non-
fiction films.

In the last decade, those engaged in documentary theory and practice have realised
that the deeply exclusive and conservative (Bruzzi, 2000, p2) impositions of
previous theories had not offered an entirely comprehensive picture of voice as it is
understood in the field of documentary. Neither had serious academic investigation
been placed on the topic. Historically, the documentary did not account as much for
the spectator (see Chapter 2) as compared to the current theoretical and practical
approaches. Compared to previous documentary films, recent documentaries are, by
contrast, anything but exclusive or conservative. The new crop of documentaries
being shown in theatres are often bold, contradictory or even antagonistic.
Additionally, they are often distinctly spectator-aware films, which often aim for a
response from the viewer. Throughout the thesis I argue that within the documentary
theatre there is a breaking of old-world views and that the experimental flickerings of
a broader world view are beginning to come to the big screen in the form of
theatrical documentaries.

As an art form of ideological representation, contemporary documentaries
unsurprisingly reflect the changing world-views of an increasingly globalised and
digitalised human race. With cultural and technological change, of course, come
transitions and challenges in facing the need to adapt and this has certainly been
recognised by the field of communications.

The challenge facing us today is clear: to learn to accept cultural, and therefore
communication, differences. Those of us who insist on clinging to the notion of
a homogeneous melting pot, who refuse to take cultural diversity into
account, will simply not be able to meet the communication needs of our
society and our world. Most likely, we will not only fail to share meaning with
others, but we will not understand why we fail. When we view the world
myopically, we distort our ability to respond appropriately.
(Gamble and Gamble, 1993, p33)

Documentary holds a special place in regard to its importance for global
understanding through singing its voice of the real. J ean Rouche, a famous French
documentarian during the 1970s, said that Film is the only method I have to show
another just how I see him (Rouche, 1975, p99). Today, in a world of technology
and anything-is-possible, it seems that documentary has had to mature and to become
more worldly, by showing something more than just how I see him.

Although documentary in the first half of the 20th century (i.e. the period of classical
film theory) was explored by defining film as an art equal in status to the more
traditional fine arts such as painting, dance, and theater (Anderson, 1996, p4), there
was an obvious limitation to this approach; none of these other mediums extended
themselves to the full-sensory experience of the cinema. Nor did classical film theory
account for the modernised forms and tools of documentation and representation in
the digital age. Of more relevance, the task of engaging fully in a documentary-film
could be likened to learning an entirely different language with which to interpret
reality. Like any other language, the documentary seeks to communicate for a
specific purpose, and uses a specific set of structural tools to do so. Its purpose is to
restructure and represent an actual truth, and its tools are visual and audio tools, just
like other spoken and written languages throughout the world. Due to this common
bond through shared tools and purposes, a recurrent paradigm for documentaries is
that of linguistics and the study of human communication through languages,
influencing both this thesis and also broader literature on documentary theory.

1.2 Research Aims

In this thesis, I will explore eight paradigms which account for spectator-awareness
in general and apply these to four prototypical documentary films, those being
Bowling for Columbine (Moore, 2002), Etre et Avoir (To Be and To Have)
(Philibert, 2003), My Architect (Kahn, 2005) and Baraka (Stearns, Fricke and
Magidson, 1996). I wanted to understand the underlying structures which made
theatrical documentary films engaging and interesting to watch. It seemed that this
was a conceptual issue beyond both the documentary subject and the simplified craft-
making skills of film-making.

These conceptual and production queries of the documentary craft are answered in
the following chapters which address:

The current post-verit documentary in context with traditional documentary
movements, including the changes and trends from which it has been influenced
(see Chapter 7 for a definition of post-verit);
Distinct modes of viewer or spectator engagement in these documentaries,
incorporating film semiotics;
Inter-disciplinary concepts which account for, and explain, the spectators role in
creating documentary consciousness;
Deep structures as they occur in regard to technical production for documentary
film; and
Filmic examples of these deep structures as they occur in post-verit theatrical

It is the intention of this research to update and make topical issues of globalisation
and convergence which have occurred in the media and media corporations,
influential for a documentary theory for now and beyond. My interest in this is
beyond purely aesthetic or artistic reasons but is rather tied to ideas of learning and
effective communication, as is understood from a linguistically informed
perspective. Renov and Gaines contextualise similar questions to those raised by my
thesis in the conclusion of the Visible Evidence Collection:

Question: In moving on, have we simply replaced one master narrative (the
documentary as the hammer of social change) for another (documentary media
as the open-sesame for cultural reinvention)? Books are now being written that
chart the changes wrought by documentary practices around sexual identities,
the formation of the new global order, and the struggle for the creation of
popular memory.
(Renov and Gaines, 1999, p324)

This thesis most particularly examines what Renov (above) refers to as the
formation of the new global order, as I propose alternate ways of producing
documentary consciousness, that charge of the real which distinctly belongs to
these factual films. It is deliberate that this thesis examines theatrical documentaries
which had an international distribution and, therefore, intended audience, thereby
creating a charge of the real (as Bruzzi (2000, p253) would say) which eclipsed
national or territorial issues to become a more global film. It is this globalisation of
our world and the reality that documentary has been trying so carefully to represent
which are intrinsically bound by the same dynamics. These dynamics include the
prevailing theory of a post-modern or narrative ideology as well as technical issues.
One might consider, for example, the computer generated images (CGIs) in Andy
Glynnes (2003) series of short animated films on mental illness, which were made
entirely out of animations with voice-overs by sufferers explaining their thoughts as
they endured various conditions. Even though Walking With Dinosaurs (Haines
and J ames, 1999) was made for television and not for cinema, it is an illustration of a
film that was certainly classified as having a documentary status, even though it is
fundamentally constructed out of technical representation and not the original subject
(in this case, the impossible notion of using footage of a real living dinosaur). In
2005, the issues of digitalisation in all its forms, the individual and immigrant culture
are no longer minor issues for documentary makers and the global media sphere.
Somehow it no longer seems appropriate for academics or documentary makers to be
analysing the world through the colonising eyes, or simplified language, that was
used in the past. This thesis looks for a futuristic approach for documentary theorists
and practitioners alike.

In terms of documentary movements, this thesis is concerned with four case studies
of contemporary documentaries in the post-verit style. If it is broken down, post-
verit literally means after-truth. The simple term post-verit is a reflection of the
delicate relationship between truth and the documentary form; a relationship which
has been in flux since its very beginnings. It is by inheritance a shady term: the
original term verit in fact refers to two very different film-making techniques and
documentary ideologies. Cinema-verit was based on the revelation, largely by
J ean Rouch in the 1970s, that the director did have an active and involved part to
play in the perspective of a documentary story. Meanwhile, direct cinema,
something which has also been grouped into the verit label, is in fact a form of
observational cinema, where people such as D.A. Pennebaker, Robert Drew, Richard
Leacock and the Maysle brothers took their cameras into situations and simply tried
to capture the story which unravelled before them. As Kevin MacDonald and Mark
Cousins concisely sum up, What started as a revolution, has ended up a style choice
(1996, p251). The legacy of the verit movement has more to do with the aesthetic
quality of the film, and less to do with any clear motivation of the film-maker, so that
leaves the clear aspiration of post-verit documentary quite open, as is explored
further in the Chapter 1. I will argue that most current documentaries are loosely
characterised by post-verit voice, in contrast to documentaries of the past, with
historical moments being characterised by expository, observational, interactive and
reflexive documentary voice (as is detailed further in Chapter 2).

The theatrical documentary format refers to the original release of the documentary
and the audience for which the film was specifically produced (which are most often
about 90 mins in length but sometimes closer to 60 mins). Although the cinema is the
original format for which the film-maker intended they be exhibited, it is possible
that subsequent exhibitions may have occurred, either on DVD, and/or on a long-
format television slot. In this sense, the documentary format that I will study is
similar to a feature film; it is aimed at a captured, global, cinematic audience. For the
purpose of my research, the repeated viewings of these cinematic documentaries
were made much easier by their subsequent DVD releases.

In summary, I argue that the documentary genre is undergoing a period of change.
This thesis examines the cinematic reception (and thus indirectly and partially, the
versioning) of the documentary voice, which underpins the principles for
understanding fluid modes of engagement in the documentary-film. The thesis
specifically studies documentaries that are in long-form theatrical formats and it
analyses four films which belong to the post-verit movement.

1.3 Thesis Scope & Limits

This thesis is divided into an initial theoretical section (Part 1) and a subsequent
practical section (Part 2), each with two parallel fields of scope and limits.

1.3.1 Scope and limits of theoretical critique

In reviewing the literature about voice, it became apparent that there was no right
or wrong, nor even a measure for quantitative success in regard to the
documentary. Particular subjects received variable creative treatments and effected
different voices which were received differently by culture-specific audiences. It
became clear that it was crucial to examine the creative treatment of these
documentaries and that these treatments often utilised incomparable tools in effecting
their voice. I therefore put aside my initial questions about right or wrong tools to
instead review paradigms relating to philosophy, cognitive science, amongst the
many other references included in the bibliography. Each of these paradigms then
had differing views according to the language and culture in which they had effected
significant achievements.

It is neither the interest nor the intention of this research to enter a competitive
philosophical debate on the power dynamics between film-making styles, languages
and cultures. That is the domain of an entirely different political arena, which only
disrupts the examination of representational techniques used in this particular area of
the creative time arts, as Michael Rabiger (2004) calls them. As such the case
studies and inherent information are viewed from an artistic rather than political
stance; I am studying these documentaries as a form of cinema, not parliament. This
artistic stance employs methods from across the social sciences, including
hermeneutic, narrative, auto-biographical, multi-vocal, and descriptive methods all
qualitative methods. This preference for qualitative over the quantitative has, as
MacDougall and Taylor (1998, p93) comment, occurred as interpreters of written
and other texts have attempted to enlarge structural and semiotic approaches with
more subjective and socially contingent readings.

J ust as universal voice is a linguistic term to explain the structures that repeatedly
occur in various languages, this thesis explores, in particular, universal voice as it
relates to a cinematic langue, or in other words, the institutional rules and tools
involved in the production and reception of documentary (Hartley, 2002, p134). The
language of documentary also has its own recurrent structures which are used to
represent reality. This is what documentary theorists call voice. Theoretical
analysis of the documentary genre has recently shifted from a focus on langue to
instead spotlight parole, i.e. the way that a set of institutional rules is applied in
practice, such as the differing way that audiences have received certain types of
documentaries as the theory of documentary voice has evolved. As MacDougall and
Taylor summarise:

The same insight that first applied a linguistic analogy to social patterns in terms of
langue has now seemingly turned its attention to parole. This view appears to
transcend alternations of academic fashion, where one tendency often seems to be
simply the temporary corrective of another. In a sense, for the first time since the
splintering of philosophy into separate disciplines, there is a current in the direction
of a reintegration of knowledge, not by means of a grand theory but by borrowings
between disciplines and, more broadly, between the arts and the sciences.
(MacDougall and Taylor, 1998, p93-94)

In regard to the scope and limits of this theory included in this thesis, I am in fact
taking a new approach to the traditional terms outlined above; I am using langue as a
basis for identifying parole. The DVD appendix I have created through this research
is a material, physical example of the parole operating by use of the tools, or langue,
as identified by my eight paradigms of documentary engagement. This is a new
perspective on the voice of documentary. Beaugrande says that an idea such as this,
of abstracting (documentary) language away from the cultural and social contexts
in which it appears as a human phenomenon seemed attractive on theoretical
grounds, especially for an emergent science like linguistics, but the consensus today
is that this project is unrealistic (Beaugrande, 1997). The fact of my DVD, in
illustrating these abstract notions in a material and accessible format, is however, I
believe, a fair negation of Beaugrandes statement above.

Understanding the role of discourse and language in communication is, in fact, not
such a complex task. If it is true that language .. is how civilisation imposes its
laws on the animal sounds we make (MacDougall and Taylor, 1998, p52), then this
resonates through all the theories which are based on language and have influenced
this thesis. These include aspects of discourse analysis from the 1970s which became
a convergence point for a number of trends: text linguistics on the European
continent; functional or systemic linguistics in Czechoslovakia, Britain, and
Australia; cognitive linguistics, critical linguistics, ethnography of
communication, ethnomethodology, and the structuralism, poststructuralism,
deconstruction, and feminism emanating from France; along with semiotics and
cognitive science, both convergence points in their own right (Beaugrande, 1997).

Although I am deliberately not studying television documentaries, it becomes
relevant at several points throughout this thesis to make reference to the television
arena, being the large exhibitor and producer of documentaries as it is. Not so
content with the more ambiguous social science methods and influences, the
television broadcast industry has established clear definitions about what kind of
films and/or programs can be described as documentaries, sometimes extending itself
to even include reality-television programs now under the banner of documentary.
Such definitions focus on production aspects of documentary films or programs.
Even here in the more simplified world of television however, complications arise in
trying to identify the documentary as a definite format. Dr Andre Lange, Head of the
Markets and Financing Department at the European Audiovisual Observatory, the
EUs statistical collecting body for AV, advised: the documentary sector is very
difficult to monitor in Europe: there are problems of definitions, with no real national
monitoring (except for France) and fragmentation of companies (Higgs, 2005, p13).

So, even at the outset, and in the more systematic arena of the television
documentary, it is clear that the definition of a documentary, and a theatrical one at
that, may cause debate. These points of conflict arise from the notions of objectivity-
versus subjectivity or the reconstruction of real events or the transference of local
(and given) information onto a global screen, where the context is not given so
directly, just to name a few of the points at issue. This thesis does not answer these
conflicts directly but does offer depth to these and many other of the traditional
discussions of the documentary genre, from the perspective of linguistic, semiotic
and psycho-analytic stances underlying the phenomenon of watching a theatrical

Taking the position of the back-seat in the movie theatre, this thesis examines recent
examples of international documentary and their reception, from the paradigm of
linguistics and discourse, the eye of film aesthetics, the treatment of a sense of
journalistic reality and the stance of the representational crisis. In a sense, it explores
how cinema documentaries can be read. The final chapters of this thesis will chart
the modes of engagement that are exemplified in a wide range of international
documentaries, with the aim of increasing public knowledge about how global
audiences might be comprehending the new, post-verit documentary cinema.

As it is evident that the documentary genre has undergone several changes over
history (Chapter 2), this thesis will explain the ramifications of that change in terms
of the way in which documentary films are read in a post-millennial world. Unlike
photographs or books, documentary films are a multi-sensory experience.
Understanding the way in which people comprehend a documentary film is a
complex, constitutive process. It is, however, of interest specifically because it is
perceived to be a representation of reality (Nichols, 1991) and a source of knowing,
the eyes that see the real world where the viewer cannot.

It has been impossible to access and review significant volumes of work from
countries outside the Australian, European and North American territories due to the
limited nature of a Masters level project. The theoretical perspectives, however, of
film semiotics which are discussed in Chapter 4, are designed around a broader
global perspective, and my own personal background in languages, translations and
linguistics. The thesis includes an examination of the most rudimentary form of
voice linguistics - incorporated into a broader spectrum of associated social
sciences perspectives which pertain to a more extensive, cross-disciplinary approach
to the form and function of the language of documentary. Within this context the
reader can see the vast potential that greater understanding of other linguistic and
cultural heritages (or voices) may hold for the type of documentary (voice) which
could be effected in a truly global sphere.

There is also the issue of formats. In the majority of countries, and Australia is one of
them, documentary as a format is largely the domain of the television broadcasters.
Remember however, this research is concerned specifically with the theatrical
documentary. When a documentary is commissioned by a broadcaster, there is a
branding, whether of slot or of channel, that dictates a particular voice within the
film. Skewing this research to become a reflection of broadcaster policies worldwide
is not the aim of the thesis. To illustrate the potential of broadcasters in shaping the
documentary form, a diagram in Chapter 3 displays the state of media ownership
across the world, exposing the effect that broadcaster policies may potentially have
on a given documentary film-piece.

In maintaining a level of directorial authorship, theatrical documentaries - whether
exhibited solely at cinemas, or also subsequently distributed on DVD or at festivals -
provide a more controlled specimen with less variables at play when it comes to
assessing what kind of engagement a documentary extends to its viewer.

As I have discussed above, I have excluded television documentaries from the
surveyed documentary material as they do not offer insight into universal semiotic
forms, due to the various television channel guidelines, the propensity of channels to
reversion documentaries for local audiences and the use of stylised time-slots. In
any case, cutting-edge documentary styles and films are making bigger waves in
theatres and/or on DVD than on television. De Putter comments on how broadcaster
intervention impacts upon the artistic purity of documentaries in his comments to the
Dutch newspaper, NRC Handelsblad: Of course television, and this goes not only
for documentaries, often demands pictures that give instant gratification in
information as well as in entertainment, rather than show the world through the eyes
of filmmakers (Bos, 2004).

1.3.2 Scope and limits of filmic analysis

The second part of this research is a practical analysis, based upon my own
paradigms for documentary engagement. Within each clip that is used to demonstrate
a particular paradigm for engagement lies one or some indicator/s of deeper points
whereby a viewer can become involved in the documentary film. However, the
reader of this thesis would probably have to watch the entire film to make a proper
assessment of the paradigm as it relates to the full documentary text, and then have
thorough investigations on spectator-comprehension, to say nothing of researching
the films subject and ethical or objective representation. Such a huge project was
unrealistic for the filmic analysis of this research. In developing a model for
understanding the ways in which viewers interact with documentary films and their
subjects, Brian Winston attempts to gleam a broader basis from which to understand
the viewers relation to the documentary which Winston refers to in his chapter
entitled This Objective-Subjective Stuff Is A Lot Of Bullshit (Winston, 1995). In
brief, I have identified two central factors in the scope and limits of my filmic
analysis one being artistic, the other economic.

Artistic: For the film-maker, the funding body and the viewer, and any other
functionaries in between, the wonderful thing about cinematic documentaries is that
there are certain colours that a theatrical documentary, while still representing a
real subject, is allowed in the cinema which are more problematic for television
exhibition (this is obvious in a program such as Drinking For England (Hill, 1998).
This artistic freedom that cinema offers to the film-maker, enables a more
experimental voice, as Michael Rabiger (2004, p144) states in his wonderfully
purpose-built book Directing The Documentary:

Artistic decisions in film are made in the light of shared instincts of recognition.
Were it otherwise, cinema and other time arts could not exist and still be less what
they are, a universal language.

Economic: Although it has been more than eight decades since Robert Flaherty set
out in the production of what is viewed as the worlds first documentary, Nanook Of
the North (Flaherty, 1922), in Australia, locally-produced and theatrically-released
documentaries have been largely absent from cinemas (Higgs, 2005, p6). Although
there have been some examples, such as Blowing in the wind (Bradbury, 2005),
Cane Toads (Lewis, 1988), The Diplomat (Zubrycki, 2000), and the legacy of
Dennis ORourke with his films including Landmines (2005) and Cunnamulla
(2000), it is unfortunate that the size of the Australian theatrical documentary
audience has been too small to warrant the funds for big-scale productions. It is
interesting also to note that there all of the credits seem to be for male directors.
Basically, there is an economic limit to the possibility for production of the cinema
documentary. Although, a lot has changed for the field of documentary: journalism
and reality television since the early days of Flaherty, a recent upsurge in interest in
documentaries and the spread and dominance of English-language television
programs and cinematic films in global markets as well as converging media
commerce and technology the result is that many significant contributions have
been made towards the current placement of the documentary genre. The subsequent
economic growth of international documentary markets and co-production schemes
is something which this research cannot entirely encompass, although it has a direct
and significant link to the production of the form which I have been studying.

In brief, as this thesis cannot speak for all of those films that comprise the
documentary genre, nor represent fully the vast documentary material that exists over
all nations of the globe, there are three main issues in regard to limits:

The country issue (impossible to research a genuinely international survey of
theatrical films and audience reactions of them),
The format issue (exclusion of television, local and amateur documentaries),
The technology issue (the effect of technology on documentary and broader
screen cultures. In the last few years, the production of amateur films with digital
video cameras (DVCam) and home editing suites for personal computers (PC)
has been significant, producing significant new productions such as the Blair
Witch Project (Myrick and Sanchez, 1999)).

Finally in regard to the limits of this thesis, although my best efforts have been made
to provide an objective proposition for reading post-verit documentaries, and to
show the many sides of the coin in terms of the creation of understanding of
documentary consciousness for a global screen audience this thesis does not attempt
to provide a full and complete picture it is intended as a proposed map.

1.4 Methodology

There have been four parts to this research approach:

1) Literature Review and Theoretical Critique

In reviewing the broad literature for this thesis, the words by Renov at the opening
of this chapter - fluidity, intellectual diversity, breadth of application and
invention (Renov and Gaines, 1999, p324) - have guided my reading selection.
This has resulted in my references to theories from cultural studies and the social
sciences such as linguistics, discourse, argumentation, and philosophy - for the
reception of each of these documentary territories from a broad perspective. The
initial stages of the research involved extensive literature reviews on film and
documentary theory as well as linguistic, discourse, representational and logic
texts from both theoretical and culturally informed perspectives. As my research
became more developed, these broader fields became predominant in my
readings, particularly in regard to the inter-disciplinary subjects of film semiotics,
documentary voice theory, universal grammar and linguistic developments of
semiotics, Marxist and feminist theories, psycho-analysis, film philosophy, logic,
story-presentation, subject framing, and cross-cultural communications.

2) Field Research

After reviewing the literature, I reviewed the actual state of documentary
consciousness as it is being manifested on theatrical and festival screens in the
real, as opposed to theoretical, world. I attended the November 2004 Sheffield
International Documentary festival in the United Kingdom and then the February
2005 Australian International Documentary Festival in Adelaide where cutting-
edge documentaries and film-makers from across the globe spoke extensively
about the topics relevant to this thesis. I closely considered the international
programming of these and also other festivals around the same period and of
broadcast networks. At the festivals, I spoke with film-makers and buyers from
around the world, seeking commendations within the documentary industry circle
of what were seen as exemplary documentary productions. Academics, festival
programmers and buyers, broadcast commissioners, independent production
houses, technical talent and government institutional members all contributed to
my questions on what they saw as exemplary documentary productions and films
which used a distinctive and effective treatment to engage audiences. The
combination of all of these sources informed my selection of four prevalent
documentary styles or modes, and led me to identify four films with each being
representative of one of these four modes. The political and media debate
surrounding outcome films such as Michael Moore was echoed in director and
producer-focussed discussions both at conferences and in academic and popular
media; a discursive fascination with a film such as Etre et Avoir and a wave of
observer films illustrated the prevalence of participant films; consistent historical
and current examples of the journey film iterated its successful application for this
analysis; and the cinematographic mosaic and avant-garde tradition (such as is
outlined in 'Maya Deren and the American Avante-Garde', Nichols, 2001) of the
mandala film fulfilled an extreme of the spectrum of spectator engagement, as
well as maintaining a niche form of documentary which was referred to at both of
the festivals I attended. Thus these films are good qualitative tools - although they
have not been selected through any quantitative methodology - with which to
build a knowledge of documentary engagement; that is to say that the four films I
have analysed are illustrative of a good strategy, which has been applied to filmic
examples, to narrow the field of engagement paradigms. Note that all
documentaries studied for this thesis had both a cinematic and a DVD release,
which was necessary for the multiple viewings.

3) Developing a New Model

Phenomenological research of the concept of documentary consciousness, using
the moment of the documentary-film exhibition as the basis for analysis of the
encounter between the spectator and the screen, offered a basis for my own
subsequent modelling of eight documentary engagement paradigms in Chapter 6.
This was influenced largely by J ean-Pierre Meuniers phenomenological idea of
documentary consciousness which Sobchack translates as being a general
comportment and attentive attitude (1999, p247) toward the film and its subject.
My exploration of documentary consciousness also incorporates the broader
knowledge of film semiotics, derived from the theoretical critique and literature
review discussed in Point 1 (above). The phenomenon of documentary
consciousness is examined in its application to the four current post-verit
documentaries that are studied in Chapters 7 to 10. Reflexive analysis such as this
involves a division of documentary specimens into separate audio-visual
examples which illustrate the deep structure or semiotic forms at work.

4) A Filmic or Textual Analysis

This involved a four-part, consecutive process of:

Watching and collecting post-verit documentaries in order to broadly
observe and derive a general paradigmatic set which applied to many post-
verit documentaries;
Specifically locating, in particular films, varied instances of these paradigms
at work in the selected clips;
Authoring the DVD appendix, using the DVD-creation software of Adobe
Writing an analysis of these clips, detailing how the eight paradigms are
found to be operating differently in each of the four modes.

1.5 The Structure of This Thesis

Essentially there are two parts to this thesis. The first part is a theoretical critique
which informs and updates the reader on social sciences related to the interpretation
of the theatrical documentary. The second part devises a paradigmatic model for
understanding this as it occurs in practice in four documentary-specific modes. Part 1
comments on the external and academic skin of documentary, exploring traditional
film theories, the current international environment and underlying codes as explored
in cinematic and linguistic semiotics. Part 2 will then examine more closely the
flesh or internal make-up of the voices underneath the skin of post-verit
documentary as the films engage in the spectator phenomenon of what Vivian
Sobchack (1999, p24) calls documentary consciousness.

In this introduction chapter, I have established the aim, structure, limits and scope
and applications of my research. I have introduced the concept of the dichotomy of
langue versus parole (discussed further in Chapter 4) and the extension of those,
which are discovered in the reception of a documentary film to have cemented the
functional purpose for my research. This will colour much of the contextualisation
that is presented in Chapters 2 to 5. It also explains the multi-disciplinary approach
to the charting of the exploratory case studies.

Chapter 2 provides details about the historical and external changes to the
environment affecting documentary voice in the global context. The chapter
identifies and describes several styles which film-makers have used. Documentary
voice theory has shaped much of the discussion around this particular crafts
theorisation over time, influenced by surrounding political and social climates
throughout different periods. Inherent in this is an understanding of the history of
documentary voice and the production palate that the traditional film-makers such
as the American, Robert Flaherty and his British contemporary, J ohn Grierson, first
recognised as documentary tools. The current documentary voice style
emphasises the authored voice after public trust of institutionalised media received
serious public distrust in the post 9/11 climate. Again, it becomes clear that when it
comes to screen representation, the truth (or verit) has become a much more elusive
concept in our current post-verit period, when it seems much more viable that each
stance has its own truth, rather than an absolute one existing on some superhuman

This issue of media convergence and internationalisation is outlined in Chapter 3
where it becomes clear that the very definition of documentary is inherently bound to
this squirming world of the real, the represented, and the broader media climate. In
this chapter, entitled the Can of Definitional Worms, the changed conditions in
which the film-makers of today work can be understood. Technological and cultural
change have affected the very way in which documentary has come to be recognised.
My own definition of documentary is presented that a documentary is an audio-
visual reproduction of insight into a real subject. The chapter uses research compiled
by the New Internationalist to develop a perspective on the role of documentary and
the dynamics and system which it has been developing within. Of course, this does
not necessarily mean it is the domain that it will continue to operate in.

Chapter 4 reconciles two important channels of human expression cinema and
language. In this chapter, film semiotics undertakes the inter-disciplinary bridging
work between documentary (and all screen work) and the broader social sciences of
representation. Incorporating notions of film semiotics and spectatorship as viewed
by divergent theorists including Karl Marx, Charles Sanders Pierce, Ferdinand de
Saussure, Roman J akobson and Noam Chomsky. Study of the phenomena of
language over the world has helped to develop an understanding of the diversity of
modes of communication, including its most rudimentary form, spoken language.
This appreciation makes a multi-dimensional register for language much easier to
understand as we begin to see the broad palate which ordinary language draws from.
It becomes clear as we examine the multiple register for language how the transition
can be made from the concept of right and wrong or truth in representing a subject to
developing an understanding of voices from a much broader base, a more universally
aware perspective. The time has arrived for an understanding of the documentary
film which acknowledges that the spectator is not some empty, hollow machine
which has no preconception of the world which is presented to her on the screen.
This chapter introduces the work of Noam Chomsky and incorporates some of his
earlier linguistic notions into the understanding of an international documentary

Chapter 4 also makes reference to a psychoanalytic model of George Lacan and
explores, more importantly for this thesis, the contributions of Meunier (1969) and
Maurice Merleau-Ponty (2002), as well as current theorists. A spectatorial view of
consciousness has been understood for the documentarys brother, the fiction film
world; here this knowledge will also explore the broader social sciences to contribute
to a fluid psychoanalytic, phenomenological or semiotic model of comprehending

With the outermost layer of the external documentary environment explained,
Chapter 5 can examine the creation of documentary consciousness specifically as it
relates to the documentary of today the post-verit documentary. Sobchack
translates this experience for us into a process which sees the documentary spectator
looking through the documentary screen into a subject which exists elsewhere in the
real world. It may be that that elsewhere in a physical, mental, or chronological
point which differs to that of the spectator, but it is nonetheless deemed to have or
have had its place amongst an actual physical or interactive environment. The
documentary screen is the portal through the barriers of being elsewhere and
attempts to put the spectator into an active process of engagement with the subject.
The nature of this engagement is explored in the following chapters.

