Experimenting with Documentaries

CJ 393 blog post.

Week 5

Experimental Documentary? That sounds like an oxymoron.

The definition for a documentary is a movie or a television or radio program that provides a factual record or report.While an experimental is a mode of filmmaking that re-evaluates cinematic conventions and explores non-narrative forms and alternatives to traditional narratives or methods of working.

So how do the two even work together? A lot of documentary filmmakers may find it as an abomination. I personally disagree with this. The word “documentary” can be a broad term. All documentaries—whether you’re making a talking-head, traditional, structured film that’s Hollywood-based, or you’re making an experimental or sensory film—they’re all trying to establish some sort of truth. As long as that is the goal, it’s a documentary.

Take Alan Berliner for example: a New York-based independent filmmaker whose many films have been screened in major festivals and museums and been broadcast around the world. He has won awards such as the IDA Distinguished Achievement Award and other prestigious recognitions. His films such as Intimate Stranger were considered a documentary because he portrayed real relationships and factual and historical documents with compiled research.

Nobody’s Business (my personal favorite), about Berliner’s father Oscar, is both an adventure of his father’s identity and a confrontation between son and parent about his own quest as a filmmaker. This had the history of his father, and his journey to becoming the man he is today. It was a captivating film with a lot of historical knowledge. It was unconventional, and unlike anything I had ever seen… But I loved it; I was so intrigued by how personal it was.

A documentary does not have to follow guidelines; sticking to giving facts and being obvious. Instead, it can also be a mirror that allows us to see many of the simple things in our lives-family, community and relationships. It can relate to the viewer watching it while informing them.

There are other successful experimental documentaries such as Man With a Camera, the first experimental documentary considered. I had recently watched this in my film class last week. It was silent film portraying the life of the Soviet Union. It showed their daily routine. He pushed boundaries by making it, but still created an informative piece.

Documentaries are incredibly powerful. They shouldn’t be limited by the regulations of society and their view on the cookie-cutter documentary. It makes me sad that experimental documentaries can have a negative stigma, but their success means more than that anyway!

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