January 10th, 2011
“Documentary” is such a slippery concept. First, there is the oh-so-philosophical question of “what is reality”? Is the chair that I am sitting on “real”? Are my surroundings? Am I? And so on, ad infinitum, habeus corpus, magna cum laude. Once you decide to save answering that question for later, then you face determining what defines a documentary. For example, should a documentary be 100% nonfiction? If so, are reenactments considered “true” since these are scenes played by actors (although they are supposedly rooted in facts)? Also, how do we know we are being presented with the “truth” facts—not information cherry-picked to support a thesis-driven argument? Even then, certain films can be presented as giving all sides of the story, yet hide the biases of the filmmaker. A documentarian could try to be as unbiased as possible, but still inadvertently slant the view of her/his film because of her/his life experiences/education/mood that day. Let’s not even get in to the notion that some people buy documentaries as being always educational and without ulterior motives. And is reality TV considered documentary? Yeah, documentaries are a slippery genre to define. My brain gets all muddled when trying to establish a checklist of what makes a documentary. Then it probably explodes (it’s OK, I have a spare).