At this point, (in Chapter 6) documentary engagement becomes open to a
multiplicity of paradigms, in the very same way that the linguistics debate gradually
blurs into issues regarding philosophy, logic and politics. For the post-millenial
academic who is probably well-acquainted with the term inter-disciplinary, this can
be described as a cohesive coming-together of various social sciences. I have called
it Eight Paradigms for Documentary Engagement. This chapter details what I have
devised as paradigms or points-of-convergence that documentary shares with
argument theory, discourse theory, representation theory, logic, reasoning and
philosophy and includes reference to global events that embody these evolutions in
human thinking. The chapter marshals the tools with which a spectator can, whether
consciously or not, use to comprehend a documentary subject. From this cauldron,
into which can be thrown many theories and ideas from other disciplines, emerges a
systematic analysis, a new palate. This new documentary voice toolbox sets out a
schemata which can be used to interpret different treatments of multi-cultural, or
universal, realities. Chapter 6 sets out a paradigmatic list, which will structure the
models for modes of documentary engagement, which will be the final product of the
thesis. Each direction in documentary voice will be analysed in terms of the
following criteria:

Ideological Roots,
Truth Aim,
Audience Framing,
Argumentation Style,
Audience Positioning,
Linguistic Register,
Philosophy & Logic,
Narrative Style.

These categories are explained here so that the proceeding chapters can focus on
dedicated theoretical and practical examination of each voice as it relates to existing
current theatrical documentaries.

Chapter 7- The Outcome Mode - is exemplified by the well-known American
documentary director, Michael Moore. The work of Moore and other outcome
documentary makers reveals the remarkable effect that traditional schools of debate
and rebuttal have had on (most obviously, but not exclusively) the English-speaking
psyche. The chapter examines the sharp-edged qualities that this type of
documentary engagement elicits. The way in which documentaries such as Bowling
For Columbine (Moore, 2002) frame the documentary story results in penetration of
what I will term an exclusive discourse. The spectator becomes the judge of the
documentary story and its trial. I have coined the term Outcome documentary to
indicate the judicial and results-oriented nature of Bowling For Columbine, and
many other noteworthy documentary films.

From there, Chapter 8 moves toward an understanding of the Participant Mode a
form which elicits a discursive approach to engaging the documentary viewer with
its subject. Etre et Avoir, a film by French director Nicholas Philibert, constitutes
the principle case study, with its ideological roots reflective of Roman forums and
the Enlightenment movement. The participant documentary is characterised by
logical argumentation rather than the forms of counter argumentation discussed in
the previous chapter and is the reason why much technical and scientific
development has found a communication pathway through this type of process. The
cinema-verit and fly-on-the-wall style documentaries can generally be considered to
use participant documentary structures in the type of engagement that they solicit
from spectators.

Chapter 9 explores the J ourney Mode of reception, whereby the viewer becomes a
travel-mate through the subject of an orator. It is typified by the biblical voice by
decree style and examines a shift in thought towards a more rhetoric-based notion of
logic in representation of the subject. The most widely read literature works in the
world the Christian Holy Bible and Islamic Koran are exemplary forms of this
style of voice and several documentaries, including surf films such as The Endless
Summer (Brown, 1966), have characterised this structure of engagement. In this
instance, My Architect, Nathaniel Kahns personal account of his efforts to
understand and discover his renowned but deceased father, displays this style of
story-telling form which is steeped in the tradition of a journey of an almost divine
nature to the source.

Chapter 10 explores the final voice from an understanding of a new documentary
engagement model the Mandala Mode. As a form of documentary, it was brought
to the big screen with an important example being Koyaanisqatsi - Life Out Of
Balance (Fricke, Hoenig, Reggio and Walpole, 1983). The Mandala documentary is
an intensely visual experience and it is characterised by poetry, mimicry and
metaphoric abstractions and has a geometric logic base, not to be confused with the
algebraic logic that was discussed in the previous chapters. The philosophy that
underlies the Mandala documentary appears to have evolved from many Asian
ideologies and Chapter 10 studies Baraka as a definitive film-piece in this form on
the big screen.

Audio-visual advancement makes much more evidence available in this day of
technology and digital authoring. The DVD attached to this thesis is a case in point.
It provides supporting chapters relevant to each of the previous four (that is, Chapters
7 to 10 in the written thesis). In doing so, this research not only recognises but also
applies the revolutionization that the entire film-making process has undergone with
digital technologies. What is contained in the DVD, as explained earlier in this
introduction, is the parole of four documentary-modes or engagement styles which
are displayed by the ways in which they differ in their execution of the langue or
eight paradigms of viewer-engagement. In that sense, this thesis offers an innovative,
audio-visual reference of this new approach to documentary comprehension. The use
of this DVD is however limited to educational and research purposes only and will
not be used for commercial purposes, in compliance with copyright law.

In Chapter 11, I will draw realistic applications of these documentary styles for
practitioners, commissioners, exhibitors, subjects and viewers alike. In light of the
new definitions of factual programming and the ever-expanding convergence of
media production, I differentiate the art and the product, from the consumption. The
conclusion will make it clear that the documentary tradition is party to many
theoretical domains concerned with communication.

1.6 Applications for this Research

Applications for the suggested modes of engagement demonstrated in this thesis are
varied. To the film-maker, this thesis may offer an extended understanding of the
toolbox for the creation of documentary consciousness. As the fourth chapter of this
thesis explains, this notion of a documentary film as a subjective relationship to a
cinematic object which displays real subject matter. In particular the final four
chapters, which outline different engagement models, hold perspectives on technical
and conceptual crafting at a directorial level. This is developed as an updated
understanding of traditional documentary voice theory, which was first expounded
by Nichols (1991) with his landmark analysis that identifies four key voice traditions
in documentaries.

Although the roles of the editor or commissioning editor occupy different terrains of
the theatrical documentary production process, they both assess the continuity and
suitability of a story and its reception with an audience. Therefore this thesiss
charting of reception (or engagement) models offers both of them the same
opportunity; to extend their understanding of how an ethically correct, true and
socially valuable documentary could be constructed and viewed. Diversity, it will
become clear, is important for authenticity in post-verit documentary story-telling.
The charting of modes of engagement is intended as a useful tool for verifying and
quantifying cultural arguments for documentary stylisation.

The documentary theorist, meanwhile, has a chance to observe the progression of
previous or external theories, and their influence and relevance to the study of
documentaries, both now and in the future.



To understand the voice of documentary is to understand cinema itself. As Ian
Aitken says, the documentary film can be regarded as the first genre of the cinema
(Aitken, 2006, pxxxv). The first silent films of the world were the product of a new
invention, the cinematographe, which were the result of early motion picture
technology development. Technically speaking, fiction and non-fiction film share the
same birth-place France in the late 1800s. In the end it was Louis Lumire who
made the documentary film a reality - on a world-wide basis, and with sensational
suddenness (Barnouw, 1974, p5). Poetic meaning was given to everyday life as
Lumieres films showed people being observed as they went about their daily
actions, silently, exhibited to the wonder of the first documentary audience. It all
began in March 1895, at a meeting in Paris to promote French industries, (when)
Louis Lumire demonstrated his (cinematographe) invention with the short film
Workers Leaving The Lumire Factory (La Sortie Des Usines) (Barnouw, 1974,
p7). From that point on, the value of documentary was recognized for its power to
promote and persuade. Documentarys strengths however, were not limited to
promotional and persuasive ones but broadened to include ceremonial purposes, such
as is exhibited in footage of the early Melbourne Cup. The progression of possible
ways in which a documentary story could be shown is charted in this chapter.

2.1 The Maturation of Documentaries

By first examining Bill Nichols modes of documentary voice, and then briefly those
of J ohn Corner and Eric Barnouw, an important distinction can be made. It becomes
possible now to distinguish the spectatorial modes of engagement in current
documentary films from those issues of form and content that were concerned with
documentary film production prior to the here-and-now. As mentioned in Chapter 1,
the title post-verit translates as after-truth and points to the somewhat dubious
notion of verit as something which it proceeds (see Ward, 2005). Effectively,
film-makers and theorists have not arrived at a clear or conclusive answer as to how

truth fits in to the craft of documentary and representation, apart from voicing
various ways of showing truth. Exploring the past trends in documentary voice
highlights how theorists have subsequently shifted away from studying documentary
film voices as they are projected by the film-makers and towards analysis of
documentary film voices as they are received by spectators. This important shift -
acknowledging that the spectator is an active part of the story-telling process is
now being added to the growing body of awareness of the phenomenon of the
documentary film.

2.2 The Documentary Voice of Nichols

Bill Nichols is credited (Corner, 1996, p1) with articulating the most notable and
influential theoretical analysis of the modes of documentary voice. Nichols (1991)
original ideas on documentary voice were outlined in his book, Representing
Realities. Within this book, Nichols claims that four modes of representation stand
out as the dominant organizational patterns around which most (documentary) texts
are structured (1991, p32). These four different styles are:


These four styles, which are further outlined in Table 1 The History Of
Documentary Voice, constitute what Nichols (1991, p32) calls the voice of

There is a distinct terminology which is used to refer to the voice or style of a
documentary mode. These are shown in Table 1, which also outlines the societal and
ideological sphere under which each voice grew. These terms are often used today
within documentary theory. Nichols alludes to the way in which certain documentary
movements acted as precursors for later styles. Table 1 also includes criticisms of
Nichols modes of documentary voices, as outlined by Stella Bruzzi (2000, p1).

Table 1 Nichols History of Documentary Voice

Exemplary Documentary
Stylistic Notes Pinnacle Moment Later to Influence Criticisms
Expository John Grierson
Robert Flaherty
Arising from dissatisfaction with the
distracting, entertaining qualities of the
fiction film
Great Britain, 1920s-
Direct cinema Overly didactic
Reflexive Dziga Vertov Arose from desire to create awareness of
representational paradigm, more self-
aware than previous
Soviet Union, 1920s Notable resurgence in 1970s &
1980s (eg. Errol Morris)
A lack of historical context
Observational Richard Leacock
D A Pennebaker
Frederick Wiseman
Albert Maysles
Availability of mobile equipment,
dissatisfaction with moralizing and
didactic documentary, limited to the
present moment, disciplined detachment
and no trace of the film-makers presence
Late 1950s onwards Excessive faith in witness
and offers nave history
Interactive Jean Rouche
Edgar Morin
Arising interest in documentary auteurs,
increased engagement with subject,
attaching archived footage, no pretense
of non-involvement
France, 1960s Autobiographical & performative
doc-styles, post-verite
Too abstract and loses sight
of actual issues
Source: (Nichols, 1991, p32) and (Nichols, 2001, p138)

In defining voice in terms of documentary, Nichols describes voice as:

something narrower than style: that which conveys to us a sense of a texts
social point of view, of how it is speaking to us and how it is organising the
materials it is presenting to us. In this sense voice is not restricted to any one
code or feature such as dialogue or spoken arrangement. It is perhaps akin to
that intangible, moir-like pattern formed by the unique interaction of all a
films codes, and it applies to all modes of documentary.
(Renov, 1993, p10)

In Nichols description, there is an acknowledgement of an intangible but integrated
code within films, much the same as there is in any spoken language which
incorporates gestures, intonations, facial expressions and such in order to generate
shared meanings. If, however, documentary is understood as being both filmic
(which McDougall explains is a a sensory response to the content of film' (1998,
p49)) and also as a language, a hole emerges beyond the semantics that are suggested
by Nichols theories. His work does not take into account the theories of semiotics
and pragmatics that underlie all other languages. In a sense, Nichols dichotomy is
similar to the one faced by the translation of a literary book into another language,
whereby an entirely different set of grammar, vocabulary, colloquialisms and local
knowledge is demanded.

2.3 Explanation of Nichols Documentary Voices

In explaining his theories on modes of representation in documentary voice, Nichols
(Nichols, 1991, p32) says that after World War 1 documentary-makers who were
dissatisfied with the limitations of fictional film style employed Voice-Of-God
commentary and poetic perspectives. In this era, the famous fathers of documentary
J ohn Grierson and Robert Flaherty were producing strong documentary films of a
distinctly expository mode. They had an aim to disclose information about the
historical world itself and to see that world afresh, even if these views came to seem
romantic or didactic (Nichols, 1991, p32).


After the Grierson and Flaherty tide of interest, Soviet film-makers such as Dziga
Vertov became noticed in the 1920s for their use of a style of documentary
representation referred to as reflexive documentary. Transparency was important: this
mode arose from a desire to make the conventions of representation themselves more
apparent and to challenge the impression of reality which the other three modes
normally conveyed unproblematically. Later in the 1970s and 1980s, this mode of
documentary representation had a resurgence of sorts, particularly through
documentary film-makers such as Errol Morris in The Thin Blue Line (1988).
Nichols states it is the most self-aware mode: it uses many of the same devices as
other documentaries but sets them on edge so that the viewers attention is drawn to
the device as well as the effect (Nichols, 1991, p32).

Observational documentary reacted in a way that rebelled against the notion of being
told what to think. Classic documentary-makers such as DA Pennebaker and
Frederick Wiseman made use of the new and more mobile synchronous recording
equipment. Subtler moments of human observation assumed an important place on the
documentary-screen. Nichols (1991, ibid) states that this mode of representation
allowed the film-maker to record unobtrusively what people did when they were not
explicitly addressing the camera.

This mode however limited the film-maker to the present moment and required
disciplined detachment from the events themselves (Nichols, ibid). The following
mode of documentary representation became the interactive documentary, as it was
exemplified by J ean Rouch in his classic interactive documentary Chronique de un
ete or Chronicle of a Summer (1961). More recent films such as Atomic Caf by
De Antonio (1982) or works by Connie Field arose from the availability of the same
more mobile equipment and a desire to make the film-makers perspective more
evident (Nichols, ibid). A recognition of the interventionist role of the film maker,
with a real or actual subject, was beginning to become more apparent in documentary
production at first by way of the inclusion of the film-maker in the programme, such
as the scene in Chronicle of a Summer when J ean Rouche is seen seated at the table
with the people he later films, as both the film-maker and his subjects discuss the
pivotal question of the documentary Are you happy?.

Interactive documentarists wanted to engage with individuals more directly while not
reverting to classic exposition. Interview styles and interventionist tactics arose,
allowing the film-maker to participate more actively in present events. The film-
maker could also recount past events by means of witnesses and experts whom the
viewer could also see. Archival footage of past events became appended to these
commentaries to avoid the hazards of re-enactment and the monolithic claims of the
Voice-of-God commentary (Nichols, ibid).

2.3.1 The Performative Documentary

The performative mode of representation was identified later by Nichols (2001,
p130) in terms of his documentary representation modes. Films of this nature
acknowledge the emotional and subjective aspects of documentary, and present ideas
as part of a context, having different meanings for different people, often
autobiographical in nature (Nichols, 2001, p132). All of the films studied as part of
this thesis could possibly be identified as being performative in their representation of
actual subjects, although certainly elements of the fore-mentioned modes - expository,
observational, interactive and reflexive exist in the films studied in this thesis as
well. The clearly marked categories of Nichols modes had seemed a neat solution to
understanding the different types of documentaries that had been produced over the
years. However, in documentary theory, as in the world it represents, things change.
Voices die out. New ones are heard. As Nichols states:

The four modes belong to a dialectic in which new forms arise from the
limitations and constraints of previous forms and in which the credibility of the
impression of the documentary reality changes historicallyA new mode is
then at hand
(Nichols, 1991, p32)

Hence, in 2001, Nichols introduces two new modes one referring to older films and
the other regarding newer films - into his typology of documentary voice:


Poetic Nichols locates this voice to films of the1920s and claims that they share
common terrain with the modernist avant-garde (Nichols, 2001, p102). Some
examples include Rain (Ivens, 1929), Pacific 231 (Mitry, 1949), Composition in
Blue (Fischinger, 1935) and Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel and Dali, 1928). The
poetic notion began in tandem with modernism and although it has many facets they
all emphasise the ways in which the film-makers voice gives fragments of the
historical world a formal aesthetic integrity peculiar to the film itself (ibid , p105).

Performative Considering films produced since the 1980s, Nichols gives the rather
vague introduction to this mode saying that it raises questions about what is
knowledge. It is based on the tradition of poetry, literature and rhetoric (2001, p131).
Filmic examples such as Tongues Untied (Riggs, 1990), The Body Beautiful
(Kanefsky, 1997) and Bontoc Eulogy (Fuentes and Yearian, 1995) stress the
emotional complexity of experience from the perspective of the film-maker
him/herself (ibid, p131). So, with the performative mode, the significant shift away
from a classically objective discourse towards a greater emphasis on the subjective
aspects of a documentary was clearly acknowledged. Criticisms of this mode claim
that the loss of emphasis on objectivity may relegate such films to the avant-garde
with their excessive use of style (ibid, p139).

It is my assessment that Nichols classification of performative becomes dissipated
amongst stronger spectator-based theories, such as those which we explore later
which incorporate the spectator and documentary consciousness (see p115).

2.4 Corners Image-voice and Speech-voice

Other analytical models of documentary voice exist, although most all writers have
referred to Nichols defining ones. J ohn Corner, for example, in The Art Of Record,
proposes four modes of image voice and three modes of speech voice in
documentary. These are the evidential modes of reactive observationalism, proactive
observationalism, illustrative and then the associative mode in regard to the image
voice. Corner subsequently refers to speech voice as being categorised according to
evidential modes of overheard exchange, testimony or the classic expositional mode

(Corner, 1996, p29). Here we begin to see implications not just for documentary
form, however, but also for the affective and cognitive character of documentary
reception, understanding and use (ibid,p30).

Shown below in Table 2 is Corners model for understanding the audio-visual
phenomena of documentary, which can utilise any combination of the indicated image
or speech voices. In fact, a documentary may employ m/any of the four image voices
as well as m/any of the three speech voices throughout its length. For example, in
The Yes Men (Bonanno and Bichlbaum, 2004) there are examples of staged
situations which are pro-actively observed in the image voice, as well as illustrative
and associative interviews and then certain scenes which are taken from external
sources which constitute reactive observationalism. Meanwhile, in terms of speech
voice within that same film, there is testimony (although it is the testimony of people
who are unaware of the stunts which they have actually been exposed to by The Yes
Men (2004)), as well of examples of overheard speech, again often by way of
extracting media from third sources, and then the classic expositional voice as they
explain their unusual predicament of identity theft to the viewer.

Table 2 Corners Image and Speech Voices in Documentary

Image Voice Reactive
Illustrative Associative
Speech Voice Overheard Testimony Classic

(Modelled from Corner, 1996, p29)

Here is an acknowledgement of the documentary voice theories proposed by Nichols,
however in a format for broader application. Of the separate speech voices and the
image voices, Corner states that:

All these modes are to be found at work within different textual systems in
contemporary documentary; my typology is provisional and heuristic. It is clear
that it holds implications not just for documentary form, however, but also for

the affective and cognitive character of documentary reception, understanding
and use.
(Corner, 1996, p30)

Hence Corner contributes decisively to the maturation of documentary, in both a
practical production sense and in a theoretical voice sense. His model for image and
voice speech acknowledges that the documentary film is, in fact, one distinct form of
speaking a subject; this spoken subject contains within it certain devices which can
subsequently be received and interpreted by the viewer.

2.5 Barnouws Documentary Motives

There are most certainly others who have contributed to documentary theory,
although in a somewhat less-resounding manner. Although other theorists, including
Paul Rotha's early 'evolution of documentary' outlined in Documentary Film (1936),
have also garnered attention, Eric Barnouw's genealogy of sorts in Documentary: A
History of the Non-Fiction Film was written in 1974.

Barnouw originally undertook a serious investigation of global documentaries,
traveling to twenty countries, viewing over 700 documentaries over a period of two
years, visiting film archives and studios and interviewing documentarists (Barnouw,
1974, px). In writing the results of this study, he came to the following conclusion:

The documentarist has a passion for what he finds in images and sounds -
which always seem to him more meaningful than anything he can invent. Unlike
the fiction artist, he is dedicated to not inventing. It is in selecting and arranging
his findings that he expresses himself; these choices are, in effect, comments.
And whether he adopts the stance of observer, or chronicler, or whatever, he
cannot escape his subjectivity. He presents his version of the world.
(Barnouw, 1974, p288)

So it was the motive of the film-maker that was the driving force behind documentary
story-telling and that was what came through on film. Barnouw proposes several

stances to describe such documentary motives: prophet, explorer, reporter, painter,
advocate, bugler, prosecutor, poet, chronicler, promoter, observer, catalyst and
guerilla. There is a good illustration of this alternative typology in a current
documentary film-maker, George Gittoes, whose film Soundtrack to War (Gittoes,
2005) is about the music which inspires various American soldiers fighting in the war
in Iraq. Gittoes himself was a painter in the 1970s and is now a documentary film-
maker who continues to paint, albeit now his instrument is now a camera where he
once used a paintbrush. However, his drawings are still an intrinsic part of his
documentary work and he uses them both as a creative development or scripting tool,
as well as a visual image for his films. This apparent paradox is he a painter or a
film-maker? is contextualized by Barnouws documentary motives. As useful as this
theory is, as Bruzzi (2000, p1) reiterates, Nichols' 'family tree' is the one that by far
has the most influence and longevity.

2.6 The Direct Cinema and Cinema-verit Divide

As is becoming clear, the journey iterated thus far of the growing understanding of
documentary has by no means been a lineal one. In order to understand exactly where
documentary is now placed a term considered as post-verit it is important first to
understand the implications of its predecessor verit. Verit is an abbreviated
reference to cinema-verit, a term which film-makers use translated from Vertovs
kino-pravda or film-truth (Barnouw, 1974, p254). This ambitious documentary
notion was often coupled with a zealotry for science and nation (Renov, 2004,
p134). So verit documentaries are linked to a compendium of experiments in the
pursuit of truth. The complication with verit came about because of varying notions
of truth, and was also applied to an approach to documentary film-making very
different from that of Vertovs direct-cinema or the cinema of the observer
documentarist (Barnouw, 1974, 254). In We: Variant of a Manifesto (Vertov, 1922),
Dziga Vertov wrote with conviction of mans desire for kinship with the machine
and of our path (which) leads through the poetry of machines, from the bungling
citizen to the perfect electric man. The aim was to be as objective as a machine, to be
placed where the ordinary human could not.


Two different schools of documentary thought have both laid claim to Vertovs
legacy of being in kinship with these cameras and machines cinema verit and
direct cinema. Cinema-verit has often been associated with the Drew Associates
in the United States in films such as Primary, an hour-long film in the Kennedy-
Humphrey battle in the Wisconsin Democratic Primary election in 1960. In this
film, the presence of the camera was able to inflame certain situations in the build-
up of the political campaign to show the underlying truth of what was behind the
public face of each of the candidates. This is not a purely observational stance.
Cinema verit recognises the fact that the camera is an instrument of intrusion and
intervention. Direct cinema on the other hand, takes a less intrusive stance. The
table below outlines the different approaches.

Table 3 Cinema Verit Versus Direct Cinema

Cinema Verit Direct Cinema
Precipitate crisis Wait for a crisis
Avowed participant Invisible presence
Provacateur Uninvolved bystander
Hidden truth in artificial circumstances Truth in available events

This significant division, which correlates roughly to Nichols distinction between
the observational and the interactive mode, brought the bigger notion of truth in
documentaries into question. However, as positivist thinking started to reverse the
ideas of the scientific holiness of objectivity (such as espoused by Vertov) it has
gradually become acceptable to be subjective. After all, behind each camera is a
person and that person has a particular stance and their own perspective and
identity, interpreting the real to create what then represents the real. What
happened to cause this acceptance, this realization of the person behind the
machine? If Renovs article for the J apanese magazine Documentary Box is
anything to go by, this change bears the marks of a radical shift of values
associated with the emergence of second-wave feminism by the early 1970s
(Renov, 2004, p171).

2.7 The Post-verit Evolution of Documentary

As Table 2 indicates, compared to Nichols original modes of documentary voices,
the effect of many other theorists has been to understand voice not just as how the
film-maker sees the subject but also as a basis for understanding how the viewer also
comes to see the subject. This shift is reflected in bigger arenas of philosophy and
sociology especially for a field such as feminism. Although for the purposes of this
thesis, I have summed up this shift into a few pages, this is an ambitious attempt to
compress a field which fills many books, specifically by tracing the shift from verit
to post-verit. To say the least, it has not been a simple shift. Post-verit documentary,
emerging since the 1970s, has evolved to include performative and staged subjects
and the voices of documentary have become simultaneously more complex and also
more subject and audience aware.

The development of documentary theory has always centred largely on the concept of
representation in relation to its ties to reality, truth and politics and debates on
objectivity versus subjectivity. Although important debate has occurred in relation to
truth and ethical recording of the facts, this extends far beyond the confines of the
documentary industry into other broadcast, print and online media forms. Some of the
biggest-grossing (and therefore attended) documentaries recently are exactly those
films which embrace, rather than avoid, the dilemma of placing acknowledged
performers into the film to tackle these issues head-on.

Illustrative of this phenomenon is the third theatrical documentary by American
documentary-maker Michael Moore. It was called Fahrenheit 9/11 and Time
magazine says that in its first weekend, it torpedoed all predictions and earned $23.9
million, instantly passing Moore's Bowling For Columbine as the all-time top-
grossing documentary (excluding IMAX spectacles) (Corliss, 2004, p54).

Michael Renov takes the issue a step further and, referring to directorperformer
structures, such as in the work of Moore, says:

During the direct cinema period, self-reference was shunned. But far from a
sign of self-effacement, this was the symptomatic silence of the empowered,
who sought no forum for self-justification or display. And why would they need
one? These white male professionals had assumed the mantle of filmic
representation with the ease and self-assurance of a birthright. Not so the current
generation of performative documentarists. In more ways than one, their self-
enactments are transgressive. Through their explorations of the (social) self,
they are speaking the lives and desires of the many who have lived outside the
boundaries of cultural knowledge.
(Renov, 2004, p181)

It seems that there is now a plethora of documentary modes to place on the list of
post-verit, heralded by a cauldron of social trends including the radical shift of
values associated with the emergence of second-wave feminism by the early 1970s
(Renov, 2004, p171), This has been driven in part by converging media technologies,
and thus formats, as well as the commercial expansionism of the exhibition sector
(i.e., DVDs). In programming terms for television there is the categorisation of the
docu-soap, the docu-drama, and causing much horror to many documentarians, reality
television. More relevant to the theatrical documentary, there is now also reference to
the auto-biographical documentary, including the electronic essay, the confessional
documentary, the domestic ethnography (all detailed specifically in individual
chapters in Renov, 2004), the media supplement (such as documentary shorts and
extras which are released as an AV supplement to a pre-existing media such as a
compact disc or newspaper) and the making of documentaries which are now often
part of a feature films extras.

One of the big socio-demographic shifts reflected in the ideological basis of
documentary in the opening years of the new millenium has been about shifting
populations of skilled (and un-skilled) labour and the ageing population (and
decreasing fertility-rate) trend in Western countries. Accompanied by this there has
been mass movements of immigrant populations as they are accepted as skilled-
labour, often relocating from varying degrees and in different ways from less-

developed countries into the economic powers dispersed throughout the world. This
again, has been reflected through documentary as remarked by Renov again:
By 1990, any chronicler of documentary history would note the growing prominence
of work by men and women of diverse cultural backgrounds in which the
representation of the historical world is inextricably bound up with self-inscription.
(Renov, 1993, p178)

Again, writing the self - whether it was the immigrant self or the female self or the
gay self started to rate as a suitable subject for the big-screen documentaries. These
are the sorts of subjects which have created a substantial noise of dissatisfaction
around Nichols definition of the different voices or modes of documentary. It is these
hybrid, eclectic modern films (which) have begun to undermine his efforts to
compartmentalise documentaries (Bruzzi, 2000, p1). Bruzzi alleges that
documentaries have thus increasingly become negatively and weakly defined by
what they are not (2000, p1). The need to categorise remains an unresolved question
to both practitioners and theoreticians alike, perhaps because there seems to be a
sentiment in the documentary industry that it is an experimental craft which is open to
interpretation more so by practice than by theory. Research has often been tied to case
studies of documentaries which exhibit more than one of these voices in action
throughout the film.

2.8 Moving Towards Better Integration of Reception and the Viewer

With the advance of time and a more technology literate perspective, it is shown that
it truly is not ... too soon to move the basis of documentary difference from
representation (where nothing can be guaranteed) to reception (where nothing can be
guaranteed) (Winston, 1995, p259). By holding itself within the realms of quantified,
qualified labels, documentary misses its opportunity to be either a social hammer for
change or an open sesame for cultural re-invention (Renov and Gaines, 1999, p324)
and perhaps becomes instead an artistic form of conventionalism.

The issue of ethics, truth and factual realities is an incredibly important one to that
part of documentary that involves the recording of an event. That the subject of a

documentary film is a real and actual one is, I believe, of vital regard to the
professionalism and credibility of documentary (as will be discussed further in
Chapter 3). Within this thesis, however, the issue of ethical and valid subjects
selection and framing is only partially addressed, specifically in Section 2.6 on the
differences between cinema-verit and direct cinema styles. The topic of the
documentary subject, whatever the underlying object of the film-makers attention is,
deserves an analysis of the social phenomenon of subject selection based on an
examination into the film-makers recording and representation of a subject. It is one
of many diverse issues in understanding how a viewer engages with a documentary
film. Due to the limited word count for this thesis, ethical subject representation is
only partly explored in the truth aim clips of the particular case studies that this
thesis is examining, and not as it is applied generally and theoretically to

In conclusion, this chapter acknowledges how and where documentary theory has
come from. It is, however, my own opinion that the formative years of documentary -
making (beginning in the late 19
century) and the foundation of documentary theory
(based on Nichols theories of 1991 and preceding filmatic forms) are outmoded in
the sense of technological and ideological relevancy of todays world. This is echoed
in Bruzzis claims that the hybrid, eclectic modern films have begun to undermine
(Nichols) efforts to compartmentalise documentaries (2000, p1). The variety of
theatrical documentaries produced since the 1970s speaks for more than the
performative documentary representation, although performance as a vehicle in
theatrical documentary has certainly been prominent. Post-verit documentary
incorporates interventionist aspects beyond anything precipitated in cinema-verit
documentary, although it stems from the inevitably enhanced position of a man who
has a camera. The documentary voice, in maturing and developing over the years, has
changed and, I will argue in the following chapters, has deepened and broadened.
Perhaps it is at the precipice of truly being able to capture and represent a broader
sense of reality than it has hitherto known, both as it occurs in real life and on screen.


Documentary is the creative treatment of actuality (Grierson, 1933, p8)

We must remind ourselves that a documentary is not a thing, but a subjective
relationship to a cinematic object (Sobchack, 1999, p251)

The task of exacting what a documentary is can be a veritable can of worms. As it is
clear that the voice of documentary has undergone several ideological changes and
influential periods, it holds then that the very definition of documentary itself has
simultaneously been evolving. Many different definitions exist for documentary,
most often quantified by the referent organizations or body. On one hand, theorists
have repeatedly turned to the Griersonian definition above, that documentary is the
creative treatment of actuality (1933, p8). Yet also writing in the early years of
documentary theory, Paul Rotha observes that Documentary defines not subject or
style, but approach ... Documentary approach to cinema differs from that of story-film
not in its disregard for craftsmanship, but in the purpose to which that craftsmanship
is put (Rotha, 1934, p78). During the passing of more than 70 years, the documentary
definition has evolved and transmuted multi-fold.

This chapter summarises the broad perception of what documentary has meant and
now means, so that a conclusive definition is determined for that term of
documentary which this thesis is examining. Inherent ties between documentary and
ideology (or documentary theory and documentary practice) are shown in this chapter,
as they exist both historically, and currently. Given the ideological changes that have
occurred in the world since the first notion of documentary was theorized, it is no
surprise then that the definitions of post-verit and theatrical documentary differ
greatly in a post 9/11 world from those definitions promoted by the traditional
Griersonian perspective. In this chapter as was mentioned earlier, the thesis is
concerned primarily with cinema documentaries although it draws from the entire
range of documentary traditions both from television and the big-screen to
acknowledge the broader understandings that exist within any society about what
constitutes a documentary.
3.1 Early Definitions of Documentary

Internationally, the approaches of public broadcasters reflect the nature of how
documentaries are generally defined. It normally exists in some version or another of
Griersons often quoted perspective (derived from J ohn Grierson, who is argued to be
one of the fathers of documentary), stated in Cinema Quarterly (1933, p8) that
Documentary is the creative treatment of actuality.

Brian Winston expounded upon this definition, with the argument that truth and
actuality are essential ingredients of a documentary, regardless of what time period in
which the documentary was or will be made in. Truth or actuality as evidence within
documentary film-making remains, as always, the subject of pertinent arguments
within the theoretical arena:

I know of no theoretical position, no definition of documentary that does not in
some way reference that relationship - from the phrase coined by J ohn Grierson
- the father of the British documentary film movement, who described it as the
'creative treatment (that is, image -making) of actuality (that is, pre-existing
(Winston, 1995, p6)

What began with Griersons definitional theory of actuality, and has since been
reiterated by Winstons theoretical definition of pre-existing reality, has been debated.
Using Bowling For Columbine as a practical example, Michael Moores subjective
but researched experience of the high-school massacre in Columbine was representing
actuality in his documentary. Critics of the film however, allude to the fact that
Bowling for Columbine actually presented Moores personal opinion, as opposed to
a pre-existing actuality. The prominent documentary-theorist Michael Renov has
written about documentarys 'direct ontological claim to the real'. He says that:

Every documentary issues a "truth claim" of a sort, positing a relationship to
history which exceeds the analogical status of its fictional counterpart.
(Renov, 1986, p71)

3.1.1 Definitions of Subject

This implicit interest in the ethical truth claim of a documentarys subject is echoed
in definitions provided by other theorists. Such definitions are centrally concerned
with subject actuality. As is stated in The Film Studies Dictionary, documentaries
in this sense are:

[A]ny film practice that has as its subject persons, events, or situations that exist
outside the film in the real world.
(Blandford, Hillier and Grant, 2000, p73)

Indeed, this point about a subject which exists outside the film in the real world has
become a source of scholastic and critical argument in documentary, particularly
relating to issues of ethics of performance documentaries. In the instance of Bowling
For Columbine, this can be observed as the intellectual questioning of Moores role
as the central performer in his documentary. The authorial licence given to the
director in manipulating or performing in this outside world makes more sense to a
notion of documentary definition when one considers a more spacious and specific
definition in relation to subject. Keith Beattie allows for this, writing that:

Documentary concerns itself with representing the observable world, and to this
end works with what [J ohn] Grierson called the raw material of reality. The
documentarian draws on past and present actuality -- the world of social and
historical experience -- to construct an account of lives and events. Embedded
within the account of physical reality is a claim or assertion at the centre of all non-
fictional representation, namely, that a documentary depiction of the socio-
historical world is factual and truthful.
(Beattie, 2004, p10)

A simpler statement which illustrates the documentary as a film which is determined
by its subject is the following, which appears in The New Media Dictionary, saying
that documentaries are:

Films of actual events; the events are documented with the real people involved,
not with actors.
(Singleton, Conrad and Healy, 2000, p94)

This is echoed in Film Art: An Introduction:

A documentary film purports to present factual information about the world
outside the film.
(Bordwell and Thompson, 1997, p42)

3.1.2 Definitions of Style

Documentary media has been referred to as the open sesame of cultural reinvention
(Renov and Gaines, 1999, p324). Its style can be diverse, as was examined in
Chapter 2 through the progressive development of the documentary voice. The
Dictionary Of New Media echoes this broad sense of the style of documentary,
saying that documentary signifies:

A term with a wide latitude of meaning, basically used to refer to any film or
program not wholly fictional in nature.
(Monaco, 1999, p94)

However, there are definitions which allude to a more specific style in qualifying a
documentary. Consider the following statement by Paul Wells:

A non-fiction text using 'actuality' footage, which may include the live
recording of events and relevant research materials (i.e. interviews, statistics,
etc.). This kind of text is usually informed by a particular point of view, and
seeks to address a particular social issue which is related to and potentially
affects the audience.
(Nelmes, 1999, p212)

It seems that a documentary definition which is determined by its voice, as is the
documentary definition by national television broadcasters, is difficult to apply to a
documentary form adequate for this thesis, which is concerned with the theatrical
documentary. Instead, a fusion of both style and subject, which coalesce into a
definition which provides a basis for approach rather than the categorical sections of
subject or style, are more useful in exploring a relevant definition for documentary.
Take, for example, the definition provided in the Dictionary of Film Terms:
A non-fiction film. Documentaries are usually shot on location, use actual persons
rather than actors, and focus thematically on historical, scientific, social, or
environmental subjects. Their principle purpose is to enlighten, inform, educate,
persuade, and provide insight into the world in which we live. (Beaver, 1983, p119)

3.1.3 Broadcaster definitions

The prevailing definitional statement posited by Grierson has been incorporated into
national broadcaster guidelines, policy documents and content standards. This is the
case in Australia, where the Australian Content Standard contains the following
definition of documentary program:

Documentary program means a program that is a creative treatment of actuality
other than a news, current affairs, sports coverage, magazine, infotainment or
light entertainment program.
(Australian Broadcasting Authority, 1995, p6)

Film Australia, meanwhile, in its role as content advisor to the Australian
Broadcasting Authority, also points to issues relating to story-telling traditions. It
recommends that one characteristic of a documentary is that it has a sustained
narrative or story arc, in the context of broadcast television, of at least a commercial
half hour (Higgs, 2005, p9). This definition would indicate preference toward one
documentary voice mode the expository (see Chapter 2), although there do appear to
be some shifts form that trend in current works supported by the organisation.

Australia is not the only country where the industry definitions have been tied to a
distinct documentary tradition. In the United States, identification with the expository
mode is revealed by this dictionary definition of documentary:

A work, such as a film or television program, presenting political, social, or
historical subject matter in a factual and informative manner and often
consisting of actual news films or interviews accompanied by narration.
(Houghton Miffin Company, 2000 #97)

Obviously, in the broader community, beyond the realm of documentary specialists
and theorists, the documentary genre has maintained its ties to its earlier forms. This
may be due to the prevalence of the television format and funding system, and its
preference for current affairs and news-style format for documentary.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) further includes the documentary sector
under the broader umbrella of factual programming and distinguishes five program
families therein. According to the Office of Communications review for the public
service broadcasting industry (Office of Communications, 2004), these five categories

Factual consumer affairs programmes,
Factual entertainment including reality shows,
Hobbies and leisure,
Serious factual documentaries,
Special events.

Although these broadcaster definitions hold less value for the post-verit theatrical
documentary than they do for television documentaries, they do indicate the scope of
programs and production houses which are engaged in documentary activity. The
confusion as to a common definition of documentary could be considered a result of
the various exhibition formats which are possible for the documentary. A definition
thus becomes a matter of relativity amongst the multitude of formats and forms in
which the genre can exist. In the instance of this thesis, it is the theatrical
documentary and cinema, DVD screen formats that provide the focus and context.

3.2 Reasons for Current Definitions

Before examining exactly how the definition for documentary functions in the post-
verit theatrical sense, there are craft-making issues to be discussed which have
dramatically altered the process of documentary-making in the last 20 years.

Technology has been a pivotal source of change for the genre. It is not hard to surmise
the reasons for changes to a Griersonian definition and technique. As Bruzzi says:

The first significant factor has been the rise of non-linear editing systems such
as Avid; these have enabled filmmakers to work on video in a way comparable
to how they once worked on film, to edit quickly and to experiment with
sequences and cutting styles. The other important advance has been the
introduction of digital video cameras (DVC), small handicams increasingly
operated by directors who, whether because of taste or financial restrictions, are
willing to experiment with multiskilling. Again, therefore, technological
changes have enabled documentary filmmaking to shift direction.
(Bruzzi, 2000, p77)

As the tools have changed, so have the results. In effect, the documentary of today
engages both its subjects and viewers in entirely different ways than those in which
past documentary traditions did. Particularly, as there has been more mobility of film-
makers, their tools, their skills, and their concepts, the results of the film-maker have
become open to more interpretations than mere telling of the facts. Stories of
actuality or reality are now shown in ways which invite the sharing of an experience
rather than a statement, as the didactic forms of expositional documentary used to be
structured. These personal affinities or relationships which a viewer may have with a
documentary are, in fact, as Vivian Sobchack comments, an intrinsic part of the

The term documentary designates more then a cinematic object. Along with the
obvious nomination of a film genre characterized historically by certain
objective textual features, the term also - and more radically - designates a
particular subjective relation to an objective cinematic or televisual text. In
other words, documentary is less a thing than an experience - and the term
names not only cinematic object, but also the experienced "difference" and
"sufficiency" of a specific mode of consciousness and identification with the
cinematic image.
(Sobchack, 1999, p241)

This could be observed in many different ways. For example, Nicholas Philiberts
film Etre et Avoir is about a schoolteacher in a remote part of the French Alps,
teaching a primary-school class of mixed aged children in an old-fashioned stone
school building. The teacher lives upstairs. The children come to school each day
from their various rural homes, and the film shows these children, interacting and
developing, over the changing seasons of a school year. This film is explored in
further detail in Chapter 7, as it engages the viewer in a participant documentary
mode. It is easy to illustrate, even without seeing the film, the viewers role in
creating the documentary (consciousness) itself. Schoolteachers and both current and
former primary school students regardless of nationality, have the experience of
observing classroom dynamics throughout the film; people living in isolated areas
have the experience of cinematically getting to know people in a similar situation in
foreign places; anyone who has been to France has the experience of revisiting the
culture through the film. All of this has been done without the slightest recognition of
a styled or directed performance. Thus we see that, in documentary film, viewers can
be part of a mediation process with a theatrical film, using a process determined by
their own personal experience and processes of engaging in the film. This
involvement of the viewer also exists in documentarys siblings the fiction film and
the home-movie, however in different ways, which will become obvious after the
examination (in Chapter 5) of Meuniers filmologie. In essence, the post-verit
theatrical documentary signifies an ability to identify the knowledge, world-view or
cultural base of its viewers as part of the film-making process.

This quality of engagement in a documentary, although ultimately processed
according to each viewers personal, individual experience, does employ a specific set
of tools to affect the mechanisms of either judgement, observation/identification,
exploration or transformation all of which are examined closely in the later chapters
of this thesis.

3.3 Definition for This Thesis

Throughout the thesis, I have chosen to address the complicated issue of a
documentary definition by creating my own definition, defining documentary as:
an engagement with an audio-visual film production of insight into a real subject.
By placing the act of engagement as the subject of the definition, I recognise that a
documentary is indeed a subjective relationship to a cinematic object (Sobchack,
1999, p251) and that ultimately it is the viewer's consciousness that finally
determines what kind of cinematic object it is (1999, ibid).

A documentary subject or topic which must be real in the sense that it could be proven
to exist and justified by various viewpoints as an actuality, implies an ethical fact. At
its essence, a documentary is concerned with a subject which is not imagined by the
director, editor or entire creative team. With the actuality or realness established, this
definition then allows for the varied and creative treatment (i.e. the audio-visual
production) and the mode of viewer engagement to be observed in their respective

The use of the word insight implies the subjective nature of the documentary, while
not eliminating the potential for objectivity, depending on the type of treatment and
subject. In this sense, the documentary is treated as any other form of social
knowledge sharing devices throughout the history of humankind. J ust like law or
mathematics or even painting, it is a model which is designed to develop or deepen a
representation of a mental world. This concept is further illuminated on a case-by-
case basis in the individual engagement modes later in the thesis (Chapters 7 to 10).

Audio-visual production is a self-explanatory term, as used in this definition. It
acknowledges the use of cameras, recording equipment, editing suites and other
technology which enable an audio-visual production to be created. The production
process results in a video, DVD, Beta-Cam or Mini-DV device, which contains the

3.4 Different Ways of Reading

Under the Griersonian definition, the documentary was defined by way of the film-
maker and gave little attention to the ways in which that documentary text was read
by viewers. A lack of audience success in terms of cinematic popularity has
characterized the history of the documentary under such stark definitions, and this can
be explained through the notions of preferred, negotiated and oppositional readings.

Separating a definition of documentary from this word reality is imperative in
transcending the well-trodden debates that surround the genre. Although documentary
texts are supposedly those which aim to document reality, the process of mediation
by both the film-maker and the audience renders this to be something of an
oxymoron, it being impossible to represent reality without constructing a narrative
that may be read by viewers in such radically different ways that one viewer might
easily see another viewers understanding as being completely fictional.

This dichotomy is explained by semiologists in their distinction between open and
closed texts. All texts are open to a variety of possible readings, but in a 'closed' text
one particular reading is clearly preferred to others. Closed texts are associated with
mass culture and populist themes. The preferred reading of the text (also referred to
as a 'dominant reading') is the reading intended by the text. This term was used by
Stuart Hall (Cohen and Young, 1981), commenting that through the use of cropping,
anchorage by captions, juxtaposition and so on, the possible meanings of news
photographs are closed off. Meanwhile though, Hall also accepts the possibility that
certain readers of media texts will arrive at a negotiated reading, where the dominant
values and current social structures are broadly accepted, but the readers will
nevertheless be prepared to argue that some groups are treated unfairly within those
structures. Yet others will adopt an oppositional reading meanwhile, where the
preferred reading is wholly rejected.

In part, Hall's view of these three types of reading answers a criticism that the radical
critics do not pay sufficient attention to what the audience actually do with texts. For
documentary, it explains why a creative treatment of reality was insufficient to
define what a documentary represented to different audiences, for the very simple fact
that it meant different things to different people.

There are some points of contention to this simplified notion of preferred, negotiated
or oppositional readings. One is articulated by Fiske (1989) who says that Hall's
(1980) preferred reading theory was an early attempt to account for the process by
which popular readers could make their meanings out of the text, but it still assumed
that they engaged with the whole text in the way that the text itself 'wanted'. The
readings preferred by the dominant ideology were structured into the text as a whole,
and they could be resisted or negotiated with only in terms of an engagement with this
complete text.

Another criticism came from Morley who, in his 'Critical Postscript' (1980) to his
Nationwide study, voices doubts as to whether the category of 'preferred reading' is of
great analytical value. Since textual analysis is interpretation, therefore the property of
the analyst and not of the text, it's impossible that this thesis can arrive at a conclusive
delineation of a text's preferred reading. What this research can do however, is locate
specific points of readership in documentary texts and highlight them, as is done in
the DVD appendix, as indicators of the way in which the text wants to be read.

3.4.1 The newsreel

Looking towards examples from newsreels helps to understand readership in
documentary. 'The news', according to Hall et al. (1978), performs a crucial role in
defining events, although this is seen as secondary to the primary definers: accredited
sources in government and other institutions. While Hall claims that the mass media
do tend to reproduce interpretations which serve the interests of the ruling class, he
also noted that they are 'a field of ideological struggle'. In the words of Woollacott,
this struggle occurs 'to reinforce a consensual viewpoint by using public idioms and
by claiming to voice public opinion' (Woollacott, 1982, p109). In a key paper,
'Encoding/Decoding', Hall (1980), argued that the dominant ideology is typically
inscribed as the 'preferred reading' in a media text, but that this is not automatically
adopted by readers.

Halls ideas of creating sense from media texts differed from those of the early
semiotician, Althusser, (whose different ideas on film semiotics is relevant to
Chapter 4 and film semiotics). Halls emphasis was on a greater scope for diversity of
response to media texts and he stated that the social situations of
readers/viewers/listeners may lead them to adopt different stances. 'Dominant'
readings are produced by those whose social situation favours the preferred reading;
'negotiated' readings are produced by those who inflect the preferred reading to take
account of their social position; and 'oppositional' readings are produced by those
whose social position puts them into direct conflict with the preferred reading. See
Fiske (1992) for a summary and Fiske's own examples, and also Stevenson (1995,
p41-42). Hall insists that there remain limits to interpretation: meaning cannot be
simply 'private' and 'individual' (Hall, 1980, p135). His emphasis on ideology has
been criticized for being at the expense of the importance of ownership and control
(Stevenson, 1995, p35).

Clarification of Halls ideas came through some important research by Morley, whose
audience study of the Nationwide audience is a major text in media research
(Nationwide was a British evening current affairs TV programme). Morley's
investigation of two broadcasts focused on the way that meanings are constructed
through the interaction of the media text and the social and discourse positions of
audience members. His two main intentions were the combination of his two studies,
involving a:

Semiological study, involving the notion of the preferred readings of media texts,
the way that the polysemy of the text has its range of potential meanings
narrowed down ('closure'), and a

Sociological study of the ways that age, sex, race, class and gender may
determine a person's access to possible readings of the texts

3.4.2 Relationship between readings and sociological variables

Morley (1980) demonstrated that different groups generated quite different meanings
for the Nationwide broadcasts and showed that the meanings generated were closely
related to the subcultural groups within the same social class. He found, for example,
that bank managers rarely commented on the actual content of the programme. It
seemed to be that they shared the 'common-sense' framework of assumptions within
which Nationwide operated. For other groups, aspects of the programme's content
were much more salient. A group of management trainees saw the programme's items
on trade unions as being biased towards the unions, whereas a group of workers saw
the same items as rabidly anti-union. A group of university arts students were
especially conscious of the methods deployed by the programme makers in
constructing the discourse of Nationwide. A group of apprentices tended to show
cynicism and alienation, rejecting the whole of the system of party politics, but
nevertheless were most in line with the assumptions made by the programme makers.

Such ideas continue to have relevance for contemporary media texts. Using the
example of the 9/11 footage and the public questioning of these readings, the
pertinence of sociological groups to reading styles has become more debated within
the public media sphere. There were many different readings of these scenes that
came to television screens with the headlines War On Terror splashed across them,
that took place in different demographic groups all around the globe.

3.4.3 Three value systems & readings

These observations are in line with Stuart Hall's notions of dominant (or preferred),
negotiated and oppositional readings of media texts. Morley builds on Parkin's
suggestion (1972) that in any society there are three dominant 'meaning systems':

The dominant value system, the social source of which is the major institutional
order; this is a moral framework which promotes the endorsement of existing
inequality, in deferential terms;

The subordinate value-system, the social source or generating milieu of which is
the local working-class community; this framework promotes accommodative
responses to the facts of inequality and low status;

The radical value-system, the source of which is the mass political party based on
the working class; this framework promotes an oppositional interpretation of class
(Morley, 1992)

3.5 Updating the Ideology

All of this questioning of the past definitions of documentary is intrinsically tied to
ideological shifts that have occurred since the post-modern and narrative trends
became part of the vocabulary of cultural theory. Ideology is understood in terms of
its Marxist roots which hold claims that ideology is the knowledge and ideas
characteristic of or in the interests of a class (Hartley, 2002, p103). Following are
two central notions to the notion of ideology according to Karl Marx (1977) that
illustrate the importance of Marxist philosophy for understanding documentary

1) The individuals composing the ruling class possess among other things
consciousness, and therefore think. In so far therefore, as they rule as a class
and determine the extent and compass of an epoch, it is self-evident that they
do this in its whole range, hence among other things rule also as thinkers, as
producers of ideas, and regulate the production and distribution of the ideas of
their age: thus their ideas are the ruling ideas of the epoch. (Marx, 1977, p389)

Digital production and distribution of the post-verit documentary are not bound to
this notion as tightly as the principles that guided previous documentary voices were.
The production and distribution of the ideas of the age is no longer a lineal channel
of newspapers and newswires there is television news, radio news, mainstream press
and online web-sites, all with ample opportunity to present the ruling but also the
opposing or alternative views on any subject. The current range of documentary voice
could be seen as bypassing the inherent centrality of Marxist class rule. The second
contention of Marxist ideology is this:

2) The mode of production of material life conditions the social, political and
intellectual life process in general. It is not the consciousness of men that
determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that
determines their consciousness. (Marx, 1977, p176)

What does this hold for understanding the post-verit documentary definition? It
contextualises the digital revolution as an instigator for change of the social being of
man, woman and documentary. DVD and theatrical release documentary formats, I
will argue throughout this thesis, are changing the social being of documentary and
moving the production of documentary-films away from the centralised sources of
media. Note that this could occur in the sense of the content of a documentary film
become animated with computer generated images or could also be that through an
online forum of documentary-maker, a film-maker in Australia could secure a co-
production offer with a European production house; both these instances essentially
occur from the enhanced digitalized social being. It is in this manner that the shift in
production (or the social being) of documentary is bringing about new forms of
documentary consciousness (substituted for the consciousness of men in the Marxist
quote above).

While Marxist philosophies are concerned with the consciousness of men however,
other voices and particularly feminist ones - have brought attention to the
embodiment of ideas represented on the screen. Lisa Cartwright (1995) examines
the foundations of documentary film as a scientific, deeply disciplinary tool used to
penetrate and control (often female) bodies, while Fatimah Tobing Rony (1996) has
shown that the authority of the ethnographic film was, from its beginnings, predicated
on its value as an unimpeachable scientific index of race. These views showed that
there were certainly negotiated and often opposed readings of documentary texts, and
that that often these oppositional readings were a result of being someone other than a
white male from a well developed country. Amongst the traditional aspirations of the
feminist movement (both at large and also within the film industry), it is my opinion
that feminist ideas contribute to documentary theory by highlighting differences of
perception which often exist in the reading of texts, such as documentary.

Feminist academics, in particular Lara Mulvey and Claire J ohnston, both of whom
went on to direct their own films, really began to influence the field of documentary
making in the 1970s (Aitken, 2006, p403). Debates in the UK focused on two general
themes; one was the position of women in society and the other was the way in which
women were represented in various media forms (such as film, television and
advertising) (ibid, 402). Meanwhile, in the US, the feminist perspective was more
concerned with the best way to represent womens oppression (ibid , 398). The effect
of these feminist film-makers and academics was to validate often unheard or silent
voices. This act confronted the very forms of cultural authority that the official
documentaries of the postwar period, with their disembodies narrators and expert
interviews, had often helped to construct (ibid, p392). Voice-of-God commentary, like
those which resound through some of the earliest films such as Flahertys or
Griersons, were the not the result of an interest in perception but rather aggression,
according to statements such as the following by Renov:

In their writings, Cartwright and Rony remind us that modernity, joyous in its
constant reinvention of itself, was always aggressive, ever in need of new frontiers for
conquest. The search was for universal standards consistent with the era's ambitions.
(Renov, 2004, p135-136)

These ideas raised by the feminists hark back to those raised by the Marxist claims.
Another important aspect to Marxs ideology (particularly in the second point above
at the start of Section 3.5) is the concept of ideological state apparatuses, defined by
Hartley (2002, p102) as:

the material or institutional form taken by ideology in specified historical
circumstances in class societies. Known in the trade as ISAs, and distinguished
from RSAs or repressive state apparatuses, the two terms were coined by the
French Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser (1971).

RSAs exist as more direct and coercive forces available under the control of the state,
including the penal system, the police, the army, the legislature and government
administration. These are distinguished by their legitimated authority to command
(whether we like it or not).

In the case of Michael Moores documentaries, there is an obvious attempt to portray,
or at least to document the Bush administration as this RSA. Moores response, and
also the responsive reaction behind the documentary called 110901 (Various,
Youssef Chahine, Amos Gitai et al;, 2003) are examples of the contrasting ideological
state apparatus or ISAs. Hartley (2002, p183) again defines these ISAs as:

(V)arious social institutions that arise within civil society (the sphere of the
private, as opposed to the state). They too perform regulatory functions, and
reproduce ideology 'on behalf of' the state. They include education, the family,
religion, the legal system, the party-political system, culture and
communication. They are characterised by consent rather than coercion and by
their relative autonomy from the dominant economic class or its representatives
in the state.

3.5.1 The unreal real world

The phrase the unreal real world is my own use of a play on words, which is more
than a tricky adjectival phrase. It is used to incorporate several trends into this thesis
analysis of the documentary modes of engagement. It refers to the real issues of
globalization, digitalization, connectivity, corporatisation and privatization of
governments. These are then influencing the unreal world of representations,
especially for the theatrical documentary genre. Films including The Yes Men
(Bonanno and Bichlbaum, 2004),What The Bleep Do We Know (Arntz, Chasse and
Vicente, 2005) and Manufacturing Consent (Chomsky, Wintonick, Achbar and
Symansky, 1992) embody representational shifts in the post-verit theatrical
documentary. They demonstrate performance methods in documentary, for example
in the comical approach of The Yes Men in dealing with identity theft and exposing
dishonesty in corporate globalization. This representational shift is most effectively
illustrated using the example of the historical footage of the Twin Towers of the
World Trade Organisation (WTO) crashing to what would become known as Ground
Zero on September 11, 2001 in New York.

Examining the footage of 9/11 from the stance of dominant, negotiated and
oppositional reading contextualizes readership as it applies to screen media in terms
of its modern-day, global situation. That footage showed the power of the real-time
image and can be discussed as an act of screen reading coupled with the omnipotence
of immediate screen presence in context for the mass world audience today. In
Table 4 below I propose some possible reading styles to indicate how this work of
audience-reading could be applied to the screen:

Table 4 - Possible Readings of 9/11 American Twin Towers Collapse
Preferred Reading Attack on Democracy, Attack on Freedom,
Negotiated Reading Attack by somebody
Oppositional reading An act of martyrdom

Remembering the distinction between open and closed texts, the newsflash of 9/11
might be considered as a relatively closed text, with its mass media headlines the
world over. In contrast, documentary, although still acknowledging the complexities
of readership, extends this into an open text.

A film was produced after this incident called '11'09"01 September 11 (2003). It
displays the power that the real-time image of the incident had over the world in
accordance with the definition that a documentary is an engagement with an audio-
visual film production of insight into a real subject. The film compiled the
perspectives - of 11 different directors, from 11 different countries showing the way
in which the incident in New York was perceived by themselves or their/a localized
situation. The producer himself, Alain Brigand, claims that the film is a
cinematographic mosaic in his artistic statement at Artificial Eye (Brigaind, 2002).
According to the paradigms relating to engagement in this thesis, those detailed in
Chapter 6 and applied in the chapters following, '110901 September 11 is a
journey documentary (as will be further explained in detail in Chapter 9). It allows
the audience to accompany a journey which explores its subject, using performative,
compilation modes of reproduction. It engages the viewer in an encounter-based
story, that is, different encounters of the 9/11 news footage within local situations,
with an audio-visual production of (performative and compiled) insight into the real
subject of the 9/11 incident.

3.6 Fundamental Points of Change in Documentary Representation

Listed here are some of the representational changes in brief form that are observed as
contributing to the changing definition of documentary. It is my assessment that the
9/11 documentary film, like many other post-verit theatrical documentaries,
represented underlying ideologies and deep structures stemming from:

1. Technology and the digital database phenomenon integrated use of
technology as a way of structuring information like a database,
2. Global perception of a newly forming universal village or village consciousness,
3. Trans-national disbelief of mass media as an instrument for unbiased or complete

In relation to the first point, the digital database phenomenon is the result of
technology becoming integrated into the way in which humans operate and are
organized at a developed level, or as Marx (1977, p389) calls it the ruling class (this
may be different for people of undeveloped nations or communities). The
proliferation of technology has changed the way that people store their photographs
(e.g. on computers instead of albums) and the way that people are dating (online
instead of at the drive-in). Take the MySpace phenomenon, an online index of home
pages with links to friends pages which has boomed amongst the teenage peer groups
as a way of networking and virtual socializing. This type of digital database
phenomenon is no longer a theoretical idea but has emerged into a commercial fact,
where for example a young teenage girl in North London recorded and released her
first album on MySpace on her own, and then following the downloaded statistics of
how popular she was, was then picked up by a record label. Examples of the
workings of the digital database are observable in the 9/11 documentary by its
compilation style format. A digital world map was shown between each of the eleven
short films, each lasting 11 minutes, nine seconds and one frame (hence the film title
110901). A red dot brought the viewers attention as to which country the next film
(or more correctly, the films director) belonged. Such mapping gave a geographical
perspective as to where the next subjective voice came from, and what information
regarding the external environment the viewer may apply to the short film that
followed. After each short film, the map would reappear. The viewer would relocate
himself or herself within the digital database.

This is the phenomenon of the digital database, at work in the documentary genre, but
alive beyond it as a mode of modern human psyche. It is a phenomenon that demands
heightened processing skills by humans. Renov sums such demands by stating:

As our perceptual world moves toward over-saturation, our critical responses must
strain to equal the speed, density and contradictoriness of the media environment.
(Renov and Gaines, 1999, p324).

The 9/11 documentary film is also an apt illustration of the second concept regarding
a newly forming global village. In the 11 short films that the documentary included,
local perspectives offered global insight. Stories and characters were subject to their
micro-environments as they received the news of this event which would come to
elicit the War On Terror. This film, in seeking out subjective views from many
cultural perspectives, unites village opinions with international events a newly
forming global village.

In reference to the third point listed above, post-verit documentary making is
grounded in ideologies that reject assumptions that the mass-media are instruments
for unbiased or complete information. This perspective is connected with, and
partially arises from, the previous two points. Many media theorists, practitioners and
observers have pointed with concern to the increasing concentration of media
ownership, and the negative implications for the diversity and authenticity of
information from media giants. The global reach of the worlds six biggest media
companies is illustrated, for example, in the Ultra-Concentrated Media Chart in
Figure 1, which depicts media ownership as it relates to the six biggest stake-holders
of media companies worldwide. Such information and arguments are put by a wide
variety of media researchers and critics, including Croteau and Hoynes (2006),
McChesney (1997), Ryan (1992), Tungate (2004) and Tunstall (1977), among many
others. If genuine diversity and authenticity of information is being produced through
these media giants, then there is a propensity for broad views of the world and media
attention. However, if many or some of these media companies produce the same
information with the same focus, it becomes clear that the driving force behind public
media attention becomes skewed to fit the company guidelines of a handful of
powerful organisations. In this sense, if documentary is indeed looking to make new
voices heard, then the traditional funding and production models can be limiting. In
any case, Figure 1 shows how the effect of convergence has shaped the media
environment of today.

Figure 1 Ultra Concentrated Media
(source: New Internationalist Online, 2001)

This figure is not available online.
Please consult the hardcopy thesis
available from the QUT Library
In Conclusion A Documentary Definition for the Future

The beginning of this chapter outlined the perspectives of broadcasters and theorists
in how they defined documentaries. In closing this chapter, I argue that these
broadcaster definitions are outmoded and only effectively regress the documentary
form or forms. By funding, producing and exhibiting a style of documentary which is
based on the Griersonian documentary, only fringe or small documentary ventures are
able to tell stories of another shape to the journalistic style of Grierson, and
innovative approaches, such as that shown in the Australian documentary Eternity
(J ohnstone, 1994), become hard to find. This regressive nature of how broadcasters
conceptualise documentaries is further compounded by the fact that broadcasters work
within the constraints of concentrated ownership models (as exemplified in Figure 1).
The result of this rigidity in broadcast stylisation, certainly at least within Australia
where the number of exhibiting television slots are limited and the funding
opportunities equally so, is that a new format for funding, distributing and exhibiting
documentary is emerging. The television screen is being replaced or enhanced with
the home theatre, and the limited documentary slots can now be substituted with the
mass-market opportunities of DVD. The theatrical, post-verit documentary takes its
purpose of engaging audiences with an audio-visual film production of insight into a
real subject beyond the television broadcasters and into a larger media environment.
Here, stories can be told which allow for preferred, negotiated and oppositional
readings of full documentary texts. These stories can also be economically valuable
at a production level.

This shift is changing the way in which documentary stories can be told, and the
subjects that they explore no longer need to be approved by broadcaster guidelines.
Theatrical documentary, unlike its television counterpart, can explore issues
surrounding the primary definers: the government and other institutions (Hall, 1978).
The genre is subject to the same market environment of its somewhat flashier friend
on the DVD shelf the fiction film. Is the central ethical core of truth and a real
subject in the documentary form lost in this magnified-production era? This thesis is
based on the premise that, in fact, documentary seems to be in a transitive state of
heightened awareness as opposed to degeneration. Renov and Gaines provide support
for this conclusion with their observation that:
If there is a consensus emerging among the newest generation of documentary
scholars, it may just be that representations of the real have more rather than
less power to shape our world than heretofore, that the production and control of
the flow of historically based images is increasingly the arena of social power
that matters most. It's just that the sites and situations of documentary culture
have exploded exponentially - on cable TV twenty-four hours a day, on urban
billboards and big screen displays, in museums and on the Internet.
(Renov and Gaines, 1999, p326)

Technology has undoubtedly overcome barriers that limited communications across
distances and culture, and consequently re-shaped the documentary viewers notion of
what is foreign and what is relevant to them in their localized situation. Again, a
pertinent example is the symbolically powerful footage of the World Trade
Organisation towers crashing in New York and the world-wide reception of that
footage. Spectators in countries in the West generally viewed it as being a very
close, almost domestic reality, regardless of how far away from New York they
happened to be at the time. In the digital age, cultural or subcultural proxemics can
often be closer than geographical ones. Renov and Gaines note that reality outside of
cultural signs, as it is so often said, does not exist (1999, p2).

What is important for the documentary scholar is the inclusion of the fact that
readership does exist in documentary through semiotic signs which are read and
translated by viewer cultures beyond those that are directly depicted in a documentary
film. The power of screen language is increasingly becoming a greater source of
cultural capital. As long ago as 1977, Roland Barthes, the semiotician, announced 'the
death of the author' and 'the birth of the reader', declaring that 'a text's unity lies not in
its origin but in its destination' (Barthes and Heath, 1977, p148). Almost 30 years
later, it seems that in the progressive marriage of technology and documentary voice
theory, the birth of the documentary reader or spectator has occurred under the
name of documentary consciousness.


Semiotics, and after it, psychoanalysis, turn attention to fiction films where they
analyze the work of the unconscious and its affinities with ideology
(Nichols, 1991 p.10)

Semiotics is an area of study which branched off from linguistics. The term semiotics
is derived from the Greek word semeion meaning sign. The field of semiotics has
resulted in dispersed theories when applied to film theory; yet even more fragmented
theories appear in the less developed arena of documentary theory. This chapter
examines the theory of signifying codes within film, as semioticians and theorists in
related fields have interpreted them over the last century. The study of signs and
signifying codes was originated by Ferdinand de Saussure, the Swiss linguist whose
original interest in structural linguistics was later interpreted in the post-structural
notions of enunciation, ideology and interpellation, which are explained in detail in
this chapter. Put simply, since the development of semiotics, film theorists have
slowly moved from analysis that focussed on production towards more consumption
or reception based ways of understanding the underlying codes of films. These
underlying semiotic codes are as important to the creation of documentary
consciousness (further explored in Chapter 5) as for understanding the film-making
tools which produce a documentary film (more specifically referred to in Chapter 2).
This process that semiotic theory has undergone, albeit at times confusingly diverse
and fragmented, illuminates theoretical phases which have shaped documentary as a
genre. There is arguably a symbiotic relationship between documentary and semiotic
theory, due to both fields being focussed on representation of the real.

4.1 Deep Structure

The notion of deep structure will be particularly significant to my following
discussion in recognising these underlying semiotic codes in post-verit theatrical
documentaries. Deep structure is to the documentary film what grammar is to a
speaker of a language. The theory of deep structure holds that a person (the
individual receiver) may process information as an engine of a car would process
fuel. However the theory also recognises that individuals have perception - what
Noam Chomsky, in Aspects of the Theory of Syntax (1965), calls competence
and this is specific to each individual (as in the model and specificity of the car
engine and its fuel mileage). Such competence may be defined as an individuals
internalised, taken-for-granted knowledge of a language. This contrasts with
Chomskys notion of performance, which relates to actual utterances. In other words,
a persons utterances are external evidence of linguistic competence, although socio-
cultural factors other than an individuals language competence can affect the nature
of his/her performance. Grammatical competence requires an ability to recognise the
specific grammatical structures of a given language and to reproduce and use them
effectively in communication (Chomsky, 1965). Competence also refers to the level
of knowledge that is necessary for a person to produce an infinite number of novel
sentences. In applying this to documentary film theory, I will use the term
competence to refer to a films events or larger script, rather than to a finer analysis
of the sequencing of particular shots. I consider competent documentary structures as
ones which present information on a subject to the viewer in a way that the viewer
can recognise, engage in and process.

The development of a semiotic film theory, although grounded in language analysis
and film theory, has, particularly since the 1960s, progressed into stages of post-
structuralism, enunciation, interpellation, cognitive science and pragmatics. This is
what Nichols refers to in the opening quote above as psychoanalysis and the
analysis of the work of the unconscious and its affinities with ideology (1991, p10).
When the theory was further developed in the 1980s, there was a significant shift
from the previous interest in the semantic and syntactic workings of documentary
film (such as the more internal documentary voice theories and other classic film
semiotics) towards emphasis on the external or abstract notions of how the mind
interprets and processes that which appears on the audio-visual screen (Monaco,
2000, p419).

4.2 Shifting Focus of Film Semiotics
Many individual theorists have tried to
address the basic question behind film
semiotics, which is How do we know
what we see?. Before this thesis goes
into a more detailed analysis of individual
theorists and their contributions to this
subtle and complex school of thought, I
will describe the basic shift of focus
which has occurred several times in film
semiotics. Umberto Ecos simplified
interpretation of this process is simplified
and summarised in Monacos How to
Read a Film: The World of Movies,
Media, Multimedia: Language, History,
Theory (Monaco, 2000, p419). I have
further simplified Monacos overview
into a visual summary of semiotics
history in Figure 2 The Shifting Focus
of Film Semiotics.

Firstly there was linguistics. Study of film
as a language of its own right became
interesting to theorists, who sought to
understand the underlying meaning of codes
and signifiers of these codes in film texts. In
its earlier forms, film was seen as another
form of a representational text, much like a photograph, a realist painting or a literary
text. Taking an example from language, if one truly wanted to understand Swahili,
then it would not suffice to simply listen to Swahili and to vaguely comprehend what
was said. The correct production of grammatical and underlying structures in Swahili
would need to be interpreted and generated by the speaker and listener in turn. For
Swahili children, this language production work would occur subconsciously; for the
adult foreigner, this work may be done more consciously.
Figure 2 The Shifting Focus of
Film Semiotics
(Compiled from Monaco, 2000, p419)

Film semiotics has used linguistics to begin understanding the ways in which internal
human processes are used for interpreting films. Although it has continued to use
linguistic theories, there have been several shifts in the focus of these. Film semiotics
has used post-structural concepts to differentiate a text from its meaning. In the
practising field, this differentiation was echoed by Nicholas Philibert, (the director of
Etre et Avoir examined in Chapter 8) in his Masterclass at the Sheffield
International Documentary Festival in 2004. He discussed the conceptual process of
documentary making, saying:

Very often I say I make a difference between the idea and the subject, and for
me it is very important to separate these two concepts or things because they
are very separate things.
(Philibert, 2004)

Once this separation was established within the study of film semiotics, film
production became the site for investigating and understanding meaning generation
within film pieces. Semioticians proceeded from that shift to become more
concerned with film consumption in order to understand how the meaning is
generated, including psycho-semiotic approaches. This has all led to the current, still-
fragmented field of new film semiology.

4.3 Linguistic Beginnings

Table 5 A summary of influential linguists & theories

Linguistics Pierce, Saussure
Prague school, Russian
1915-1930 Code, Semiotics, Semiology, Abstract structural form, Langue,
Structural linguistics Emile Benveniste 1930s Theory of deixis, Syntagm, Paradigm, Influenced film: subject
Classic Film Theory Andre Bazin 1940s Semantic, Internal film interaction
Linguistics/ Classic Semiology Roman J akobson 1960 Function of language
Structuralism Claude Levi-Strauss 50-60s Semiotics
Classic Semiology/
Structuralism/ Linguistics to
influence the new film
Noam Chomsky 1970s Meta-linguistics, Universal grammar, Deep Structure,
Transformational generative grammar

This table is based on the accumulation of notes taken from the main work Stam, R., Burgoyne, R. and Flitterman-Lewis, S. (1992) New Vocabularies in Film Semiotics :
Structuralism, Post-structuralism, and Beyond, Routledge, London New York. References to these theorists, among others, has been noteworthy throughout the general
literature included in the full bibliography.
This summary is due to the prevalence of their mention throughout the full reference list at the end of this paper. Particular information was extracted mainly from the
book listed above.
Semiotics first came to prominence as that part of linguistics which related to the
study of signs, signification and signifying systems(Stam et al., 1992, p1). Table 5
summarises the history of how linguistics has influenced semiotics as a field of
study. The American pragmatic philosopher Charles Sanders Pierce (1839 1914)
and the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure (1857 1913) came to be known as the
fathers of the field of semiotics and semiology, which today have taken on broad
applications across various disciplines, including and beyond film. In Signs and
Meaning in the Cinema, Peter Wollen explains the Swiss linguists work:

Saussure, who was impressed by the work of Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) in
sociology, emphasised that signs must be studied from a social viewpoint, that
language was a social institution which eluded the individual will. The
linguistic system - what might nowadays be called the 'code' - pre-existed the
individual act of speech, the 'message'. Study of the system therefore had
logical priority.
(Wollen, 1998, p79)

This statement alludes to two very important concepts for Saussurean linguistics:
those of langue and parole, using the original French in which they were first
termed. There are various ways of nominating this distinction. Langue is used with
regard to the institutional rules which a particular system works under; parole refers
to the dynamic with which that particular system is functioning within those rules
around it. Langue is an abstract system; it is the institution of the set of rules in
which a system of knowledge operates, such as the rules for playing chess. Parole is
the concrete activity or event, it can be observed as an occurring event, and is often
the application, and not the formation, of knowledge, such as two people playing
chess on a particular occasion (Saussure, Reidlinger, Sechehaye and Bally, 1974).
Distinguishing between these two concepts is central to most interpretations of film
semiotics. The conclusive question arising from classic film semiology was, as
Christian Metz (1964) asks in his seminal article (in French): Le cinema: langue ou
language? Warren Buckland repeats Metzs question and answers it by saying that
theorists soon realised that it [film] is a language sans langue (Buckland, 1995,
p33). In the process of examining semiotics as they occur in documentary, I extend
Bucklands observations and propose that, in any case a langue cannot be a language
if there is no possibility for two-way communication.

Indeed, this thesis, in trying to determine the modes of documentary engagement, is
effectively illustrating parole operating within the institution of langue. The
parole functions as the paradigmatic set, and the different forms that each studied
documentary addresses those paradigms with constitute the langue. Effectively, the
parole becomes the basis for identifying the langue. This explanation will be fleshed
out more as the complexities of film semiotics become apparent.

Charles Sanders Pierce, a contemporary of Saussure, identified three branches of
semiotics (Peirce, Burks, Harthshorne and Weiss, 1931). These were:

1. Syntax which is often termed as pure grammar and is the study that relates signs
to one another.
2. Semantics which is often termed as logic proper and is the study that relates
signs to things in the world and patterns of signs to corresponding patterns that
occur among the things the signs refer to.
3. Pragmatics which is often termed pure rhetoric and is the study that relates signs
to the agents who use them to refer to things in the world and to communicate
their intentions about those things to other agents who may have similar or
different intentions concerning the same or different things.

According to Peirce (1931), semiotics is the science that studies the use of signs by
any scientific intelligence. By that term, he meant any intelligence capable of
learning by experience, including animal intelligence and even mind-like processes
in inanimate matter. By Peirce's criteria, computer techniques for processing
knowledge bases and databases could be called computational semiotics. Filmic
techniques for processing audio-visual knowledge could be called screen semiotics.
Using this system, watching footage and subject matter that was taken from actuality
and not an imagined situation, can be defined as documentary semiotics.

Russian formalists were also early contributors to the structural linguistics period. In
their period of semiotic fame between the years 1915 through 1930, the Russian
formalists came more and more to see artistic texts as dynamic systems in which
textual movements were characterised by a dominant (i.e. the process by which one
element, for example rhythm or plot or character, comes to dominate an artistic text
or system) (Stam et al., 1992).

It was due to the thinking of these early years of language analysis that documentary
was to become defined by whatever its subject may be. During the period of classical
film semiology, communication analysis was developed significantly by Roman
J akobson with his theories on the functions of language (expanded in 'Linguistics and
Poetics', J akobson, 1960). As part of the Prague structuralism movement in 1928,
J akobsons communication paradigm distinguishes six components of any speech
event: sender, receiver, message, code, contact and context (J akobson, 1960). This
broad grouping and classifying of approaches to semiotics also came to incorporate
the notions of discourse. J akobsons prominent schema, which emerged from that
era, influenced many subsequent methodological approaches to artistic discourse and
cultural products. Indeed, in this thesiss framing of a paradigm set for audience
engagement, the communication paradigm devised by J akobson has been
incorporated, such as is detailed in Chapter 6.

4.4 Linguistics, Universal Grammar and the Deep Structure Debates

Later, in 1965, a significant development in linguistics shifted preconceived notions
of language, mostly through the work of Noam Chomsky and his publication of
Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. In this work, Chomsky developed his notions of
competence versus performance in a similar vein to earlier Saussurian linguists
who worked on the notions of langue and parole, as was explored in the opening
paragraphs of this chapter. Chomskys idea that an innate capacity for language
exists in human beings prior to birth became known as a linguistic development
called generative or transformational grammar.

Chomskys work led to the exploration of peoples capacity to generate and
understand new sentences, which opened up the deep structure debate. This deep
structure is the fundamental mechanisms of language, the grammar or underlying
logic, which makes possible the engendering of an infinity of grammatical sentences
(Stam et al., 1992, p66). Its opposite would be the study of those surface, syntactical
elements, which are characteristic of linguistic study. Transformational grammar
includes the linguistic elements of semiotics as outlined by Pierce (above). In

This grammar has a syntactic dimension - the system of rules determining
which sentences are allowable in a language, a semantic dimension, the rules
determining the interpretation of the sentences generated, and a
phonological/phonetic dimension, a system of rules organizing the sequence of
sounds used to generate sentences.
(Stam et al., 1992, p66)

So transformationalist or generative or universal grammar, as this specific branch of
post-structural linguistics is known, emerged in the United States around a group of
linguists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The complexities are indeed
detailed and within the limitations of this thesis cannot be sufficiently explored in
depth. A basic understanding for film semiotics is explained in Chomskys
Language and Mind (1968, pp 65-66):

Current work in phonology (i.e. generative phonology) is demonstrating that
the real richness of phonological systems lies not in the structural patterns of
phonemes but rather in the intricate systems of rules by which these patterns
are formed, modified, elaborated. The structural patterns that arise at various
stages of derivation are a kind of epiphenomenon. The system of phonological
rules make use of the universal features in a fundamental way, but it is the
properties of the systems of rules, it seems to me, that really shed light on the
specific nature of the organisation of language.

Classical film semiology then began to apply linguistic notions of deep structure to
film theory or in this particular case, documentary theory. The major American
proponent of a transformationalist approach to the cinema has been J ohn Carroll. In
'A Program For Cinema Theory' (1977), Carroll puts forward the argument for a
cinematic grammar, saying that:

(C)inema does indeed have a grammar, that its 'deep structure' consist of events
while its surface structure consist of actualised film sequences, felt by ordinary
viewers to be grammatical or ungrammatical.
(Carroll, 1977, p338)

So it is those events, as explained here as key indicators of deep structure within
film that determine both the deep structure and, thus, the mode of engagement, with
which a viewer receives a documentary. Each documentary uses its own unique
construction of a deep structure to the events which take place throughout the films
representation of its subject. Deep structure is not just the actualised film sequences
or rendering of story formation.

According to Robert Stam and his colleagues (1992, p66), much of Carroll's
normative view has the effect of naturalising and universalising one historically
bound set of film practices - those of dominant cinema. This thesis, by contrast,
takes a more nuanced view, and attempts to identify a notional set of paradigms with
undefined syntagmatic possibilities that apply to documentaries internationally and
cross-culturally, rather than one universalized, dominant perspective. Stam et al.
discusses the attempts by film theorists to apply Chomskys transformational
linguistic models to cinema, saying:

Extended to the study of the film-text, generative semiology studies the rules
which guarantee the coherence and the progression of a film. It asks such
questions as: What are the operative rules which render a series of shots
'readable'? Is it possible to compare these rules to those of a natural language?
(Stam et al., 1992, p66)

Comprehending the dynamics at play in filmic realms, although an extensive and
continuing source of interest for theoreticians, has not led to one conclusive format
for understanding the parole or performance of documentary, or for that matter
filmic, engagement.

Universal paradigms, however, can be observed in documentaries in a manner that
allows for varying syntagms within those paradigms. These concepts are explained
as part of the next period for film semiotics post-structuralism.

4.5 Less Universal, More Complex Post Structuralism

From classical film semiology, theorists moved towards post-structuralism as a way
of narrowing down an analysis of the underlying codes of film. Enunciation, as part
of this move towards post-structuralism, was later to divert theories which were of a
pragmatic or cognitive or psycho-analytical nature. Theorists continued to recognise
the linguistic nature of film semiotics but also acknowledged that:

If the concept of 'language' is to be used it must be used scientifically and not
simply as a loose, though suggestive, metaphor. The debate which has arisen in
France and Italy, round the work of Roland Barthes, Christian Metz, Pier Paolo
Pasolini and Umberto Eco, points in this direction.
(Wollen, 1998, p79)

Christian Metz wrote extensively on the notion of film semiotics ; Stam et al refers to
him as the key figure among the filmo-linguistic pioneers (1992, p33). In the
1970s, the Frenchmans work focused on developing signifiers in cinematic terms
(the signified of the narrative) such as the grande syntagmatique which originally
appeared in Film Language; A semiotics of the Cinema, (Metz, 1974) and
subsequently reprinted in Film Theory and Criticism (Metz, 1998). Metz wrote
about the film diegesis, a term described by subsequent theorists as the total world
of a narrative (Hartley, 2002, p66).

Of particular relevance to this thesis is the eight syntagmatic types that Metz devised
to constitute a typology of the diverse ways that time and space can be ordered
through editing within the segments of the narrative film. Metzs sophisticated
syntagmatic categories for narrative film involved syntagms that were comparable to
sentences in verbal language. Metz argued that there were eight of these key filmic
components which were based on ways of ordering narrative space and time. These

The autonomous shot (e.g. establishing shot, insert),
The parallel syntagm (montage of motifs),
The bracketing syntagm (montage of brief shots),
The descriptive syntagm (sequence describing one moment)
The alternating syntagm (two sequences alternating)
The scene (shots implying temporal continuity)
The episodic sequence (organized discontinuity of shots),
The ordinary sequence (temporal with some compression).
(Metz, 1974, Chapter 5)

Earlier Saussurean concepts of langue and parole morphed into different terms under
Metzian semiotics. A paradigm is a notional set of signs in a text (for example, all
the different road signs that exist) and a syntagm is the combination in which signs
are used for a given context (e.g. How does one follow these road signs in France?
How does one follow these road signs in Australia?). These terms are useful in
contextualizing the influences from the field of language for film semiotics. Stam
and his colleagues argue that:

(W)hile no image entirely represents another image, most narrative films
resemble one another in their principal syntagmatic figures, those units which
organize spatial and temporal relations in various combinations. The true
analogy between film and language, then, operates not at the level of basic
units, but rather in their common syntagmatic nature. By moving from one
image to two, film becomes language. Both language and film produce
discourse through paradigmatic and syntagmatic operations. Language selects
and combines phonemes and morphemes to form sentences; film selects and
combines images and sounds to form syntagmas, i.e. units of narrative
autonomy in which elements interact semantically.
(Stam et al., 1992, p37)

Metzs typology is a surface and semantic analysis applied to the fictional film; this
thesiss typology is focused on a deep structure analysis - it includes syntactics,
semantics, phonetics and pragmatics - applied to the documentary film. I propose
that a film diegesis is associated, but differentiated, to the documentary diegesis
due to the existence of the documentary subject, and therefore diegesis about that
subject, beyond the realms of the cinematic experience. The phenomena of this is
clearly illustrated in the final chapter of the DVD, under the section entitled
Narrative Style, which explores various documentary styles of this complete
narrative of a subject which exists in real life, beyond the cinema screen.

Metz also theorised on concepts which were based in later psycho-semiotics; his
original essay appeared in Screen J ournal entitled The Imaginary Signifier (Metz,
1975) and these theories were fully detailed in his later writings in The Imaginary
Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema (Metz, 1982). In the former work, Metz
sought an answer to the question, What contribution can . psycho-analysis make
to the study of the cinematic signifier? (Metz, 1975, p28). The cinema engages
processes of the unconscious more than any other medium, in the sense that it uses
imaginary signifiers in order to:

Ensure the functioning of the cinematic apparatus,
Create the conditions of reception specific to the film spectator, and
Generate the peculiar fantasmatic quality of cinematic signification.

Although there are obvious implications for the documentary genre in Metzs earlier
notions such as the diegesis, cinematic syntagm and paradigm, his later psycho-
analytic theories, which deal with terms such as the imaginary, the irreal and the
fantasmic, place Metzian notions closer to the fictional film and further away from
analysis of documentary film, with which this thesis is dealing. Introduction of
fantasy and the unconscious into film theory begins in The Imaginary Signifier
when Metz says that screen images are made present in the mode of absence
offering us unaccustomed perceptual wealth, but unusually profoundly stamped with
unreality (Metz, 1975, p48). These notions will be explored in the section below on
psycho-analysis and Lacanianism, insofar as they exist (or fail to exist) within the
dynamics which create, what Sobchack calls, documentarys charge of the real
(1999, p253).

4.5.1 Post-structural semiotics

Ideas of enunciation, ideology and interpellation also emerged in the 1970s for film
theory. Several of the post-structural theories and accompanying terms have been
compiled from various readings in Table 6 Post-Structural Semiotics (Theories and

Table 6 Post-Structural Semiotics (Theories and Theorists)

Christian Metz Film Semiotics, Film Diegesis, The Grande Syntagmatique,
Psycho-analysis, Filmic Enunciation, Meta-discourse in film,
Valentin Volosinov Dialogic, Inner Speech
Edward Said Orientalism, Pluralism
Umberto Eco Transmission, Unconscious, Iconic Codes, Taste/ Sensibility
Roland Barthes Carnivale Theatrics, Polysemy
Michel Foucault Power, Discourse, Self, Governmentality
Karl Marx and Louis
Interpellation, Ideology, Realist, Institutional relationships,
Modes of Address,
J acques Lacan and
Sigmund Freud
Theory of Subjectivity, Desiring Spectator, Reception theory,
Male Gaze, Lacanianism, Psycho-analysis, Metapsychology
Laura Mulvey,
Teresa de Lauretis
Feminist Theory, The Female Gaze, Female enunciation

Detailed explanations of each are too wordy to include in this thesis but they are
mentioned in Table 6 to contextualise some of the terms which have contributed to

This table is based mainly on the citations made by Monaco, J . (2000) How to Read a Film : the
World of Movies, Media, Multimedia : Language, History, Theory, Oxford University Press, New
York. Other sources for these references have occurred throughout the literature included in the
full bibliography.
an understanding of post-structuralism in film semiotics. Post-structuralists who
drew from and extended the works of Karl Marx, such as Louis Althusser, Michel
Foucault, Umberto Eco and Edward Said began to include ideological and external
theories into film semiotics. Film discourse became a part of the broader notion of
discourse. However, the incorporation of post-structural ideas is explained by

The project of abstracting "language" away from the cultural and social
contexts in which it appears as a human phenomenon seemed attractive on
theoretical grounds, especially for an emergent science like linguistics, but the
consensus today is that this project is unrealistic.
(Beaugrande, 1997)

Interpellation was a term coined by the French Marxist political philosopher Louis
Althusser. It is important for documentary as it explains the process by which
ideology 'hails' or addresses individuals as its subjects and therefore engages
spectators. Interpellation is the very mechanism by which people are subjected to
ideology, and it is usually understood as a textual operation of 'audience positioning'.
Although the notions of interpellation and ideology in general have been criticised
since the early 1970s as being too essentialist and abstract (Hartley, 2002, p125),
they can be useful as concepts when applied to specific discourses, rather than to the
operation of trans-historical and general forces on abstract subjects. For example, in
the four documentaries examined in this thesis, we can use interpellation to draw,
from the ideological discourse of each film, an interpellated subject. In Bowling For
Columbine the discourse of national gun ownership interpellated an economically
disadvantaged and politically-ignored subject. In Etre Et Avoir the discourse of
traditional schooling interpellated an individual and developmental subject. In this
kind of usage, interpellation has something in common with the concepts of mode of
address, orientation, and preferred reading, with the added conceptual advantage that
it presumes the politics of discourse (Hartley, 2002, p125).

4.6 Psychoanalytic Models of Cinematic Engagement

At this point in film semiotics, once these post-structural theories came to be
recognised in the theory of reading films, the relationship between the spectator
and the screen image became known as psychoanalytic film theory. Two models will
be examined to illuminate this field. The final part of this chapter is the purely
psychoanalytic model proposed by the French psychologist, J acques Lacan.
Following in the next chapter is a psycho-analytical but also a phenomenological
approach, afforded by the Belgian J ean Pierre Meunier, which has been more
influential in my examination of the post-verit theatrical documentary and its
relationship with the spectator. Meunier was also a psychologist but primarily
affected by Maurice Merleau Ponty's existential phenomenology of embodied
perception and European filmologie (Sobchack, 1999, p242). Freudian psycho-
analysis influenced both of the models. The Oedipal complex and desire, as Freud
came to define them, have been particularly shaping for the Lacanian notions of
objectified desire and fetish for screen objects (e.g. Lacan, Miller and Sheridan,

4.6.1 Lacanian Psychoanalysis

A fundamental basis of Lacanian psychoanalysis is that of objectification. The object
is a fundamental part of the artistic text because, according to Ellie Ragland Sullivan
in her introduction to Lacan and the Subject of Language:

all subjects are fixed by the enjoyment of their symptoms, a joissance that
makes them singular, limited by the particular "object" fixities which stand as a
limit, as an exception to the infinite ciphering of the unconscious.
(Ragland-Sullivan, Lacan and Bracher, 1990, p17)

This was a progression from Freudian analysis where symptoms revealed libidinal
satisfactions engendered by fantasies-compromise formations where the repressed
returned (ibid,1990, p17). The progression on Freudian theory, later made by Lacan,
argued that if something can be de-ciphered, it was formed in the first place, and
thus, has the same nature as language (substitution, referent, etc) (ibid,1990, p17).

According to Sobchack (1992, p241), Lacanian psychoanalysis is based on the
spectators regressive misrecognition of image for referent, and conflating the irreal
and the absent in the privileged order of the Imaginary. All of these Lacanian
terms are derived from his model of the desiring spectator who, ultimately, sees and
feels that which is presented on the screen only in terms of their self-created or
perceived(Imaginary) desire for that which is shown. The degree of desire is
determined by the sensation of longing for a subject which is missing or absent to
the spectator; and therefore irreal to them at the moment of cinematic experience.
This dominant theoretical model is highly problematic for inquiry into the structure
of documentary identification. Why? It treats the spectators phenomenological sense
of the real as it relates to cinematic representation of any kind as essentially
fantasmic in nature. It does not seem to allow for the structural differences that
distinguish our engagement with cinematic images when we regard them as
documentary representations of the real (here we could also say of real insight)
from those we regard as real representations of a fiction.

4.7 Towards a New Approach

Enunciation became part of psychoanalytic film theory in that it claimed that every
filmic utterance is perceived to proceed from a particular place, not to be confused
with the actual individual (the film-maker) (Stam et al., 1992). Enunciation is a term
which shows cinema theorys shift away from emphasis on production and towards
film consumption. Although Metz and Emile Benveniste have both examined filmic
enunciation, it is clearly summed up by Giuliana Muscio and Roberto Zemingman, in
their introduction to the work of Francesco Casetti, an Italian film semiotician:

(Casetti's) interrogations concern three issues: how does the film take into
account the spectator? How does it 'anticipate' him/her? How does it direct
him/her? The book develops three fundamental principles: that the film signals
the presence of the spectator, that it assigns a position to him/her, that it makes
him follow an itinerary.
(Muscio and Zemingman, 1991, p32)

Feminist theorists such as Laura Mulvey and Claire J ohnston brought enunciation to
include the female subject and spectator into film semiotics (and also the minority
viewer and spectator in other terms). Their work can be considered part of the
pragmatic approach which emerged from enunciation and the radical shift of values
associated with the emergence of second-wave feminism by the early 1970s (Renov,
2004, p171). Such shifts are included in the charting below of the new film

As this chapter illustrates, the development of film semiology has by no means been
a lineal progression. Through the different perceptions of particular concepts such as
enunciation, it has in fact branched off into entirely different fields of analysis.
Figure 3 The Development of Film Semiotics outlines the developments and how
they relate to each other.

Figure 3 The Development of Film Semiotics

(Modelled from Buckland, 1995, p27-33)

The difficulties involved in identifying one, single research approach adequate to
examining documentary subjectification is demanding one. Renov summarises the
difficulties in The Subject of Documentary:

Is the subject merely a bourgeois category that occludes our view of class
struggle, the arena that really counts (classical Marxism)? If so, we are
misguided in our focus on a dissociated self. Is the subject merely an effect of
the system (structuralism and Lacanianism)? If so, we must devote our chief
attention to the larger mechanisms (language, ideology, the unconscious) that
offer the best hope for understanding and intervention. Has the subject been so
decentered, hybridized, and now virtualized that it ceases to support a
meaningful sense of a self (poststructuralism, cyber-theory)? Or is this
absorption in the self a symptom of narcissism, a massive defense of the ego
locatable in the artists or in society at large (psychology)? Is the subject
abstract or concrete - a theoretical construct requiring learned allusions to
every philosopher since Descartes or a vestige of the everyday properly
grounded in the materiality of a gendered, performative body? Are we, as
alleged by Neal Gabler in a postmillenial Op-Ed piece, living in the Epoch of
Ego, in which the individual occupies centre stage, both for better and for
worse ("the ego, the self, is either a maw to be fed or a scrim through which to
see")? These divergent visions of subjectivity in the late twentieth century
collectively limn the contours of contemporary cultural theory.
(Renov, 2004, pxiv)


In answering these questions posited by Renov there is a vastness of multi-
disciplinary possibilities, according to the many divergent theories of film semiotics
as this chapter has outlined. Indeed the complexity can sometimes result in
instability, because as Casebier writes, contemporary film theory rests upon grounds
that cannot support it (Casebier, 1991, p7).

This thesis explores phenomenological methods which follow contemporary film
theory. It asks: How does psychoanalysis being the first model to properly begin to
process the receptor mechanisms into the task of processing filmic experience
relate to the documentary experience? How is it that mediation, interpellation, deep
structure, paradigmatic and syntagmatic structure are working within documentarys
address to the spectator? And where can we specifically locate these points? How is
it that the story of a teacher in France, although we do not know him, becomes a
source of reflection into our own realities (which according to Lacan would be
disregarded as fantasmic)? Answers to these questions are found in the New Film
Semiology, a movement largely associated with European film semiologists, which
is the topic of the next chapter. The phenomenological model of Meuniers
filmologie offers an alternative insight which, although formulated some time ago,
encompasses the concept of fantasmic or irreal as a function of the fiction film, but
that, at the other end of the spectrum, one can emotionally and nostalgically be
engaged in a home-movie. Such a home movie is neither irreal or real, it is simply
located at a different place in time of the viewers consciousness.

Developing documentary consciousness and the notions of competence of a
documentary film is not superficially tied to the textual continuity of a documentary
film. Instead, this thesis proposes a framework of measurable attributes of deep
structure in documentary film analysis. These attributes are also observable as
variable syntagms operating within a paradigm specifically using film semiotics in
the terms that it applies to documentary. The new documentary spectator is, perhaps
even unconsciously, made aware of a documentary consciousness - where
comprehension beyond cultural, gendered, or linguistic parameters and within the
constructed choices of the engagement paradigms operate within that particular
documentary film and the viewers mind.


It is the charge of the real
(Sobchack, 1999, p253)

This chapter develops the notion of documentary consciousness by exploring the
theories of film semiotics - from structural Saussurean and post-structural Metzian
concepts through to the more current semiotics branch examined in this chapter, so-
called the New Film Semiology. Documentary consciousness is a term originally
used by Vivian Sobchack in her 1999 article, Toward a Phenomenology of
Nonfictional Film Experience. The term refers to the process that engages a viewer
with the subject of a documentary film. This process is reflected in the use of
common spoken and written language itself, except, in the case of this thesis, it is a
documentary language that is engaging the speaker (or film-maker/ subject) and the
listener (or film-spectator). As observed previously, in this research it is the parole of
documentary deep structure which effectively becomes the basis for identifying the
langue within a given film.

Deep structure has a role to play in the research, the shooting and the cutting of a
documentary insight into a real subject. By looking at the construction and reception
of this deep structure, it is shown that certain intervening mechanisms can take
different forms; the structure a director applies to a film, particularly in the very
initial stages of research of shooting, all depends on how a story ultimately wants to
be received. This process is represented in the first three stages of the Creation of
Documentary Consciousness flowchart shown later in the chapter as Figure 10.
Exhibition and distribution of a documentary obviously affect how the viewer
receives a documentary film. Firstly though, the new film semiology illustrates how
the post-verit theatrical documentary can be examined using notions of linguistics
and film semiotics and the later contributions to the science of film. This includes
cognitive science, enunciation, pragmatic, transformationalist grammar and
psychoanalytical approaches. It is interesting to note that many of these new film
semiologists have European backgrounds and have historically written in languages
other than English, or their work has been translated years after their original
contributions to the only sophisticated methodology film studies has until now
called its own (Elsaesser, 1995, p17). Considering the relative proximity of the
European way of thinking to the Australian mentality, the consequences of, for
example, a Sub-Saharan idea of documentary semiotics may be interesting,
especially considering that in countries such as Senegal, taking a photo of someone is
considered to be stealing a part of their soul. The point here is that obviously
different cultures abide by different ideas about the underlying code of all
representations, whether it concerns music, language, photography or film.

5.1 Enunciation

Ways of understanding the language and code underneath film texts lay beyond the
strictly linguistic approaches within film semiotics. Cognitive approaches became
more concerned with the psychological realness and comprehension of the film text
for the spectator, and pragmatic approaches turned to external indicators of meaning
generation within film. Enunciation is a common term which remains pertinent to all
of these branches of study. Francesco Casetti (1995), has written extensively of the
filmic enunciation. The aims of Cassetti's theory of filmic enunciation have been
clearly summed up by Muscio and Zemingnan in their introduction to the work of
Casetti in Cinema J ournal. The spectator, according to Casetti is anticipated,
directed, following an itinerary, assigned a position and taken into account
through the act of enunciation. How that act is executed is the result of the
incorporation of the film subject into the structure and style of the film itself (Muscio
and Zemingman, 1991, p32).

The recognition of enunciation becomes useful in understanding the basis for the
idea of mediation as a core process of documentary consciousness. Raymond
Williams says that 'all active relations between different kinds of being and
consciousness are inevitably mediated' (Williams, 1977, p98).

5.2 The Grande Syntagmatique

As was discussed in the last chapter, Christian Metz developed the grande
syntagmatique as a scientific model to understand the enunciative relationship
between the film, its spectator, and its subject. Its development became the founding
moment of classic film semiology (because it identifies intentional filmic meanings
i.e. meanings specific to filmic discourse)(Buckland, 1995, p30). When it is used to
analyse a specific film-clip or segment of a film, it is drawn up in what is known as a
tree diagram. The analytical dimensions of Metzs grande syntagmatique constitute a
scientific approach to film semiotics.

Colin (1995b) subsequently developed Metzs Syntagmatique and transform(ed)
film semiology into a descriptively adequate discipline (Buckland, 1995, p31).
Colin raised the issue of the psychological reality of film semiology and also applied
Chomskys notion of creativity and generative grammar (i.e. the generation of
infinite phenomena by finite rules) to film. Colin achieves this by characterising the
eight syntagmatic types of the grande syntagmatique in terms of selectional features
(Buckland, 1995, p31).

Firstly there is an initial symbol:

The autonomous segment (i.e. the film segment).

Then there is a non-terminal vocabulary which specify syntagmatic types (i.e. like
adjectives to the syntagmas):

Non-chronological and chronological syntagmas,

As mentioned previously, the eight syntagmatic types are:

Parallel syntagma,
Bracket syntagma,
Descriptive syntagma,
Alternate syntagma,
Ordinary sequence,
Episodic sequence,
Autonomous shot.
(compiled from Colin, 1995b, p30-31) and (Metz, 1974, Ch 5)

In his observations on Colins article, The Grande Syntagmatique Revisited,
Buckland goes on to observe that:

For Colin then, the primary aim of the Grande Syntagmatique is not the
identification of the actual sytagmatique types, but the identification of the
more fundamental selectional features that combine to form these syntagmatic
(Buckland, 1995, p32)

Bucklands comments on the implications of the grande syntagmatique are relevant
for this thesis. The syntagmatic features, or features influenced by them, contribute
to various forms of the paradigmatic analysis of documentaries visually in the DVD
appendix and analytically in Chapters 7, 8, 9 and 10. Including the Grande
Syntagmatique in an application to the documentary constitutes an understanding of
the grammaticality of a cinematic event, and also acknowledges a subject and
spectator, which have a relationship both on the screen and through it, into the actual

5.3 Transformationalist Approaches

In attempts to understand the representational dynamic between the real-world
subject, the artistic representation and the viewer, comparisons between realist
painting and photography have been made with the field of documentary. Although
to a lesser degree, similar models have been used to compare linguistics and
languages with the documentary genre. In his pivotal work on Orientalism, Edward
Said coined this term, orientalism, which is 'the discipline by which the Orient was
(and is) approached systematically, as a topic of learning, discovery, and practice'
(Said, 1979, p71). The implications of this term for the documentary-form are clearly
relevant. How can the processes of learning, discovery and practice take place on the
documentary screen? How can a documentary about life in Iraq truly reflect the
reality of life in Iraq when it is constructed for an American audience? This
philosophical notion of orientalism has also been explored in the field of linguistics
and it can be presented as an effect of the multiple register for language. When the
complexity of linguistic registers are examined within a single language, institutional
and pragmatic factors add to those of semiotics to illustrate that a statement, beyond
the langue or particular words it employs, has elements of parole which can
entirely alter the comprehension of those words. This dynamic, transformational
effect of linguistic registers upon statements is illustrated in Figure 4 - The Multiple
Register for Language.

Although some writers refer to this tri-partisan analysis of language as the field-
tenor-mode distinction in language registers (Hartley, 2002, p200), the linguistic
terms are nominated as semiotics, pragmatics, and then institutionally. In Figure 9,
the statement What are you saying? can be understood completely differently
depending on the situational factors it is used within. In the semiotic register, the
statement What are you saying? could be used in an argument, rhetorically, and
therefore would be written better as a proclamation, as in What are you saying! In
the institutional transaction, when a teacher says to a student who is reading out a
song of explicit lyrics during a poetry reading What are you saying? in a righteous
voice, the tone and implications of those same words now have a very different
meaning. In the pragmatic action, when for example a Liberal politician says to his
colleague What are you saying? as they discuss some new legislation going
through Parliament, it serves to indicate disagreement. With respect to the
documentary, which has so many more devices to play with apart from plain words,
the capacity to manipulate and change original contexts are multi-fold.


Figure 4 The Multiple Register for Language

5.4 Pragmatics

The pragmatic approach to film semiotics deals with the relationship between the
text and its addressee. Elena Degrada is among those who have developed
pragmatics from its earlier notions of the reader as passive recipient of a meaning
that is independent from him or herself and is transformed into the notion of reader
as an active agent who attributes meaning to a text. Consequently the reader, or the
Semiotic Interaction

/Genre as recognised


Use (Idiolect/Dialect)
& User (field/mode/tenor)

Pragmatic Action

Speech Acts/
Text Act
What are
spectator, can be defined in terms of competencies which will enable the
actualisation of the text (Degrada, 1995, p237).

This approach can be applied easily to the 2005 theatrical documentary called Some
Kind Of Monster (Bellinger) about the heavy-metal band Metallica. This particular
film easily highlights some factors which create documentary consciousness in a
post-verit environment. When the documentary was distributed and exhibited across
the world, fans and other members of the viewing public were exposed to new
perspectives about the band, through a different mode of seeing them in this case as
people trying to work together on a creative project, and not only as stage performers
or rock legends. It is essentially behind-the-scenes promotional material, which
nonetheless constitutes a documentary insight into a real subject. This is
documentary consciousness at work engaging processes related to a prior,
existential knowledge of the subjects (the band, Metallica) beyond that which is
shown on screen and also using certain production styles (fly-on-the-wall shooting,
reflective directorial intervention, extensive extras included in the DVD) to create
feelings of inclusion and exploration by the viewer with the band throughout their
documentary experience.

5.5 New Psychology and Cognitive Science Becoming Conscious

So it has come to be recognised in film semiotics that not only the film-piece in
itself, but rather the context of the subjects and the distribution/ exhibition/
production methods in terms of the broader receiver environment contribute to
what the viewer sees or thinks about the film. A similar, receptor-focussed process of
understanding comprehension and generation of meaning has simultaneously been
explored within artificial intelligence and computer generated intelligence, its
resonance with film having been explored by Colin in Film Semiology as a
Cognitive Science (1995a). Renov also seeks to establish that the apparatus and
conditions of reception alter the object 'documented' such that what we see is not
what was there (Casebier, 1991, p139). It is statements such as this which arrive at a
more considerate understanding of documentary, which includes the enunciated
documentary object into the consciousness-making processes of the spectator and
cinematic phenomenon as such:

(T)he naturalized or immediate continuity of elements must be interrogated
with the result that the documentary film, once thought to be a semi-permeable
membrane that connected the spectator to the world becomes a deliberately
confected presentation of selected material photographed, recorded and
arranged in a precise way, experienced by a precise audience at a particular
moment of history via a specific mode of transmission.
(Renov, 1986, p72)

This process is displayed in Figure 5 The Creation Of Documentary Consciousness,
compiled from Sobchacks essay Towards A Phenomenology of Non-Fictional Film
Experience (1999). Sobchacks essay relates specifically to her studies of J ean-Pierre
Meuniers filmologie, a study which was originally written in French by Meuniers
and then later summarised by Sobchack herself. As an alternative to Lacanian or
Freudian ideas, which are based around the desiring gaze and Oedipal psychologies,
the filmologie offers a psychologically informed processes to understand the way in
which viewers take up what is offered to them on, or through, the screen.

Figure 5 - The Creation of Documentary Consciousness

(Summarised from the ideas in Sobchack, 1999)

Reception theory, spectator in the text and psychoanalytic theory (all of which were
examined in the final parts of the previous chapter) merge into the final filter in the
four-tiered process of creating a documentary consciousness. I argue that the modes
of engagement outlined in this thesis are relevant to each stage in the creation of
documentary consciousness, as it is ultimately an interactive and engaged process
throughout all stages which underlies a competent documentary structure.

Looking beyond the documentary example, creating consciousness has been an
important part of social education and societal development. This is true in different
forms for all cultures or sub-cultures. Semiotic signs or codes exist everywhere, just
like a branded T-shirt that a particular group of skaties will always adhere to
wearing within their sub-cultural group as a sign of membership or belonging. This is
a form of visual semiotics. The most audible example of semiotics in cultures is
within linguistics (i.e. mostly a form of verbal semiotics). Through an examination of
different languages, there are different modes of expressing and receiving social
knowledge. Combining knowledge of visual semiotics and verbal/audio semiotics, as
they exist in cultures and languages throughout the world, forms a good base for
understanding semiotics in documentary.

Indigenous cultures of the world, for example, have different structures within their
cultural groups for social knowledge sharing. Initiations, story-telling, performance,
dreaming stories and ceremony structures are more prevalent in Indigenous
communities in Australia than in the broader national community; this is depicted in
the Australian documentary film Two Laws (Strachan and Cavadini, 1981).
Richard Trudgen (2000) referred to the deeper ramifications of this in his study of
cultural and communication issues affecting Australian Indigenous societies.
Trudgen indicated that a severe crisis in communication and two-way sharing of
knowledge had occurred between the dominant (white, colonial Australia)
population and the Yolgnu (Indigenous name for inhabitants of the Arnhem Land
area of Northern Australia):

Good communication is fundamental in all human activity. Without it life
becomes meaningless. For Yolgnu, a marginalised minority cultural group,
lack of effective communication with the dominant Australian culture has
become a nightmare. Apart from casual and superficial conversations, very few
Yolgnu understand and speak English with any degree of confidence or
(Trudgen, 2000, p68)

This could be explained as a failure to co-ordinate audio-visual semiotics between
Australian Indigenous people and the dominant white culture in Australia. The
differing structures for processing information introduces a variegated idea of
communication beyond that which belongs to one particular linguistic group, or for a
particular film-maker, or for a particular national audience. This difference marks the
basis for understanding consciousness creation for documentary, as well as many
other fields. Including this cultural information as part of a much broader source of
knowledge for understanding the ways in which a documentary (subject) is engaged
to create documentary (consciousness) reveals, in the following chapters, a basis for
logic and argumentation in documentary deep structures.

5.6 Meuniers Psychoanalysis and the Filmologie

In her translated summary of Meuniers psycho-analytic filmologie, Sobchack (1999,
p242) divides his three forms of differential cinematic identification into:

The film-souvenir,
The documentary; and
The fiction film.

These are descriptively shown below in Figure 11, The Three Spectatorial Modes Of
Consciousness. These forms, as Meunier explores in much further detail than can be
described in this thesis, are specific to spectatorial engagement. They are not strictly
form-dependant in that a realist fictional film may be viewed as a documentary or
even as a film-souvenir if its subject is familiar to the audience. As the previous
chapter contextualised it, this phenomenological approach to understanding
cinematic identification offers the theorist an application, which accommodates the
peculiarities of the documentary genre.

According to Sobchacks translation, Meunier progresses these ideas to say that the
necessary fact of all films as they are experienced is that they present to the
spectators an object of perception which is not existent to the viewers physically, but
rather only in its images and sound. This absence is modified by the spectators own
personal and cultural knowledge of an objects existential position as it relates to
their own, as examined in the 3
column regarding spectatorial phenomenon in
Figure 6. The viewers consciousness is neither disembodied nor impersonal nor
empty when they go to the movies. From the outset, the spectators personal
embodied existence and knowledge gives their consciousness an existential attitude
or bias toward what is given for them to see on the screen as demonstrated in points
1, 2, 4 and 5 of Figure 6. How they will take this subject up, however, enlists the
work of other processes. These other processes of engagement being processed
within the viewer fall under the points outlined in rows 6 and upwards of Figure 6.

Figure 6 Meuniers Three Spectatorial Modes of Consciousness
(Compiled from Sobchack, 1999, p242-51)

FilmSouvenir Documentary Fiction Film
1) Attitude between
spectator and
cinematic object
Things we know, from
our past, existentially or
specifically known,
referring to things now
Some knowledge of perhaps
but also qualified by our lack
of knowledge regarding
cinematic object
Taken up entirely as
unknown and therefore
completely digested as a
screen presence of the
2) Nearness to object: Absent Elsewhere Here in a direct but imaginary
3) Subject example My dog Fala, an existential dog Lassie, a narrative character
4) Screen attention
modified by actual
knowledge of
cinematic object
Attention through Increased attention through Attention on
5) Spectatorial
High level of memory
Level tied to image
High level of focus or intent to
6) Integration of
cinematic data as
formed knowledge
Constitutive from
personal memory
Constitutive from their
general relations to known
things in our life-world
Submissive, singular in
relation to each other,
apprenticeship mode
7) Status of screen
Includes but extends
beyond screen
Moderation between
souvenir and fiction film
Isomorphic horizon with the
8) Internal processes
Sentimental evocation Placement within personal
sphere dependant upon
image specificity
9) Direction of
Dependant on image
Lateral and longitudinal
10) Sequencing of
Non-narrative, temporal
Outlined in the modes of
engagement detailed in this
thesis, adherence to the true
character or event
Temporal progression
11) Subconscious mental
Empathy, sympathy,
Tied to AV and subject
Causal logic, teleological
12) Viewer focus Lower focalisation/fetish Variable, increasing
Greater focalisation/fetish

Meuniers model offers a cinematic phenomenon which resonates with the universal
or transformational generative grammar theories first proposed by Chomsky (1965),
that an innate capacity and structure exists for language inside a new-borns mind,
even before it is exposed to language growth stimulus. Chomsky has stated (in
arguments which have been much debated) that these innate structures can be proven
by grammar structures which occur in every language, such as the nounal phrase
(NP) tree charts as referred to by linguists.

In sum, Meuniers proposition is that the more dependant we are on the screen for
specific knowledge of what we see in the film experience (most obviously as in the
fictional film experience), the less likely we are to see beyond the screens
boundaries and back into our own life (Sobchack, 1999, p244). In order to illustrate
this in its simplest form, the diagram below places the film-souvenir to the left and
the fiction film to the right. It charts the changing dynamic of various aspects of
spectatorial consciousness at work behind the viewers engagement with a cinematic
piece. Thus it becomes clear that the documentary form teeters at the balance of the
cinematic spectrum, unique by its realness of subject matter and fetished or focalised
manipulation of form by the cinematic screen.


This chapter provides a non-exhaustive summary of many of the ideas which
contribute to the later concept of meaning-creation as it occurs in the phenomenon of
documentary. The New Film Semiology has spotlighted the interpretation of a
documentary as a process of mediation.

Renov distinguishes four sites where mediation occurs, transforming the object of the
documentary film: the historically real, the profilmic, the text, and the spectator.
(Casebier, 1991, p139)

Over time, theorists have matured in their understanding of the nature of the
documentary, that it is indeed a film which represents a subject which does actually
exist (if not here-and-now then somewhere and at some time) and therefore the
documentary subject is incorporated into a spectators mental sphere differently than
that of a fiction film, or a home movie for that matter. It is easy to see the process
which film semiotics has followed, which has come to separate the documentary as
an object of representation of its very own peculiar filmic nature, as Meunier enables
the theorist to do. In the phenomena of documentary, the viewer watches something
that exists, elsewhere; the viewer watches the screen, but sees through it to the real
world; the viewer integrates this new knowledge from the screen upon that which
they already know or may further find out about this documentary film, as it creates a
consciousness inside the viewer. Verbal languages also can demonstrate some of
these phenomena at work, as Chomsky observed and as can be observed in languages
and cultural communication every day, everywhere, in the world.

Yet certain languages and certain films allow for a certain kind of consciousness to
be formed. How much does a documentary screen demand that the viewer go beyond
the film and into the real world to find out about a film? What emotional or logical
triggers does a documentary film bring up? Is it sentimental evocation or
comprehension which is taking place within the viewer? These are answers which a
phenomenological approach to documentary films can provide. Meuniers legacy is,
I believe, of greater import for equipping theorists and film-makers alike in
understanding the hidden dynamics at play behind an engaging documentary and an
uninteresting one.

The scientific approach of the grande syntagmatique, produced back in 1964, was a
brave theory to answer these questions. Today, at the time of my writing this thesis,
technology has enabled a visual approach, an updated model, in answering these
questions about the consciousness which is created between theatrical documentaries
and spectators in a new millennium.




This section is to be read in conjunction with the DVD Appendix which
is designed for computer playback.


Thus, for a moment, we find ourselves in a mode of documentary consciousness:
looking both at and through the screen, dependent on it for knowledge, but also
aware of an excess of existence not contained in it.
(Sobchack, 1999, p251)

In order to determine and locate the semiotic operations within a documentary-film,
several questions need to be asked specifically regarding the ways in which
viewing and interpreting of a particular film is effected. As Sobchack reminds us in
the opening quote above, documentary consciousness is a mode or process that
proffers a specific positioning between certain figures in the documentary
phenomenon. Lucien Taylor expands on the stance of spectator-film engagement:

Film is less a communicative act than a form of commensal engagement with
the world, and one that implicates a subject, spectator, and film-maker alike.
This is a process that favours experience over explanation, and which proceeds
more by implication than demonstration.
(MacDougall and Taylor, 1998, p11)

It is this experience and implication which is demonstrated in the DVD in
Chapter 11, exhibiting the paradigms which constitute the menu for engagement
modalities in theatrical documentaries. The central focus of this chapter is to outline
those paradigms, and to explain how certain aspects of technical consideration can
affect the documentary spectator; through Chapters 7 to 10 these paradigms can be
experienced as they occur in specific films. This chapter is, for want of a creative
explanation, an instruction manual for the DVD appendix. Defined as a notional set
of choices, paradigms , which are the basis for a paradigmatic analysis, group
together various possibilities under a menu that is interchangeable (Hartley, 2002,
p171). In this thesis, the main menu items shown in the Visual Appendix (the DVD)
are the paradigms. Each film constitutes a different mode of engagement through its
particular handling of each of the generic characteristics of each category of the
paradigmatic analysis. Using the paradigmatic analysis mapped out in this chapter,
answers can be found to the question What processes engage the viewer and allows
them to participate with the subjective process of documentary consciousness?

6.1 Classic Theory Questions

A paradigmatic analysis of documentaries includes structural as well as post-
structural terms. Many of these terms have been used to understand fiction film and
are explored here in their relation to the theatrical documentary. According to
J akobsons methodological approach to artistic discourse, the following questions
arise in regard to any discourse analysis of an artistic piece of work:

1. What is the role of the sender or the emotive function of the art?
2. What is the context and referential function of the art?
3. What is the message and poetic function of the art?
4. What is the code and therefore the metalingual function of the art?
5. What is the message and poetic/phatic function of the art?
6. Who is the desiring spectator and therefore the conative functions of the art?
(Stam, Burgoyne and Flitterman-Lewis, 1992, p17)

These questions are interesting as a general approach to an analysis of art from a
structural view. However, the previous chapters have cumulatively shown how far
the science of semiology has developed from these early structural ideas of the
function of language according to J akobson.

6.2 New Semiology Questions

It is now possible to use more modern approaches which are specific to the
documentary genre. In his examination of documentary poetics, Renov (1993, p21)
observes the following four tendencies in the active voice appropriate to their role in
a "poesis", an "active-making":

It has not been possible to obtain a copy of Roman J akobsons original 1963 text, Essais de
linguistique gnrale (Paris, ditions de Minuit), and thus I have relied on a secondary source that
summarises his communicative functions.

1) To record, reveal, or preserve;
2) To persuade or promote;
3) To analyze or promote; and
4) To express.

Again, I argue that documentary-voice theories such as those above have been
superceded in the theatrical, post-verit documentary. Deep structures of these
current films may use one or more or all of Renovs tendencies within a single film.
Going beyond the analysis of documentary voice, the concept of documentary
consciousness is understood, in phenomenological terms illustrated by Sobchack and
Merleau-Ponty, to be a distinct mode of the process of cinematic identification.
There are certain operations which constitute the process of fictionalisation for a real
or actual subject. As Alan Rosenthal clarifies, fictionalisation:

is in strategies of fiction for the approach to relative truths. Documentary is not
fiction and should not be conflated with it. But documentary can and should
use all the strategies of fictional construction to get at truths.
(Rosenthal and Corner, 2005, p72)

These operations can then be developed to understand the functioning of
comprehension between a documentary film and its viewer. Incorporating such
notions regarding receptor theory and the desiring spectator (or spectator-in-the-text),
Chapters 7 to 10 will illustrate these analytical paradigms, as they are observed at
work in post-verit documentaries. In doing so, the results reveal particular
discursive strategies and ideologies at work, results which Hartley (2002, p171)
defines as one of the products of paradigmatic selection. Further semiotic questions
throughout the following chapters analyse the over-arching frame to the documentary
story (i.e. not the style of the recording of individual portions of the story), and
therefore the deep structure to the documentary story. Although they do not represent
an exhaustive system for analysis, these engagement modalities attempt to pinpoint,
amongst other factors, a referent for general comportment and attentive attitudes
(Sobchack, 1999, p247), as understood by Meunier in his phenomenological
understanding of cinematic identification as it relates to the documentary form.

6.3 Explanation of Paradigmatic Sets

In the next four chapters, four variations of this paradigmatic analysis of
documentary engagement are explored. Each paradigm has been nominated for one
of two reasons. Either its noted importance to the fiction film has been written about
repeatedly in film semiotic texts and now in this thesis is used in application to the
documentary film; or it has been used in theoretical, case-specific analysis of other
documentary-films and is being included and applied comparatively in this thesis.
Almost all of the paradigms illustrate filmic instigators of the spectatorial
phenomenon as Meunier and later Sobchack have written about, referred to in
Chapter 5. Each film illustrates the set of indicators functioning differently as the
documentary film is interpreted by the viewer to create the documentary
consciousness. The process is identified as being an examination of the following

1. Ideological Roots,
2. Truth Aim,
3. Audience Framing,
4. Argumentation Style,
5. Audience Positioning,
6. Linguistic Registers,
7. Philosophy and Logic,
8. Narrative Mode.

Examining documentary from these perspectives reminds us that the language of a
documentary film depends not only on the internal production of the film-making
process and the peculiarities of the documentary subject but also, and ultimately, on
the way in which the story is interpreted by those who watch it.

6.3.1 Ideological roots

The influences that ideology creates for the mode of documentary engagement are
obvious; in particular, certain movements can be pinpointed throughout history that
evolved human thought or civilisation to develop specific frames, paradigms, or
ways of perceiving the world. Literary or visual texts, which have been produced in
these certain periods, reflect that dominant zeitgeist which may otherwise be
known as an ideology or culture of a particular moment in time. Another way of
looking at the zeitgeist is as a psychic thermometer of the prevailing social
circumstance of a particular point in time. The zeitgeist or ideology in documentary
can shape both the film-makers story and perspective, and then also the viewers
stance and worldview. If a viewer has a lot in common with the dominant ideology
represented by the film, then the viewer has a deeper understanding of the historical
context of the documentary film beyond that which is presented on the screen. The
more that the viewer shares in common with this dominant reading, as Meunier
points out, the stronger the basis for being nearer to a subject (here in a direct
form), an increased attention through the screen and a greater integration of
cinematic data as formed knowledge which is constitutive from their general
relations to known objects or events in our life (Sobchack, 1999, p242-51).

Another way of understanding the representation of ideology in documentary is
through the term interpellation. Interpellation, as explained by Hartley (2002,
p125), refers to processes by which ideology hails individuals as its subjects and
is the very mechanism by which people are subjected to ideology, and it is usually
understood as a textual operation of audience positioning. Acts of this interpellation,
which include historical and intertextual influences, are a significant factor in
creating documentary consciousness. Chapters 7, 8, 9 and 10 will individually
examine the following periods as they represent interpellatory and ideological
movements which shape the specific documentary case-studies. These interpellated
subjects and styles are also displayed in the first paradigmatic analysis of
documentary engagement in the Visual Appendix (main menu option Ideological
Roots). It specifically examines Bowling for Columbine, Etre et Avoir, My
Architect and Baraka as documentary acts of interpellation. Each film makes
reference, in some form at a deep structure level, to the following periods of the
ideology or historical reference:
Biblical New Testament,

6.3.2 Truth aim

The ethical core of documentary in treating real or actual subjects highlights the
element and structure of truth within the film, and how it is addressed in the
documentary engagement model. In this paradigm, variations are found in how each
film addresses questions such as, If this is a film based on true fact, who is the
holder of that truth or fact? and How does that source of truth come to be
comprehensible to the spectator? As Christine Geldhill comments:

Before a proper mode of representation or aesthetic relation to the 'real' can be
established, we have to have some idea of where the 'real' itself is located, and
how, if at all, we can have knowledge of it. At issue then is the status of 'lived'
experience', of phenomenal appearances, their relation to underlying structures,
the determining role of 'signification' in production of the real, and the place of
consciousness in this production.
(Gledhill, 1984, p5)

The simplicity attached to such a notion of truth in representation however, is
elusive. This is particularly true for international documentary audiences and an
obscure definition of exactly what a documentary is defined by in the changing film
environment, as explained in Chapter 3. A founding phenomenologist, Edmund
Husserl illustrates this complexity with the following two statements:

Truth for this or that species, e.g., for the human species is...an absurd mode of
speech...What is true is absolutely, intrinsically true: truth is one and the same,
whether man or non-men, angels or gods apprehend and judge it.
(Husserl, 1970, p140)

Colors, Tones, Triangles, etc., always have the essential properties of Colors,
Tones, Triangles, etc., whether anyone in the world knows such a fact or not.
(Husserl, 1970, p165)

Each documentary film exhibits different indicators, which allow the viewer to
pinpoint the ties to reality and truth that solicit either judgement or perception in
order to comprehend the images presented in the film. These notions of truth, in a
sense of the captured and of the represented, can be observed in the chosen
documentary films and their modes of engagement as soliciting:

1) Proven or justified truth,
2) Logical, discursive or rational truth,
3) Divine decree or guided truth,
4) Intersubjective truth.

6.3.3 Audience framing

In this third paradigm, the framing of the subject in relation to the spectator is
investigated. There are overlapping characteristics of this paradigm with the Mode of
Address, Argumentation and Truth Aims analyses; all are concerned with spectator
positioning (also called audience positioning or spectator-in-the-text). In fact, this
paradigm could be thought of as the frame for the documentary subject, or even more
accurately, the material with which a documentary frame is constructed. According
to the Meuniers/Sobchack model of documentary consciousness, this paradigm
structures in subconscious mental triggers and the activation of inner processes of
comprehension versus sentimental evocation (Sobchack, 1999, p242-51).

The dualistic and conflict-based framing of the subject of gun ownership in the USA
in Bowling for Columbine is one such frame it is sharp, rigid and has mutually
exclusive subjects or materials, demanding the comprehension of defined sides and
opinions. Contrastingly, the non-didactic, poetic sequencing of discretely similar
subjects in Baraka lies at the other end of the engagement spectrum it displays
discretely fluid, subtle, interchangeable and unspoken forms of shaping subject,
conflict and resolution. The following chapters - treating each mode individually
frame their subjects with techniques that resemble outward communication
paradigms observed in:

1) Debate, rebuttal, aristocratic class distinctions, colonialism,
2) Technical, philosophic, scientific and legal investigation,
3) Rhetorical, judicial, religious faith structures,
4) Poetic, sensory, emotive experiences.

6.3.4 Argumentation style

As the documentary editor is all too aware, every edit or cut is a step forward in an
argument (Nichols, 1991, p21). Although it is not always the case, documentaries
can often be seen in either an obvious or an underlying way as an argument. They
bring to the public audience a view which is conflicting, confronting or otherwise
inaccessible to the individuals experience, and this view reflects the original
hypothesis behind the directors selection of a subject and film-style. Another angle
of argumentation in documentary is the way in which arguments or conflicting
perspectives are created by differing attitudes to a particular film or its subject.
Sobchack suggests this when she writes:

If we understand cinematic identification as a general comportment and
attentive attitude toward the screen that is informed by personal and cultural
knowledge, then one womans irreal situation comedy may be anothers home
(Sobchack, 1999, p247)

The process of documentary-storytelling, in the presentation of an existing but
elsewhere subject becomes a process of arguing and mediating the viewers
existing knowledge of that real subject, with that knowledge that the film
progressively develops. Of less importance in this paradigm is the severe
demarcation and categorisation of an agreeable or chosen documentary subject; the
aim of argumentation in documentary engagement does not appear to be that
resolution is found for the conflict or that the viewer necessarily agrees with all the
information presented. Argumentation in documentary serves as a tool for creating
tension and climax and shows the semantic interaction which real subjects have with
another. From that moment, the spectator is then invited into the argument or
narrative climax, and hence offered a chance to engage with the subject/s.

Once a documentary is viewed from this perspective, its strength and success as a
cultural site of argument/mediation formation can be assessed in regard to its
argument for a particular subject. For some documentary subjects, this is more
significant to structure for some than for others (see Chapter 7 and the Outcome
mode of engagement). Argumentation and narrative structure are closely linked, as
Bill Nichols says:

On a second, more global level, we set up a pattern of inferences that helps us
to determine what kind of argument the text is making about the historical
world itself, or at least some small part of it. Instead of using procedural
schemata to formulate a story, we use them to follow or construct an argument.
Nichols (1991, p25)

Integrating a documentary subject into the viewers own sphere of reference
becomes, in its most basic form, an education, or as I prefer to see it, in its more
sophisticated form, a mediation process, as the viewer reconciles what they may (or
may not) recognise about a subject with the documentary truth presented on screen.
Meunier (1969) refers to this process as an apprenticeship in the translated
summary of his work by Sobchack (1999). Often an argument serves to reach a
heightened state of agreement between two alternative groups or individuals. Ideally,
if a documentary is meant to provide enlightenment or insight to a new subject, then
on some level, the documentary subject and form could be analysed as an argument
about a subjective truth. It is far more obvious to see the argument value in a
theatrical documentary such as Bowling for Columbine (Chapter 7, The Outcome
Documentary), than it is to see in a film such as Etre et Avoir (Chapter 8, The
Participant Documentary). Nonetheless, at the fundamental level, most documentary
subjects are shot according to an underlying question and the films argument is the
answer to that question. Argumentation in documentary can also be understood from
an Aristotelian stance. In his rhetoric, Aristotle divided artistic proofs into three
types, whereby each proof strives to convince us of an argument's or perspectives
validity. All three have relevance to documentary for soliciting the following styles
of argument, appearing either simultaneously or mutually exclusively within the
same argument:

ethical: generating an impression of good moral character or credibility;
emotional: appealing to the audience's emotions to produce the desired
disposition: putting the audience in the right mood or establishing a frame of
mind favorable to a particular view:
demonstrative: using real or apparent reasoning or demonstration; proving, or
giving the impression of proving, the case. (Nichols, 2001, p50)

The area of argumentation is broad and, particularly in terms of its representation for
the subjectified experience of film, can extend to many other questions. Hence,
questions of argumentation theory arise for the documentary form, such as:

What is an argument?
Is there a difference between the acts of persuading and convincing?
Can one person have an argument, or does an argument necessarily require a
speaker and listener?
What roles do logic and emotion play in arguments?
Are there emotional arguments? Are there visual arguments?
What comes out of an argument? And who mediates it?
How do traditional argumentation models deal with different cultural styles of

Using argumentation theory as a basis for analysing argumentation structures in
documentary, the following four specific modes of argumentation were observed in
the films included in the Visual Appendix and explained in the next four chapters.
They display:

1) Counter argumentation,
2) Logical argumentation,
3) Through argumentation,
4) Metaphoric, abstract, emotive or multi-modal argumentation.

6.3.5 Audience positioning

Under this paradigmatic set, the notion of audience positioning marks out various
possibilities for the placement of all participants in the creation of documentary
consciousness. David Bordwell in 'Narration in the Fiction Film' suggested an
alternative term, when he wrote that a film spectator might be cued by a film rather
than positioned by it (Anderson, 1996, p8). In any case, it is certainly linked to the
elements which are examined under Audience Framing. As explained above, if the
Audience Framing paradigm examines the material with which the documentary
frame is made, then the Audience Positioning concerns the shape of that frame. In
this dimension of the thesis semiotic analysis, the documentary is examined on the
following points:

What is the positioning of the sender, receiver, audience and subject in relation
to each other and in relation to the actuality being represented?
By the end of the film, how does the spectator feel like they were placed? Was it
Into (outcome)?
Alongside of (participant)?
Beyond (journey)? or
Within (mandala) the documentary subject?

Through these different positionings (which will be discussed further in Chapters 7
to 10) the documentary can engage the audience in different internal process in
attending to different subject and treatment formulas.

The distinction here between fiction film and documentary is never more obvious.
The creation of documentary consciousness involves an actual but elsewhere
(Sobchack, 1999, p251) subject. It contains a capacity for consciousness creation
beyond the realms of the cinematic experience a consciousness described by Meunier
as longitudinal (Sobchack, 1999, p252). Each mode places and nominates the
subject, object and (direct or indirect) object of a documentary film as below:

1) Narrator, indirect audience, exclusive discourse, judging spectators;
2) Participatory forum, inclusive discourse, involved spectators;
3) Orator, accompanying audience;
4) Actors or puppets, entertained or ceremonial spectators.

Chapters 7 to 10 each discuss the above models of spectatorial consciousness as they
are practically architected into the framing of each particular documentary film. The
positioning of the story-teller, the subjects involved in the telling of the documentary
story, the placement of the audience and their views, and the spectator involvement
are detailed in each corresponding engagement model.

6.3.6 Linguistic registers

Many of the transformationalist approaches in particular have applied a linguistic
analogy to understand the codes behind cinema language. A broad range of filming
techniques, subject dynamics and editing styles can engage a particular aspect of
linguistic register which are sometimes defined as the field-mode-tenor
differentiation. This can refer to the soundtrack of a documentary film, but it can also
refer to the way that communication is structured around the subject of the film, such
as the way that the subject may or may be asked questions, or may or may not
interact directly with other subjects of the film. It is about looking at the structure of
the communication around the subject or the central focus of the film. In this thesis,
these distinctively different linguistic registers are defined as pragmatic, syntactic,
semantic or phonetic and thoroughly explained in the following four chapters.

Pragmatics refers to context of a situation, such as the way that someone may talk to
a potential father-in-law compared to how they would talk to their best friend.
Syntactics refers to the way in which a language functions internally. In filmic terms
this means the syntagmatic ordering of plot events as a kind of armature of narrative
progress and development (Stam et al., 1992, p76), or how a story develops within
its own frame. Semantics refers to the way in which a language or documentary film
functions within a broader frame of the larger cultural system which gives it
meaning (Stam et al., 1992, p76). Phonetics, on the other hand, deals with a more
sensory understanding of meaning. Language selects and combines phonemes and
morphemes to form sentences; film selects and combines images and sounds to form
syntagmas, i.e. units of narrative autonomy in which elements interact semantically
(Stam et al., 1992, p37). Each of these analytical terms are carefully examined in the
following chapters as they occur in practice, within the selected modes of
engagement as depicted in each film of the Visual Appendix:

1) Pragmatics in Bowling for Columbine,
2) Semantics - syntax in Etre et Avoir,
3) Semantics in My Architect,
4) Phonetics and metaphors in Baraka.

This paradigm reflects the parallels between interpreting and comprehending the
more common cultural languages and screen or documentary language. In doing this,
it should be remembered that as Roland Barthes had already alerted us, the
significance of (films) imagery at some point resists linguistic, or even
metalinguistic, translation (MacDougall and Taylor, 1998, p11) or as Umberto Eco
reminds us of the mistake of film semiotics in 'the over-evaluation of the linguistic
mode' (Monaco, 2000, p419). The necessity of viewing film and, in saying that also
documentary, remains unique compared to other forms of aesthetic representation.

6.3.7 Philosophy & logic

There are an infinite number of ways with which logic and philosophy can be
understood, and certainly several dominant ways in which this paradigm is
understood in film studies. As J ean Mitry, a French film theorist specializing in
aesthetics and psychology, says:

Contrary to what happens in other areas, the art of film is not (and cannot be)
based on purely aesthetic principles; its foundations are the logical and
psychological functions of which these principles are merely the formal
(Mitry, 1997, p375)

The principle gauge in the next chapters of this thesis, although there are many
which exist to explain the differing ways in which human brains effect reasoning and
logic, is nominated as being positioned somewhere on a scale extending from
authoritative, deductive, abductive or inductive. These descriptions form the basis for
understanding the way in which meaning is constructed within the deep structure of
the discourse of documentary film, through the psychological processes it activates
in the spectator. Consider how a person would handle the situation of a being student
in a classroom compared to that same person exploring a new piece of information
by themselves. One line of approach may be the following:

Because A, and because B, and because C, therefore D.

The partnership of Ron and Suzanne Wong Scollon call this line of argument
inductive, because it places the minor points of the argument first and then derives
the main point as a conclusion from those arguments (Scollon and Scollon, 1995,
p74). At the other end of the scale is a deductive logic, where the student works with
a new piece of information, whereby the topic is introduced at the beginning of a
discourse (or a lesson, or a documentary) and then the minor or the supporting
arguments are presented afterwards (ibid,1995).

Another way in which this topic can be approached is through physiology of the
brain: some people use their left brain more, while others use the right brain more
(Mercado, 1994). The left brain emphasizes language, mathematical formulas, logic,
numbers, sequence, lineality, analysis, and the words of a song. The right brain
emphasizes forms and patterns, spatial manipulation, rhythm and musical
appreciation, images/pictures, daydreaming, dimensions, and tune of a song. These
and other contributing processes are relevant to understanding the logic and
philosophy behind documentary modes of engagement. In this thesis, logic can be
observed operating within documentary in the following modalistic forms of:

1) Authoritative,
2) Deductive,
3) Abductive,
4) Inductive, intuitive.

6.3.8 Narrative style

Although the spectators know very well that a documentary film is a representation
of a real subject, they are nonetheless drawn into a documentary film in the same
way that a fictional film draws them in that is, through diegetic codes. Units of
cinematic language such as the Point-Of-View (POV) shot, dramatic shaping or
manipulation are some of the forms which can be observed, operating at a technical
level, in this paradigm. Further operations of story-telling or fictionalisation are
outlined by Roger Odin in A Semio-Pragmatic Approach to the Documentary Film
(Odin, 1995) as the following:

1) Construction of a diegesis; production of a world;
2) Narrativisation; production of a story, of a narrative;
3) 'Mise en phase'; alignment of the filmic relations to the diegetic relations in such
a way that the spectator is made to resonate to the rhythm of the events told;
4) Construction of an absent Enunciator; the presence of the Enunciator is both
indicated and effaced in such a way that the spectator, although knowing very
well that an Enunciator does exist may, however, believe that the world and
events that are shown to him exist in themselves
5) Fictivisation: the (absent) Enunciator functions as a fictive origin. He
accomplishes the act of enunciation 'without undertaking the commitments that
are normally required by that act' (the obligation to guarantee the truth of what is
articulated, to provide proof if requested, to commit himself personally to this
truth: the sincerity rule...)
(Odin, 1995, p228-9)

The elements of reconstructed, fictive structure to story-telling is examined in the
selected film case-studies in terms of:

1) Narrativisation in Bowling for Columbine in Chapter 7,
2) Absent enunciation and mise-en-phase in Etre et Avoir in Chapter 8,
3) Apprenticeship in My Architect in Chapter 9,
4) Fictivisation as perceptualisation in Baraka in Chapter 10.


The paradigms outlined above are in no way an exhaustive list of the ways in which
viewer engagement can be designed into the deep structure of a documentary.
MacDougall and Taylor in fact suggests that many of film's most arresting
properties are precisely those that obstinately refuse to submit to semiotic coding
(MacDougall and Taylor, 1998, p11). However, many films also simply dont arrive
to the theatres or television screen. Certainly there are business issues at play here as
well, however, a theatrical documentary needs to engage a viewer in a strong,
cinematic way. Otherwise, through a disability in connecting the codes within the
film with the codes which viewers can read, another potential theatrical documentary
masterpiece does not make it to the big screen. The basis for a semiotic coding thus
lies in a desire to produce the phenomenon of documentary consciousness.

The result of semiotic coding is this: that it offers a basis for a paradigmatic analysis
of documentary engagement. In any representation of the real on screen, in any full
text which is able to offer the closest thing a viewer can get apart from experiencing
the real subject, there are certain buttons which must be pushed, and processes
which must be activated. There is the ideological zeitgeist, the truth aim, the manner
in which the audience is framed, apart from the positions which they are situated into
within the text. There is the influential way in which argument of mediation can
occur within the documentary text, and the linguistic register which is able to make
coherent the language of the documentary that is being spoken, in an audio-visual
sense. Then, there is the logic and philosophy underpinning the film, and the
particular filmic, diegetic and narrative world of each film. This analysis could be
extended vertically with the observation of entirely new paradigms for engagement,
or horizontally, with the observation of further phenomenon as they appear under
each heading or notional set. As a foundational menu though, the above list is a
useful one for the documentary film-maker to resolve the often difficult task of
ratifying What they just saw with What the viewer will see on the screen to avoid
the unfortunate situation of Works better in the head than it does on the screen.

Us, and them
And after all we're only ordinary men.
Me, and you.
God only knows it's not what we would choose to do.
Forward he cried from the rear
and the front rank died.
And the general sat and the lines on the map
moved from side to side.
(Pink Floyd lyrics to 'Us and Them', Waters and Wright, 1973)

This chapter relates specifically to the analysis of one mode of engagement, the
outcome mode, which is examined in Michael Moores successful theatrical
documentary Bowling for Columbine (Moore, 2002). Moores work epitomises the
outcome documentary film which exhibits a subject with emphasis on spectatorial
judgement from the audience and, at its most effective, solicits an outcome. Other
film-makers such as The Yes Men (Bonanno and Bichlbaum, 2004) have also
produced films in recent years which display this quality that they give insight into
a real subject through portraying both sides of an exclusive (as opposed to
inclusive) debate. Conflict between two or more sides of an issue, and the rebuttal
and undercut forms of argumentation, become vehicles for building narrative
dynamics in this outcome mode of engagement. The exact ways in which this
engagement is effected, between the viewer and these two sides of an issue, is
explored throughout the rest of this chapter.

The opening lyrics to this chapter, by Pink Floyd, contain essential sentiments
underlying the outcome mode of engagement. Pragmatic demands and institutional
relationships (as epitomised by the Grierson and Kino-Eye films contextualised in
Table 1, The History of Documentary Voice, Chapter 2) are observed in Bowling
For Columbine and the clips from it which are exhibited in the attached DVD. The
perceptible greyness that surrounds these Pink Floyd lyrics shares that same ideology
which many of the outcome documentary films seem to stem from in part defined
as an institutionally disgruntled situation or subjects.

In contrast to propaganda and direct address documentaries, the current post-verit
film style - with contributions from digital, non-linear editing systems and the
compilation documentary production formats - has established itself as a very
effective documentary form. The strongly dualistic nature of outcome documentary
films, which involve two competing sides of an argument, makes viewer engagement
directly impacting and effectual. Particularly, this holds true for western ideologies,
cultures and economies, which show strong traditions of the binary logic of Side A
vs Side B. The viewer, in engaging with this type of film, is inadvertently assigned
the title of judge and jury, of the film subject. It becomes the audiences role to judge
guilty or not guilty, or as believable and agreeable, or not. Other characteristics of
the outcome mode of engagement include properties of dualistic (or geometric) logic,
authoritative figures and actions (and therefore decisions or judgements),
achievement and climax in plot, one or several central protagonist/s, and
achievement or failure (either through characters or storyline).

Moores Bowling For Columbine was the highest grossing documentary in
Australian cinemas.with takings of $2.5 million, according to the Sydney
Morning Herald (Garry, 2003). That was until Moores subsequent hit Fahrenheit
9/11 was recorded as making ten times as much as this previous film. Critical box-
office success, however, also gave way to critical debate as to whether his
documentary was an exhibition of objective truth or the fabrication of Moores
personal beliefs about societal powers in the United States, and more fundamentally,
his sustainability concerns for his hometown of Flint, Michigan. Time magazine
reported that, in regard to one of Moore's later films, his reputation as a folksy
firebrand of the left had already begun to ignite accusations that he had twisted facts
to suit his politics (Cardwell, 2003). This issue is exacerbated by Moores
personification of himself as the main protagonist in his films and thus the object
of both applause and criticism of the movie.

This thesis looks beyond the arguments surrounding the superficial documentary
subject in Bowling For Columbine. Instead, the deeper structures which create
documentary consciousness for the film spectator will be examined for evidence of
the outcome mode according to paradigms which are specific to the theatrical-

The reader of this thesis will need to insert the DVD appendix now. This is best
viewed using a computer.

1) Ideological Roots (as shown in Visual Appendix > Ideological Roots >
Outcome documentary)

Bowling for Columbine presents colonialism and slavery as a fundamental
influence to the issue of gun ownership in America. The historical framing of this
subject is presented through an animated explanation of the slave trade into the
United States and the phenomenon of fear and gun-toting behaviour that emerged
later. Animation is one of many examples whereby new technologies are reworking
the possibilities for the historical compilation documentary, giving depth to
intertextualities such as Moores links between gun ownership mentality and the
slavery past of the United States.

2) Truth aim (as shown in Visual Appendix > Truth Aim > Outcome

In order to find truth, Moore uses investigative journalism as an approach of
directing questions to a variety of sources informed on the subject, specifically here
on the working conditions of the mother of the boy who was the key actor in what
was to become known as the Columbine Massacre. Moore aims to allow viewers to
feel that they can discern an objective truth by evaluating the information that comes
from different perspectives of the life behind the Columbine youth. In pursuing this
aim, Moore himself becomes the interface between sides. He, and consequently the
direction of the film, become concerned with addressing truth by acknowledging
power structures behind the incident of the Columbine Massacre. Proof and
justification, or the lack thereof for the incident in Columbine, are presented to the
viewer as truth. The onus of judging this truth becomes the role of the audience, as
explained further in the next clip. Moores style of interrogation has often critically
been called an ambush interview. It is this characteristic of an outcome
documentary that an issue such as this one about corporate/government involvement
involves grandstanding (Rosenthal and Corner, 2005, p256) and means that the
issue is not discussed and explored as much as it is dramatically asserted (ibid).

3) Audience Framing (as shown in Visual Appendix > Audience Framing >
Outcome documentary)

The audience is consistently made aware that there are two sides to an argument. The
exclusive debate is probed by Moores inquiring camera and questions. The build-up
of each argument side results in a moment of this side or the other as the subjects
pose questions without answers. Moore makes conflict entertaining, with satire and
humour and multi-disciplinary issues layered over the deeper structure of Bowling
for Columbine. However, the structure of the arguments maintain that the viewer is,
in effect, watching from the outside looking in, as Moore takes the argument in his
own way to his own situations. Hence, the outcome documentary mode deals with an
exclusionary debate.

The deep structure here can be likened to a debate scenario, where two opposing
sides counter-argue each others viewpoint. The debate is thus a closed one, as the
dynamic of conflict is contained by the two sides engaged in it. The only intervener
is the mediating figure, in the case of this film, that interceptor is Moore.

4) Argumentation Style (as shown in Visual Appendix > Argumentation Style
> Outcome documentary)

The argument behind Bowling for Columbine is obvious from the beginning that
gun ownership in America is a symptom of a greater national problem. Moore takes
this argument up with personal voracity, and does this by soliciting an argument that
is, in Aristotelian terms, ethical, emotional and demonstrative (Nichols, 2001, p50).
It is a peculiarity of the Outcome documentary that often the director takes on the
task of truth-seeking within the documentary and presents his experience to the
audience as THE experience of truth-seeking. Counter-argumentation is a common
journalistic imperative in seeking objectivity. However, in the practice of
documentary, the objectivity becomes more transparent, to the point of being
obviously subjective, as the director and the main character of the movie takes the
issue of the truth into his own, subjective hands. This is a post-verit example of
Metzs enunciation (see Chapter 4), where the film object (i.e. Moores gun-
alleviating truth) is one that actually only exists in its own separated realm, although
through the capturing and reading of the film, a pseudo-existence is created for the

5) Audience Positioning (as shown in Visual Appendix > Audience Positioning
> Outcome documentary)

In this paradigm, the audience observes narrative comparisons between a dualistic
argument. In the clip, the father of the Columbine victim finally asks the question
about American problems with guns, saying, What is it? What is it? until the
unanswered question rests upon the spectator, ultimately left looking for the answer.
This positioning constitutes the assigning of judge or jury status to the viewer and
engages them thus in the story presented by Moore.

In this clip, the positioning of the audience as being indirectly involved is clear, with
the viewer being unable to answer the questions back nor able to pose their own
questions before the film asks a new one. The dominant reading is nigh impossible to
avoid and very easy to detect in Bowling for Columbine.

6) Linguistic Registers (as shown in Visual Appendix > Linguistic Registers >
Outcome documentary)

The register which this film employs most discernibly is the pragmatic register.
Moore repeatedly uses his aplomb and trademark faux naif tactics at talking to
people in institutions or positions of authority. The example shown in this clip
highlights the institutionally correct way in which the police officer handles Moores
questions, some of which border on the ludicrous. This is comparable to pragmatics
in common languages, and how some languages have a particular verb and article
structure which is used only for revered or respected figures, such as using Your
Royal Highness when speaking to the Queen or, in the Castillian (Spanish)
language, by using the formal person pronoun, a polite way of addressing you
(usted). Indeed, throughout the entire film, Moore often speaks the language of the
very people whose message he is blatantly disagreeing with. This is another dynamic
of the pragmatic register in which Moore is particularly fluent.

7) Philosophy and Logic (as shown in Visual Appendix > Philosophy & Logic
> Outcome documentary)

The authoritative logic, which this clip displays, holds many similarities with the
propaganda films of earlier in the 20
century (see Chapter 2). The logic is
essentially dualistic, showing two sides of a debate. Due to this black vs. white
style structuring of logic underlying the film, some points may be observed as
lacking context, and headline-style, which invites oppositional reactions or blind
agreement. The greyness of the logic in the Outcome documentary is minimal, and
a precise and clear view is sought. It is a logic style which can be observed outside of
the documentary form in places such as a business meeting and the process of
passing a motion wherever lack of clarity is not useful to the task at hand. As
authoritative logic is associated with a thought-process active within the left-side of
the brain, it is expected that lineality, mathematics and mental reasoning are active in
the spectator in this mode of engagement.

8) Narrative Mode (as shown in Visual Appendix > Narrative Mode >
Outcome documentary)

There is a large amount of narrated voice-over throughout Bowling for Columbine
as Moore invites the audience to judge the exclusive debate. Moores satirical
commentary is mixed with a statistical, step-by-step progression towards a decision
which the spectator is subversively asked to judge. The following dialogue from
Moore and the father of one the Columbine victims, taken from the above clip,
illustrates this:

Theres lots of bowling going on in other places. Dont they watch the same
violent movies in France? Most of the violent video games come from J apan.
But the statistics show that there are more broken families and divorce in the
United Kingdom. But if thats all it takes to create a violent society like we
have in America, then how do you explain this? .(Statistics of death by
gunshots are shown). That brings up to me an important question. What is so
different about us Americans? Are we Americans homicidal in nature? What is
so radically different about us? What is it? What is it?

Other narrative techniques are focussed on achievements and conflict, a never-
ending source of narrative structure for Michael Moore in his documentaries. These
totalizing narrative questions, as posed in this clip, can be viewed from a Derridean
perspective. Michael Moore becomes an enunciated figure, a person who holds,
fights and represents the battle on his own. Using Derridas fundamental theories,
one can conclude that Moores work will probably never come to a clean or absolute
resolution of the problems which it attempts to confront; in that it is logo-centric.
It is basic to logocentricism, according to Derrida, that a totalizing potential to
experience exists that may be countered by supplementarity. Enunciation is always
open: It can never come to a unified ending; closure and unity are mere pretenses
foisted upon us by logocentrism. (Casebier, 1991, p152)


In terms of engaging spectators, Bowling for Columbine certainly created a
massive instance of documentary consciousness, considering the massive audiences
it reaped as well as ongoing media attention. The films strengths are many, in terms
of spectator engagement. There is also a strong left-brain, authoritative argument and
there is a central focus of the storys argument, with Moore embodying the battle in
his larger-than-life way. That said, such an argument model might be viewed as
logo-centric and limited therefore, in terms of its compatibility with global
audiences, who might take a wide variety of interpretations of the facts or
possibilities for framing the arguments.

The fact that much of this type of engagement exists in Anglo-Saxon and particularly
American culture was outlined by Raul Ruiz, who wrote in Poetics Of Cinema that:

'(T)he criteria according to which most of the characters in today's movies
behave are drawn from one particular culture (that of the USA). In this culture,
it is not only dispensable to make decisions but also to act on them,
immediately (not so in China or Iraq). The immediate consequence of most
decisions in this culture is some kind of conflict (untrue in other cultures).
Different ways of thinking deny the direct causal connection between a
decision and the conflict which may result from it; they also deny that physical
or verbal collision is the only possible form of conflict. Unfortunately, these
other societies, which secretly maintain their traditional beliefs in these
matters, have outwardly adopted Hollywood's rhetorical behaviour.

(Ruiz, 1995, p21).

Moore has become an important figure for the post-verit documentary, showing the
box-office potential of factual films. Certainly, using Ruizs terminology, Moore
presents a character in his films drawn from American culture, to create conflict in
a particularly American way. The judgement which comes from this film can also be
viewed as a stepping-stone to perceiving a greater view of the Columbine Massacre.
Merleau-Ponty reiterates this point, saying that J udgement is often introduced as
what sensation lacks to make perception possible (2002, p32). The viewer isnt able
to sense what Moore or the father of the Columbine victim felt; but the spectator can
judge their experience, from the outside looking in. This way, the Outcome
documentary, thus constitutes only one way, but a very powerful way, of architecting
factual documentary stories into a film for an audience and creating documentary


Documentaries dont have to be didactic.
They can have emotion and tell stories.
(Philibert, 2004)

The emotional representation of documentary subjects has long been an aim for film-
makers. The pre-digital forefather of this type of documentary is exhibited by the
French, reflexive film-maker, J ean Rouche, for example exhibited in Chronique
dun ete (Rouche, 1961). Of more relevance to the post-verit movement, however,
is the current work of Nicolas Philibert. His theatrical documentary, Etre et Avoir
(Philibert, 2003) drew global crowds into this story, shot as a fly-on-the-wall of a
school and its teacher in a remote mountain village in France. The film was an
international success, winning and being nominated for awards at film festivals in
New York, Cannes, Toronto and Britain. Subtle pragmatics and the invisibility of the
film-making team as creators of the story reflect Philiberts attitude that patience and
invisibility let subjects tell their own truths.

Nicolas Philiberts film-making style and experience, extending from his early days
of making sports and adventure documentaries for French television to the
worldwide success of his cinema documentary examined here, is unusual amongst
the current field of auteur documentary-makers. The uniqueness of his work lies in
the use of his camera-eye and subtle character-building, as he shoots ordinary
situations in extraordinary ways. This is evident in clips under the participant mode
in the attached DVD. In some respects, Philiberts work in documentary could be
considered as subversive, uprooting the notion that a documentary thesis should be
chosen according to headline or newsworthy subjects. Philibert's earlier work -
including his award winning films Louvre City (Philibert, 1990), In The Land Of
The Deaf (Philibert, 1992) and Every Little Thing (Philibert, 1997) - screened at
the Sheffield International Documentary Festival in 2004 where Nicholas discussed
his work with Anna Glogowski, now a programmer for the Paris Cinema Festival:

Very often people ask me, where do ideas come from? I am always paralysed
by this question. I dont know. Do you know yourself, where ideas come from?
Well ideas come from other ideas and we dont know why suddenly this one
has come to us as a necessity and suddenly you start thinking that this will be
the idea for the next film. It is something that you have known already for
years. We all carry many things inside and well sometimes these ideas is a
good one and, very often, I say I make a difference between the idea and the
subject. For me it is very important to separate these two concepts or things
because they are very separate things.
(Philibert, 2004)

Documentary consciousness, as explored in chapter 5, is a four-step process between
the subject selection, the shoot and cut, the exhibition, and then the spectators own
processes of comprehension or reading. As Philibert himself suggests, in his film-
making he carefully separates the two very separate things of subject and style (that
is, shooting and cutting). The final two tiers of documentary consciousness, those of
the exhibition and then of the act of spectator engagement, are examined throughout
the following eight paradigms. Philiberts auteur style draws the spectator into this
story of a French School house through engagement paradigms which are initially
simple yet, in other regards, quite complex viewer-subject relations.

1) Ideological Roots (as shown in Visual Appendix > Ideological Roots >
Participant documentary)

Throughout the film, the camera focuses on the exploration of learning by each
young student in an Auvergne school farmhouse. This humanistic style of shooting
reflects the philosophy of the enlightenment period in Romance Europe (that is, 16
and 18
century Italy, France and Spain), when literature and philosophy was
concerned with the discovery of new civilisations (e.g. the Pacific, Africa), and the
struggle against the absolutist state. It was in that repressive period when the
European bourgeoisie began to carve out for itself a distinct discursive space, one of
rational judgement and enlightened critique rather than of the brutal ukases of an
authoritarian politics (Eagleton, 1984, p9). This distinct discursive space appears
consistently in Etre et Avoir.

Enlightenment, as the word itself suggests, writes Rocco, illuminates, reveals, or
makes clear. To shed light on a subject or a problem implies replacing the darkness
of ignorance or confusion with understanding and knowledge, substituting certainty
for mystery, clarity for obscurity (1997, p36). This knowledge-finding process is the
focus of Philiberts camera throughout the film. The interpellated subject here is one
which does not show the conflict and argumentative traits of the outcome
documentary, but rather a subtler, exploratory one.

2) Truth aim (as shown in Visual Appendix > Truth Aim > Participant

Some instances, such as this one shown in the clip above, show the reality of this
young boys schooling life beyond the confines of the school room. This is
Philiberts effort at contextualising the truth of his subjects (as opposed to the truth
of an argument, as in Bowling for Columbine). The truth aim in this film is one of
perception, as opposed to judgement, and it can be found in the realistic and deep
portrayal of its characters. Rational, logical and discursive approaches are all mere
factors (Merleau-Ponty, 2002, p33) involved in understanding the greater truth in a
film such as this. This clip serves to provide more information about the character
later in the film, when the same young boy featured here becomes embroiled in an
argument in the school. Through this clip, the audience is able to observe the boy in a
social dilemma with deeper and contextualised knowledge of his personal
background. It gives the audience an opportunity to get a sense of these boys
perception of their situation. It illustrates the point made by Edward de Bono, the
originator of the term lateral thinking, that: Perceptual truth is different from
constructed truth (de Bono, 1990, p43).

This illustrates how a full text, such as the theatrical documentary, can provide what
a partial text, such as a news report, cannot. Take for example, the Academy Award
winning documentary March of the Penguin (J acquet, 2005) which intricately
documented the Antarctic king penguin mating ritual, a subject which is impossible
to reduce to newsworthy headline-style stories.

3) Audience Framing (as shown in Visual Appendix > Audience Framing >
Participant documentary)

Simple, logical structures underlie Philiberts otherwise complex human study of the
teacher in the schoolhouse in rural France. This clip shows the only instance in the
film of Philiberts voice and noticeable intervention being used in the shoot. In this
clip, Philibert asks simple questions about the teachers background, his motivation
in teaching and his experience of it as a career. This interview is the only part where
the central character of the film effectively comes out of his real-life role as teacher
and, for a moment with the camera, reflects on his role. During the rest of the film,
Mr Lopez is presented to the audience as an artist at work, in his teaching. The
framing is reminiscent of the thoroughness applied to scientific, laboratory
experiment, where variables such as interviews, and camera intervention or
interaction with the film subjects are limited in the controlled investigation of
Philiberts filming.

For the audience, this interview scene is outside the general frame in which they
come to see Mr Lopez, as a teacher immersively involved in his daily work of
teaching. A consistent audience framing, congruent with fly-on-the-wall shooting, is
that the spectator is positioned within or inside a subject, through the vehicle of the

4) Argumentation Style (as shown in Visual Appendix > Argumentation Style
> Participant documentary)

This point was difficult to contain within one short clip and should be viewed in
conjunction with the clips shown under headings 2 and 5 of this chapter. Discursive
techniques are the primary tools of treating argument within this mode of
engagement. The two boys shown in the clip are resolving a physical dispute which
they had in the school playground. The act of reaching a final agreement to the
argument is secondary to the act (or process) of simply getting the two boys to sit
down and communicate, and to handle argumentation thus in a discursive manner.

Philibert uses logical argumentation consistently. The boys fight; he shows them in
their home situations, as well as in the process of resolving their conflict with the
teacher, almost like a before-and-after snapshot. To the effect that this documentary
is emotive and subtle in dealing with its subjects, direct verbal argument here is a
much less effective tool for climax than it is, say, in Bowling For Columbine.
Philibert makes a subtle yet pervasive argument for the value of the committed

5) Audience Positioning (as shown in Visual Appendix > Mode of Address >
Participant documentary)

In this clip, the viewer is positioned alongside of Mr Lopez and the Auvergne
schoolroom. The subjects and the central character or mediator (that is, Mr Lopez
and the students) are viewed from the spectators position exactly as that way in
which the camera sees them - as a silent witness. The audience effectively becomes
part of the film. This is similar to a situation framed in the style of a Roman forum,
whereby the spectator is not directly included in the argument between the boys, or
asked to judge them, but is nonetheless attendant. This clip signifies the inclusive
style of this particular engagement model, whereby the spectator becomes implicitly
involved in the argument simply by being invisibly present in the slow, unedited
process of its subjects stories. Space remains for the viewer to ask their own
questions and find their own answers, without the imposition of judgements placed
on them.

6) Linguistic Registers (as shown in Visual Appendix > Linguistic Registers >
Participant documentary)

Semantic registers here are evident. Semantic pertains to signs in their internal
interaction with each other (i.e. the communication which takes place in the film is
about subject-to-subject dynamics, and not about presenting themselves to the
camera or including any serious involvement of Philibert as a subject in his own
film). In this clip, Philibert examines one of the students learning difficulties by
exploring her classroom behaviours, her home-life and through the parent-teacher
interview with her mother. This is an example of semantics in film language,
displaying an internal semantic interaction of one chosen issue in its many affected
areas. It takes one signifier that is, the learning difficulties of the young girl and
examines it in an observational format through the eyes of other subjects or other
contexts. There is also an element of pragmatics which register within this clip, and
throughout the entire film. That is the invisibly inserted perspective which is the
result of Philiberts fly-on-the-wall shooting, another contributory to the register
which this documentary performs on at a linguistic level.

7) Philosophy & Logic (as shown in Visual Appendix > Philosophy & Logic >
Participant documentary)

In this clip, the brilliant simplicity of the logic behind the participant mode of
engagement is revealed. Scenes which depict the changing seasons give the audience
a simple structure to the film, using deductive logic as the viewers way with which
to understand the flow of the story. This temporal logic structures Etre et Avoir
from its opening scenes, as shown here, through to the very end. Using Metzs
grande syntagmatique, this could be considered an example of a tempo-logic
syntagma. The entire movie is shaped as a year in the life of the school in rural
France, with each season marking a different flavour in the story. This is deductive
logic, and reflects a scientific and logical approach in experiments, which limit the
number of variables acting upon a subject to properly examine them specifically.

8) Narrative Mode (as shown in Visual Appendix > Narrative Mode >
Participant documentary)

The eyes of Philibert and his camera become the silent storytellers of this film, and
the subjects are the unaware actors. It is in fact rare that the subjects in this film even
acknowledge the camera as being present within their space, and Point-Of-View
(POV) shots, such as in this touching moment at the end of Lopezs teaching year,
occur naturally and without any obvious attempts by subjects to play up for the
camera. Although this story is certainly one told by Philibert, the fly-on-the-wall
technique effectively creates an absent enunciator, making the story feel even more
present to the viewer.


The participant mode shows that subtle and internalised filming techniques can
overlay a deeper logic structure that is simple and rudimentary, which combine to
create a pervasive yet delicate effect on the spectator. The participant mode allows
the spectator to become a cognitive part of the on-screen world, to almost transcend
the barriers of the screen and to sensorily experience the inner filmic world. It shows
a documentary form which has developed from its origins as a self-concerned child,
into the mind of a humanistic care-taker in accounting for the spectator as a creator
in documentary consciousness.

Etre et Avoir brings an important new element to documentary consciousness that
of perception. In the way that Philibert both selected his subject and shot it, there is a
perceptivity that pervades this film. This perceptivity is then also required from the

The shift from the logic in this film as being reason to being a logic of perception is
an example of what Edward de Bono wrote about in The New Renaissance: from
Rock Logic to Water Logic. De Bono states:

For 24 centuries we have put all our intellectual effort into the logic of reason
rather than the logic of perception. Yet in the conduct of human affairs,
perception is far more important.
(de Bono, 1990, p42)

It is no surprise that documentary is now dealing with the emergence of perception
incidentally at the same time as truth, in the way that as historical understanding of
how documentaries represent truth is also changing. Again, de Bono makes this clear
from a broader philosophical point-of-view:

Perception does have its own logic. This logic is based directly on the
behaviour of self-organizing patterning systems totally different from the table
top logic of traditional reason and language.
(de Bono, 1990, p42)

The perceptive function in Etre et Avoir is echoed in further case studies in this
thesis. The broader questions are; how many other documentary films are using
perception as a key tool in engaging audiences, and how important is it?


Him who took His servant a journey by night
from the Sacred Mosque to the Remote Mosque,
the precinct of which we have blessed, to show him of our signs!
verily, He both hears and looks.
Koran Sura 17, Night J ourney

The journey documentary shows an engagement modality which allows the spectator
to assume a passenger role. The film examined here, My Architect (Kahn, 2005),
exemplifies the documentary as a quest or a search, and it becomes, as Stella Bruzzi
says of the journey film in general, the place for documenting and recording what
many would want to remain hidden or simply find too painful to recall (2000, p114).

My Architects journey centres on Nathaniel Kahn, whose personal quest is to
discover the truth about his father, a notable architect who died mysteriously and
who never publicly acknowledged that he had a son. Documentary films such as
Latcho Drom (Gatlif, 1994) or 110901, September 11: a film (Various, Youssef
Chahine, Amos Gitai and al;, 2003) illustrate further ways in which spectators can be
taken on a physical and mental journey that extends beyond the surface of a film.
Certainly there are also some epic journeys which have been made with the
documentary form, such as the sprawling piece on the Holocaust Shoah
(Lanzmann, 1985) which runs for over nine hours. Stella Bruzzi, in commenting on
another journey film, London, sums up some essential characteristics of the way in
which My Architect tells its documentary story to a film audience:

It is in keeping with many aspects of the documentary journey tradition: it is
active, physical; it focuses on the moment of encounter with his witnesses and
it conveys tangibly to us, the audience, the sense of traveling through time and
(Bruzzi, 2000, p114)
These and many more aspects of the journey tradition are detailed through the
paradigms of documentary engagement below.

1) Ideological Roots (as shown in Visual Appendix > Ideological Roots >
Journey documentary)

Throughout My Architect, there is an unmistakable sense of tracking the divine or
the mysterious or the holy. In this clip, we witness the most obvious account of this
mystical purpose as the journeying son, the central character of the film, visits
J erusalem and the Wailing Wall, in search of his real, deceased father. This is not
unlike the Don Quijote and the Robinson Crusoes of classical literature, also the
Bible and the literature of holy religions, which follow this structure of a journey
which is linked to a guided sense of the divine. In several other moments throughout
the film, further instances of a divine source, the mysterious reasons for why the
older Kahn worked and lived so unusually, and the way in which he died is
illustrated with a certain sense of the zeitgeist. This ideology and the religiously
divine, interpellated subject are enhanced with music and sensory overlays to

2) Truth aim (as shown in Visual Appendix > Truth Aim > Journey

This clip illustrates a further instance of this divine-like power guiding the journey of
My Architect. The orchestral music in the background, the panoramic views of the
architecture, along with the voice-over, which resoundingly utters the statement,
pronounced with the effect of a bold truth, that truly a work of art shows that nature
cannot make what man can make. These statements as well as the impressive
imagery of the architecture with the musical texturing throughout My Architect
make truthful statements out of compiled snippets in the same way that a home
movie would. This is the notion of truth as in divine decree, whereby statements that
are made resoundingly and emphatically are rendered to be truthful (perhaps at a
spiritual level), rather than through objective or discursive methods.

3) Audience Framing (as shown in Visual Appendix > Audience Framing >
Journey documentary)

Again, in this clip, religious statements such as God is in the work place the
mystical note of divinity over the story of a displaced sons search for his father. The
audience is not guiding this story, but rather taken on the journey with the
protagonist, the son who is evincing these mystical or religious overtones. Human
encounters and personalities shape the dynamic of the films narrative, each of which
adds a different perspective to the central journey of Nathaniel. Nathaniel, as the
central and involved character, is the driver of this documentary vehicle.

This is a style of audience framing akin to the apprenticeship style of education
with regards to religion (i.e. Rabbinic instruction in J udaism) or trade-skills (i.e. a
hairdressing apprenticeship with a senior hair stylist and a new junior), or any direct
master-student learning style for that matter. Knowledge in these realms, as in this
documentary, is a process of learning and then exploring, and from that experience
then a learned fact is created.

4) Argumentation Style (as shown in Visual Appendix > Argumentation Style
> Journey documentary)

Argumentation comes in the form of a process which is known as through-
argumentation here. This reflects a style of conflict resolution, often prevalent in
many Afro-asiatic languages such as Arabic, which win arguments, not by
countering opposing arguments, but rather by making their own arguments
thoroughly and persuasively. The issue of argumentation in a documentary such as
this one is more complex than the general notion of argumentation in common
conversations. Kahns purpose in making the film is less an argument in the sense of
requiring an outcome, but rather a personal conflict which he resolves throughout the
film. This is made clear at the outset of the film, in the clip shown under Audience
Positioning, examined in the next paragraph. However, in the interview shown here
with, one assumes, a key figure of the building which Kahns father architected, the
dialogue serves as a resolving moment for Kahn in understanding his search for his
father. In a sense, it is the resolution of this films argument.

5) Audience Positioning (as shown in Visual Appendix > Mode of Address >
Journey documentary)

Throughout the journey documentary, the director and central protagonist is also the
orator and guide, detailing to the accompanying audience what he finds on his
journey. It is as though Kahn is driving and the spectator is the passenger. The
audience receives this story directly - in cinematic terms this implies straight from
the subjects mouth. The clip shown here is taken from the opening scenes of the
film. It outlines the premise for the film and the role which, from the outset, is
assigned to the audience. J udgement is not specifically asked of the audience. Rather,
the emotional and mental insight of the son positions the audience into an
experiential role as Kahn struggles to be satisfied with the little piece of his fathers
life that he had been allowed to see.

Throughout this process, the viewer can look beyond Kahns central character to
many other references throughout the film as to exactly whom they identified with
and what they take from such encounters.

6) Linguistic Registers (as shown in Visual Appendix > Linguistic Registers >
Journey documentary)

One purpose of a journey such as Kahns is to open up dialogue between people,
regarding a specific issue which would otherwise be left untouched. In this scene,
Kahn joins his two half-sisters in discussing the enigma of their father, a discussion
uniting siblings who had otherwise been kept very separate. It shows use of a
semantic register examining an internal interaction between subjects as the focus
and shape of the story. This clip is particularly structured around the nature of the
social relationship between the alienated children of the older Kahn, who become
semantically interactive in this filmed situation. Other examples of the linguistic
register at work are the many uses of rhetorical language throughout the film, a by-
product of the oratory style of My Architect.

7) Philosophy and Logic (as shown in Visual Appendix > Philosophy & Logic
> Journey documentary)

A consistent logic throughout the film is carried by way of the encounters with
people who offer insights into Nathaniel Kahns father. Each of these encounters
contributes to a broader understanding for the audience of who this person was, but
no specific outcomes or facts specifically result from the scenes. That remains as the
experiential element of this journey documentary, allowing the audience to consider
each of Kahns interviews from his perspective, but according to their own
judgements. This is an algebraic logic, based on a personal or social issue. Algebraic
logic, as classified by Ellington-Waugh (1974) refers to the way in which language
can be understood as mathematical symbols with a direct and lineal progression
using the equation where two components (subject and predicate) are either equated
or denied (i.e when Kahn finds a person of value to his search and has a specific
point regarding his father either reinforced or disqualified).

8) Narrative Mode (as shown in Visual Appendix > Narrative Mode > Journey

This clip is taken from the closing scenes of the film. The narrated end to the film is
quite simple, and shows, as Winston explains here, one of the journey documentarys

J ourney films solved actuality's big narrative problem - closure. How should
such films finish? Obviously, a journey film ends with the end of the journey.
(Winston, 1995, p104)

Closure in My Architect comes by arriving at the source of Kahns paternal angst.
Once this destination has been reached, with the resolution for Kahns concerns
alleviated through a final encounter with someone who had known his father in
Bangladesh, the journey has been completed. The spectator has had little to play in
this process, but like an accompanying travelmate, has met the many faces along the
way and shared the experience in a more passive sense. This is a sense of
apprenticeship in film, which treats the spectator as the Bible does in its placement of
the reader. The questions that the film asks, the film finds for itself, but the viewer
may have found different answers or asked different questions along the way, and
through the film, the viewer has been offered a way to explore them.

In a way, the fact that questions arise in this style of documentary storytelling is
important and, indeed, somewhat rhetorical. Because complete answers may not be
offered, the documentary invites the spectator to explore their own interpretations of
the subject.


Years ago, a film such as My Architect would not have become a cinematic tale for
the big-screen and international audiences. Or would it? A glimpse over film history
shows that the journey-style of engaging a cinema audience may be a lot older than
the post-verit tradition itself. Surf film classics, films which cater to documentarys
stipulations as an audio-visual insight into a real subject, are perhaps some of the
most successful and unrecognised forms of journey documentaries. Through them,
theatre audiences all over the world explored an interest in oceans, surfing and the
adventuring lifestyle, where the focus is less on what the ending is or what happens
to the characters, and more about points of interest along the way.

In My Architect, using the tools outlined in this chapter, the personal journey of an
alienated son become insights for audiences into father-son relationships,
architecture, broken families and inspired or motivated career paths. The journey
film leaves open several detours or possibilities within a specified map and as
Bruzzi says of the journey documentary in general, they imply an active, dynamic
relationship with their respective spectators (Bruzzi, 2000, p115)


QuickTime and a
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are needed to see this picture.

Mandala art by David Drankin

Mandala is a Sanskrit word for circle, and symbolises this mode of documentary
engagement, being both poetic and inter-subjective. The film Baraka (Stearns,
Fricke and Magidson, 1996) displays this engagement process, doing so through an
unnarrated sequence of inter-related but differing subjects, leaving the viewer to feel
the story as opposed to being told the story. Although it is a decade old now,
Baraka stands out as an exemplary model of this emotive style of audience
treatment. It is a style which, in many aspects, counters the more common forms of
documentary engagement for mass audiences, unless one considers the IMAX
cinemas. These IMAX films, which currently represent one of the bigger sources of
revenue for theatrical documentaries, also employ a principally cinematic tale, with
an underlying narrative structure linked to metaphoric imagery.

1) Ideological Roots (as shown in Visual Appendix > Ideological Roots >
Participant documentary)

This clip shows ritual and mimicry, the basis of the ideology in this mandala
documentary. The audience does not know, unless they already know from their
own, external experience, that the main scenes from this clip are taken from the
Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The effect is a nameless, tribe-less, knowledge-less
experience of this apparently all-male group ritual. Perhaps it is a ceremony for
battle, perhaps it is a ceremony for marriage, or perhaps it is a standard Sunday ritual
for men only. The ideology of Baraka is, as this clip shows, tied to a form of abstract
thought and over-arching themes.

Baraka interpellates the subject, through its non-didactic form, as an illustration of
ceremony and mimicry without names, labels, politics and histories. Through
this,Baraka appears to share its aim with that of Edward Said, whose ideological
theories on Orientalism were meant to provoke and stimulate 'a new kind of dealing
with the Orient' (Said, 1979, p28) .

2) Truth aim (as shown in Visual Appendix > Truth Aim > Participant

Baraka represents truth as an experience and as a reality rather than as a statement.
The sensory images used in this clip invite the audience to feel each subject and to
know the truth behind the images through an empathetic engagement. By using this
inter-subjective logic, as explained below, the truth becomes relevant to the way in
which each individual subject appears to be experiencing it. This is an emotive truth
aim which abstractly builds each scene upon the last.

3) Audience Framing (as shown in Visual Appendix > Audience Framing >
Participant documentary)

This clip shows a sequence of images, their relation to each other inferred by their
edited sequence and the narrative assumptions that the spectator then derives from
their combined story. Scenes of a Tibetan striking a huge gong, Masai warriors
jumping, a solar eclipse, Dervish monks spinning, a J ewish man rocking as he recites
something, a priest kissing a wall, a monk kissing an altar all follow each other
respectively. The audience is framed thus as the story-teller of their own inferences
made from the representation of the images.

The mandala style of framing is remarkably more fluid than the outcome or
journey counterparts, where confrontational scenes shape their respective films.
Here rather, a poetic, metaphoric and sensory frame absorbs the viewer into the film.

4) Argumentation Style (as shown in Visual Appendix > Argumentation Style
> Participant documentary)

The argument made by Baraka, although not said in so many words within the film,
seems to concern itself with a non-linear narrative about mans place in the system of
nature. This clip shows the argumentative climax of the film, told by the silent
grimace of the chicks as they are processed through a machinery system to take their
caged place in a massive chicken coop. It shows a powerful, emotive yet unspoken
argument essentially, a perceptive argument. This challenges the idea of
logocentric or dualistic argumentation. Instead, the argument of Baraka is
multimodal, experienced in different situations by different subjects, to the same

However, as documentary consciousness is a process of mediation (see Chapter 5)
and the film is the object of the argument for the spectator (a filmic argument, not a
voiced argument), Baraka exemplifies the range of possibilities for this process of

The issue is not whether perception is mediated or unmediated but rather what
kind of mediation is involved (P)henomenology posits a most sophisticated
account of mediation. Nichols's analysis involves four elements with a
restricted notion of their possible matchings: unmediated and mediate are one
pairing; discovery and construction are the other. The arguments substantiate
that perception may be both a discovery and a mediated process.
(Casebier, 1991, p138)

5) Audience Positioning (as shown in Visual Appendix > Audience Positioning
> Participant documentary)

The opening scene from the movie is shown here, establishing the engagement
positioning, which continues consistently throughout the film. At first, it might
appear to the spectator that the chimpanzee, the central protagonist in this sequence,
may be the lead actor in the film. The overlay that follows however, positions the
audience into a more metaphoric, lyrical and poetic space. By cutting to a solar
eclipse, at precisely the moment in which the chimp closes his eyes, the spectators
are injected into a world of interiors, feeling inside the subjects. This positioning
remains, regardless of whether the subject is a chimpanzee, a homeless person or a
moving crowd, throughout Baraka.

The preposition which best describes this positioning is within: the shots and
sequencing try to invoke the sensations in the viewer as they would be felt within
each subject an empathetic structuring. Resultingly, the spectator is drawn into the
documentary much the same as with the longitudinal consciousness and
isomorphic horizon of a fiction film (see Chapter 5, p14 for further details on
Meuniers phenomenological term here, or Sobchack, 1999, p242-51), where all the
context of the story is only able to be conceived within the context of the film.

6) Linguistic Registers (as shown in Visual Appendix > Linguistic Registers >
Participant documentary)

Sped-up scenes taken from a central metropolitan street, the ceiling of a giant
mosque and a busy scramble crossing tell a poetic and metaphoric story in this clip.
Although not a word is spoken, the fast and busy imagery and the staccato
soundtrack combine to tell a story about the seemingly mechanical motions of mass
human movement. The importance of sound as an addition to the cinematography
implies a syntactical or phonetical register.

The term metaphor also applies to a linguistic analysis of this clip, and in general, to
studying any language, whether it be an artistic or spoken one. Prior to the late
1970s, metaphor was considered a poetic device, an artifice quite distinct from
objective thought and expression. It has been recognized, however, that nearly all
abstract thought in humans is organized metaphorically, as examined in Metaphors
We Live By (Lakoff and J ohnson, 1980). In addition, bodily experience has been
recognized recently as being enormously influential in the evolution of metaphoric
concepts (see Philosophy In The Flesh Lakoff and J ohnson, 1999) and in this clip
from Baraka the spectator is offered a sensory or bodily experience, seen on film as
a metaphoric narrative.

7) Philosophy and Logic (as shown in Visual Appendix > Philosophy & Logic
> Participant documentary)

Inductive logic uses a logic which is inter-subjective, or that is, a logic which is
found by examining the relationship which exists within each subject and its relation
to the subjects following it. Celestine Bittle explains that induction may be defined as
the legitimate inference of universal laws from individual cases (Bittle, 1950,
p297). In Baraka, the more specifically each subject is studied in its own
experience, the more logic can be found as to the larger story. In this particular clip,
each of the religious subjects are showing their particular methods of worship or
their situation-specific tradition or norm. Yet although these various traditions
undoubtedly have many points of difference, it is their practice of worship and the
maintenance of ceremonial acts, albeit in different forms, which are presented in
Baraka as being points of similarity, and therefore, it is inductive logic which
carries the film. This inductive logic can also be understood as perception, as
explained by Edward de Bono.

To some extent the Greeks created logic to make sense of perception. We were
content to leave perception to the world of art (drama, poetry, painting, music,
dance) while reason got on with its own business in science, mathematics,
economics and government. We have never understood perception.

All these reasons are valid, but the last one is the most important. Perception
does have its own logic. This logic is based directly on the behaviour of self-
organizing patterning systems totally different from the table top logic of
traditional reason and language. Perceptual truth is different from constructed
(de Bono, 1990, p42)

Another French writer, Lagneau, explains the fusion of reasoning and perception,
saying that:

Perception is an interpretation of the primitive intuition, an interpretation
apparently immediate, but in reality gained from habit, operated by reasoning
(Lagneau, 1926, p158)

8) Narrative Mode (as shown in Visual Appendix > Narrative Mode >
Participant documentary)

This clip is taken from the final scenes of Baraka. The cinematography and
soundtrack throughout the film has been done in such a way as to make a narrative
out of abstractions and metaphors. The synthesized soundtrack in the background of
this sequence slowly builds, with noises that capture the vastness of a desert sky,
changing into more spacious heavenly noises as night descends and the sky darkens.
The time-lapse cinematography consistently throughout the film highlights a
tempero-spatial story, a narrative that examines both time and place in an abstract

Again, it is a function of perception which brings forth the narrative mode in
Baraka. How is the viewer able to stop asking Where is this shot taken? and
instead able to see beyond the tempero-spatial facts of the image to be able to
perceive its place in the diegetic frame of this film? The answer is: through the
senses. As Merleau-Ponty writes:

Perception becomes an interpretation of the signs that our senses provide in
accordance with the bodily stimuli, an hypothesis that the mind evolves to
explain its impressions to itself.
(Merleau-Ponty, 2002, p33)

It is the hypothesis that the viewers mind evolves, in explaining its varied sensory
impressions from Baraka, to create the narrative of Baraka.


Baraka, although now a decade old, became a cult movie and followed the legacy
of Koyaanisqatsi Life Out Of Balance (Fricke, Hoenig, Reggio and Walpole,
1983) which was one of the first post-verit documentaries to explore strongly
perceptual themes in documentary story-telling. Documentary has often been the
sphere of experimental film-making. However, incorrectly it would seem,
metaphorical or perception-based story-telling has taken some time to be considered
a valuable, truthful or possible method for producing a documentary, or an audio-
visual insight into a real subject. There have, however, been some interesting forays
into this type of film-making, particularly earlier in the century; Maya Derens film
Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti (Deren, 1953) about the mythical
roots of the Voudoun in Haiti illustrates a perception focus consistently throughout
her filming. After the release of her film, Deren made public releases stating that
rituals were capable of demonstrating abstract principles for educational purposes
and were a primitive version of audio-visual instructional aids conveying scientific
principles and theories. When given the opportunity, she actively promoted ritual as
a form of communication in Western culture(Nichols, 2001, 225). Indeed, the canon
of films belonging to what is known as the avant-garde movement are based on the
abstract and ritualistic sense of truth or knowledge which many mandala
documentaries lay tribute to. Through mandala engagement, it can be proven that
there are alternative ways to objectively and intersubjectively tell a story, while
maintaining the use of real subjects.

J ust like the mandala form, this film has a logic and reason underlying the creation of
documentary consciousness, in this case, a perceptual consciousness. It can be
likened, in terms of the documentary form, to the moment when a child first begins
to perceive or distinguish between different colours, as explained eloquently by

The first perception of colours, properly speaking then, is a change of the
structure of consciousness, the establishment of a new dimension of
experience, the setting forth of an a priori
(Merleau-Ponty, 2002, p30)

Indeed, the subsequent and continuous work by Stearns, Fricke and Magidson has
continued the a priori work of this valuable contribution to documentary

The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.
(Wilde, 1891)

All who love their art seek the essence of technique
to show that which the eye does not see
(Vertov, 1922)

The ways in which to approach documentary are varied, and often completely
contradictory of each other. Ultimately though, the voice of a documentary is heard
by the spectator. The outcome, participant, journey and mandala modes are but four
of an infinite possibility for engagement in theatrical documentaries. Their
development from the vast literature of documentary voice and semiotics has
required those watchwords which Renov opened the paper with: fluidity,
intellectual diversity, breadth of application, invention (1999, p324). This practical
analysis integrates my new contribution to knowledge with a holistic integration of
theory, fluidly incorporating notable theories from film-makers, then semioticians;
from film theorists then philosophers. Undertakings this large can be overwhelming,
yet it seems that the evidence of these broader philosophies contained in this thesis is
easily reconcilable with that audio-visible object known as the screen. To put Oscar
Wilde and Dziga Vertov in front of the documentary big-screen of today, discussing
the merits of things both invisible and visible, could very well have brought similar
issues to light.

I acknowledge that there are many more facets to the paradigms which I have
devised, although the work contained in this paper is not intended as being
prescriptive. Rather it offers a perspective in what I consider to be the pubescent
documentary which is coming of age in documentary theatres and DVDs right now.
This may help to alleviate old-school anxieties such as those detailed by Nichols,
who felt that:

Traditionally the word documentary has suggested fullness, and completion
knowledge and fact, explanations of the social world and its motivating
mechanisms. More recently, though, documentary has come to suggest
incompleteness, uncertainty, recollection and impression, images of personal
worlds and their construction.
(Nichols, 1994, p1)

11.1 Aims Addressed

According to traditional voice theorists, the early documentary films of Flaherty and
Grierson stand at the beginning of the childhood, one could say, of documentary.
Since then, a pubescent growth period defined expositional, observational, reflective,
interactive and now the performative voice in documentary. Inconveniently for Bill
Nichols theory but productive for the documentary practice as a whole I have
addressed the post-verit documentary in context with traditional documentary,
movements, including the changes and trends from which it has been influenced. I
have found that voice, as it was once recognised in documentary theory, now echoes
beyond the director, through the screen to the documentary spectators themselves.

In fact, the very definition of documentary has evolved; this thesis avoids the
limitation of historical notions by describing documentary as an audio-visual insight
into a real subject. So many factors have changed since the society of film-making
which existed before the introduction of handy DV-Cams and digital editing suites.
Looking back to the pre-technology environment of early documentary theory, a
definitional change seems not only useful but imperative at this point in time.
Sobchack consistently makes clear that the term documentary designates more than
a cinematic object and is in fact a particular subjective relation to a cinematic
object (Sobchack, 1999, p241). Knowing that this spectatorial relation is one which
may result in preferred, negotiated and oppositional readings, instead of being totally
concerned with the objective-subjective dichotomy of earlier documentaries,
theatrical documentaries are changing. They have the broader space of the big-screen
to make room for this change. There is a new wind blowing in the documentary
world; different subjects, particularly the self are suddenly becoming stories for
public viewing, and, the growth in programming shows that audiences are engaging
with these and all manner of documentary films which, ten years ago, would not
have been part of a cinema program. Marx would claim that the social being of
documentary is changing; both through the craft-making within those films and then
also by moving the production of documentary-films away from the centralised
sources of media. Feminist film-makers would rather attribute that a shift in
spectator-awareness is due to an embodiment of screen knowledge. As this thesis has
demonstrated, in a non-lineal way and not only in theory but also within filmic
instances, a significant transformation has taken or is taking place. Barthes and Heath
announce this transformation as 'the death of the author' and 'the birth of the reader',
declaring that 'a text's unity lies not in its origin but in its destination' (Barthes and
Heath, 1977, p148).

In exploring inter-disciplinary concepts which account for, and explain, the
spectators role in creating documentary consciousness, it is clear that the
documentary can be considered as an object of representation one separated from
both the viewer and reality which reflects processes going on within both the
external world and the viewers mind. The phenomenon of the documentary film is
that it is a representation of an actual subject, something which is existing, but
usually elsewhere. It may also be something which the viewer may have been aware
of, to some degree, before even coming to the cinematic experience of the particular
documentary, and thus, there is a capacity for the spectator to see through the
documentary screen and into the real world, from a different angle. Attention on the
screen subject continues long after the film ends with documentary consciousness
projecting into the real-world subject with a recently formed knowledge of, and
attitude to, the film subject. This is unlike the fiction-film which prefers to refer to
characters which are only to be found alive within that film (or material associated to
that particular film).

This consciousness, although superficially designed into the edit and style of a film
piece, is laid almost invisibly into the underlying structure or grammar of the work.
Deep structures, as they occur in regard to technical production for documentary
film, are known through an understanding of semiotics, which originally branched
off from linguistics, and then became a useful theoretical tool for film. In this
research and with the illustrative tool of a DVD appendix, deep semiotics comes out
of the abstract realm to show some useful approaches to reading documentary film.
Insights such as Chomskys competence and performance and Saussures langue and
parole have this to offer to documentary deep structures: that through modes of
engagement such as those of this thesis it is possible to locate and/or create
performance or parole operating within institutional framework of competence or

I have identified distinct modes of viewer or spectator engagement in these
documentaries, incorporating such notions from film semiotics. These semiotically-
informed perspectives, according to Renov, consists of either recording, revealing,
or preserving; of persuading or promoting; of analyzing or promoting; or of
expressing (1993, p23). Metz, being such an important figure for post-structural film
theory, helps to use enunciation as a way of separating certain acts or functions of a
film; both from that subject which the film is representing and that subject which is
being read by the spectator. These more complex and less universal theories become
relevant for my analysis, not so much as for the ideas that they contain but rather for
the applicability of such a theory to actual film-pieces.

I have authored filmic examples of these deep structures (both paradigms and modes)
as they occur in post-verit theatrical documentaries into an audio-visual appendix.
In essence, my DVD appendix contains four modes which are the evidence and the
relevance of theory and analysis to the craft of documentary - something which post-
structural theorists were never quite able to practically achieve with models such as
the quasi-scientific grande syntagmatique.

11.2 The Conscious & Perceptive Spectator

The advance of documentary theory has resulted, in this thesis, in an advance in
philosophy, regarding notions of the real and the imaginary. Particularly in the case
study of Baraka it has been shown how many physio-psychological processes
which are needed to interpret documentary-language, are now interspersed with the
notion of perception. This reliance on the viewers perception affects a documentary,
at a deep structure level, in terms of ideology, audience framing and positioning,
truth aim, logic and philosophy, linguistically and diegetically, and in its argument
processes. The issue is not, as Casebier writes, whether perception is mediated or
unmediated but rather what kind of mediation is involved (Casebier, 1991, p138).
Instead, perception, just as argument in a film, can be both a discovery and a
mediated process (ibid, p138). The very understanding of logic and reason, as this
thesis demonstrates, now requires an understanding of perception in the unreal real
world of the theatrical documentary, and, for that matter, beyond it.

Awareness is a new keyword for the documentary-maker, interested not only in
making a documentary, but who is interested in creating documentary consciousness.
This means an awareness on four levels: from the selection of the subject, to the
actual production of the film, to the exhibition, and then ultimately as well with the
spectator. It is the interpretation by the spectator which is the final step in the process
of documentary consciousness, a charge of the real through screen representation,
wherein the spectator can understand the codes and language of the documentary and
interpret such audio-visual language. However, in order to properly interpret or
translate any language, firstly it needs to be properly recorded in a way that the
reader can decode it. Although the post-verit documentary maker may have a high-
definition video camera, an Avid Professional editing suite and a range of
technological capacities at hand, the findings of this thesis suggest that they may do
well to ask the following questions before making a documentary on their chosen

What are the ideological underpinnings of this documentary and how is that
incorporated into the film?
What sort of truth does it aim for in regard to this real or actual subject?
What materials underpin the framing of this story for the audience?
How is argumentation handled or approached in the film?
What role are the audience assigned in their reading of the film?
What register of language does this film operate on predominantly?
What philosophy of psychology or logic does the film work on?
What is the diegetic or narrative style of this film?

Each of the four films explored in this thesis answered these questions in their own
distinctive manner, and thus defined specific modes of engagement. Bowling for
Columbine initiated the strongly presented outcome mode and illustrated the acts of
judgement, counter-argumentation, pragmatics and underpinnings of colonialism at
work in the deeper construction of its story of gun ownership in America. The
largeness of Moore is shown to be a clever constructive element; as he embodies the
task of confronting different sides of an argument HE then becomes the argument for
a new conclusion. What he makes is a big argument, but that, hopes Moore, is what
the spectator will judge for themselves.

Something completely different happens in Etre et Avoir. A very subtle effect has
come of Philiberts strictly observant film-making skills, whereby the viewer is never
faced with the need to confront the subjects, but rather, to immerse themselves in the
schoolroom in rural France. The viewers truth becomes like that of a fly-on-the-
wall, yet the logical flow of the story, rather than being a haphazard assembly of
events in the classroom, is delicately linked to the progression of the seasons of the

A journey meanwhile carries the spectator through My Architect. Based on human
encounters and semantic linguistic registers, Kahn is in the driving seat and the
spectator is the passenger. The story becomes one of exploration and conflicts are
resolved or left as the journey progresses which, in the case of this particular film,
occurs with the sense of a divine guidance leading the way. The subject of the film
was a personal one for the director, yet the viewer found out about a lot more than
the personal story of one father and his lost son. It was by becoming an apprentice to
the journey that the spectator would be thinking abductively about the situations that
they were now facing as they accompanied Kahn.

At the other end of the spectrum to the initial outcome mode is the Baraka film,
which shows how delicately the mandala way of handling the spectator is, at least
compared to the boisterous manner of Michael Moore. Logic in this case was an
inductive process, the viewer making subliminal associations between montage of
scenes and soundtrack resulting in a narrative of the senses. This cinematographic
quality morphed truth within this film into an intersubjective state, whereby truth is
not declared but rather sensed within each of its subjects. The viewer is left to find
this truth, that is, their own sensory truth. As the processes of interpretation became
acts of abstract, metaphoric, sensory and poetic associations, the spectator begins to
act on a syntactic linguistic register.

The diversity of these films shows how four very different films are executing the
same paradigms but in different ways. Imagine that Moore had decided to film his
same subject of gun ownership, yet presented it on film with the deep structure
displayed in Baraka. Or that Philiberts French schoolchildren were instead taken
on a specific quest or journey together. The message, the subject and the results
would probably be very different. It is the very act of representation itself which
creates the interpellated subject and in knowing this, we can be sure that the very
way in which any documentary-maker handles these eight paradigms implicates the
very type of subject which it presents.

11.3 Beyond This Thesis

There are, in particular, two broad issues which continue to affect the documentary
form and I would like to briefly mention them here. They each present certain
possibilities and problems for the real-world genre of the theatrical documentary.

11.3.1 The craft: illusory technology

The other important advance, as Bruzzi says, has been the introduction of digital
video cameras (DVC), small handicams increasingly operated by directors who,
whether because of taste or financial restrictions, are willing to experiment with
multiskilling.(Bruzzi, 2000, p77) Here is a lynchpin for the documentary just
because there is now, through technology, a possibility for greater documentaries,
this does not necessarily implicate a capacity for such. To make a truly engaging
theatrical documentary now is no less a craft than it was from the outset for Flaherty
and Grierson, there is simply a greater readiness of tools.

The nature of the documentary as an art form is a powerful instrument. As Foucault
and Gordon say:

We are subjected to truths through power and we cannot exercise power except
through the production of truth'.
(Foucault and Gordon, 1980, p93)

Maybe now documentary has matured enough to exercise this power and to speak
this filmic language as has never before been possible.

11.3.2 Economic: expanding horizons

A tangible, material outcome for the documentary in terms of economics, and the
matter of documentary economics is a somewhat pessimistic landscape in Australia
today. The tangible outcome is the DVD, and the potential of down-the-line revenue
and production that can be made from an independent theatrical documentary today
through the likes of books, educational materials, resaleabilty/reformatting and
additional supplements, such as online membership groups, conferences, etc. The
broader potential of DVD for film has been verified in Australia by a recent study by

DVDs as sell-through product have represented a genuinely new market
opportunity for video distributors. Total sales to retail outlets have grown from
$189 million in 1998 (all VHS) to $742 million in 2003, with $637 million of
this coming from DVDs. Over the same period, total sales to rental stores have
remained solid at around $200 million annually ($236 million in 2003, with
$160 million from DVDs). DVDs now account for 81 per cent of revenue to
(Higgs, 2005, p19)

Certain campaigners for the emerging documentary forms claim that There has
never been a better time for documentaries. This is renaissance (Buttignol, 2004).
Perhaps this holds more truth in the Northern Hemisphere where there are larger
markets. Meanwhile, the facts in the local Australian industry sound remarkably less

In 2002/3 the total volume of Australian documentary production was
$51 million. It has retained a static 3.5% of total Australian film and television
industry activity and experienced a shrinkage averaging 5% per annum over
the last 5 years. This is in stark contrast to the share and growth of
documentary production overseas.
(Higgs, 2005, p48)

Unfortunately, there is no current data currently available on the documentary
share of the DVD and VHS market, nor the Australian title proportion of it. This is
not to say that DVD and digital distribution methods may very soon, if it is not
already the case, create a capacity for the documentary-maker of quality to make and
distribute high quality theatrical documentaries that are economically sustainable.

In summary, the documentary horizon, which, at the outset of this paper, was a
virtual terra incognita studded with promise and peril for the resourceful analyst
(Renov and Gaines, 1999, p324), now has a propositional map with which to explore
further horizons and future subjects.


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