On Documentary Film Styles: Historical and Sociological Perspectives


Documentary and Space: New issue of MEDIA FIELDS JOURNAL

Framegrab from El Valley Centro (James Benning, 2000). Read Elizabeth Cowie’s article on Documentary Space, Place, and Landscape which discusses Benning’s film, among others. Cowie is author of the new book Recording Reality, Desiring the Real (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011)

Film Studies For Free brings you openly accessible brilliance from the latest issue of Media Fields Journal. It’s a really excellent issue on documentary and space – a must-read. And however hyperbolically positive (the always hyperbolically positive) FSFF is, it doesn’t always say that. So, do yourselves a big favour and click on the below links without further ado.

>Great new Essays on Film and Video from Mediascape


The above video is a very short, but effective, introduction to issues affecting small nations as they produce cinema, using the example of the Nordic countries, by film scholar Mette Hjort. It is also a fascinating digital promotional tool for a University of Washington Press book series co-edited by her. See Hjort’s excellent essay on ‘small nation cinema studies’ in the new issue of Mediascape. And also see Tom Zaniello‘s excellent article there on emerging, new-media forms of documentary including the digital advert.
Film Studies For Free was really delighted to see that there’s a new issue out of online journal Mediascape. The Winter 2011 issue explores

the complex notions of the local and global as they intersect with media: industries and studies; cultures of production, distribution, exhibition and reception; as well as the text itself. Some of the questions this issue engages with include: In what ways does the global marketplace facilitate local products and productions? How do actors negotiate the politics of globalization in how they represent themselves in either the digitally enhanced or real worlds? How can digital media balance both the autonomy of local communities and the ongoing impact of corporate globalization? What role do academic scholars and students play in the globalization of media studies? [read more of this introduction here].

As with earlier issues of this high quality and strikingly original journal, there are a good number of items in audiovisual formats (including video essays, video exemplars, etc). Alongside Mette Hjort’s and Tom Zaniello’s articles, FSFF particularly appreciated Brian Hu‘s excellent video essay on the use of popular music in Wong Kar-wai’s films: truly wonderful, analytical viewing and listening! But there are many others pieces of great interest and these are all directly linked to below.

Thanks for a really great issue, Mediascape.




Columns Video:

>On the Documentary Real – in Fiction and Documentary cinema and television


Stella Bruzzi, ‘Plenary Lecture: Approximation: Mad Men, the death of JFK and nearly history’ [NOTE: Presentation begins a few minutes in after a brief ‘Blooper‘ Reel, with some profanities…!] (Audio: Stella Bruzzi: lecture ; Video: Stella Bruzzi: questions; Audio: Stella Bruzzi: questions)

A fairly self-explanatory post from Film Studies For Free today: a collection of brilliant videos, above and below, recorded at the Documentary Real symposium which took place at October 21st, 2010 at the ‘Vooruit’ in Ghent, Belgium.

The main participants were Cis Bierinckx (curator, artistic director Beurshouwburg Brussels), Stella Bruzzi (film theory, University of Warwick), Edwin Carels (curator, art theory, KASK), Marc De Kesel (Philosophy, Radboud University Nijmegen, Artevelde Hogeschool Gent), Katerina Gregos (curator), Steven Jacobs (art history, KASK and Antwerp University), Vincent Meessen (artist), Jasper Rigole (artist), Avi Mograbi (Israeli filmmaker), and Duncan Speakman (artist).

So, with no further ado, here’s the symposium introduction, and below that are the remainder of the videos: 

The symposium ‘The Documentary Real invite[d] artists and theorists to interrogate the ambiguous relation between documentary film and reality. To what extent can a reel of film capture reality—if this is possible at all—and when can we say that it calls a new reality into being? Do not most films oscillate between ‘document’ and ‘argument’; that is, between representing, rewriting and creating reality? Moreover, what strategies do artists use to document our daily lives? Is the detour through alienation and animation perhaps the proper way to make an outright and truthful work? Do new developments in technological media provide new opportunities for documentary artists? Finally, how do these artistic experiments and their problems represent the culture we live in?

Edwin Carels, ‘Re-animating Animation’ (Audio: Edwin Carels)
Steven Jacobs, ‘Framing Pictures’ (Audio: Steven Jacobs)
Vincent Meessen, ‘CLINAMEN Cinema – the Documentary Swerve: A Performative Lecture’ (NOTE: The performative lecture of Vincent Meessen included a screening of unique footage of a famous modernist architect protected by copyrights. For this reason the presentation cannot be made available online. Only the introduction and questions after the performance are shown). Audio: Vincent Meessen
Duncan Speakman, ‘Subtlemob’ (Audio: Duncan Speakman)
Marc De Kesel, ‘Hotel Holocaust: On “Shoah Documentary Real”‘ (Audio: Marc De Kesel: lecture; Video: Marc De Kesel: questions; Audio: Marc De Kesel: questions
Cis Bierinckx introduces two films ‘”Details 2 and 3″ by Avi Mograbi’ (Audio: Cis Bierinckx)

>Screening 9/11 and its aftermath in film and media studies


Image from In America (Jim Sheridan, 2002), the first film to be (partly) shot in New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according to Seán Crosson’s article “‘They can’t wipe us out, they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever pa, ‘cause we’re the people’…” (2008)

The absence of the Twin Towers from the post-9/11 New York City skyline posed a number of dilemmas for the creators and producers of television shows and movies that were ‘symbolically’ set in New York City after 9/11. Whilst the World Trade Center towers had been destroyed, editors in studio lots in California faced the prospect of the late 2001 ratings season commencing with stock reels of New York City that prominently featured the Towers prior to 9/11. This posed an odd dilemma for the producers of television shows such as Friends, Sex and the City, and Spin City, programs in which the Twin Towers often appeared as a backdrop and a powerful signifier of being in New York City. The response seemed universal – the Twin Towers must be removed from the tele-visual pop-cultural locations. They needed to be purged, exorcised and air- brushed out of the shot. But by airbrushing out the Towers, the producers have purged post-9/11 television of more than just the steel and concrete of the iconic buildings. I suggest that this purging is powerful, a little odd, and deeply symbolic. In order to recover, perhaps some space – and some forgetting, if only temporary – was needed. But I argue that the missing Towers also represented a missing terror, a missing city. It was as though the creators and producers of some post-9/11 television believed that the world’s viewers would have no stomach for seeing images of a pre-9/11 New York City – a city that in many respects no longer existed. Perhaps the problem lies in how the destruction of the Twin Towers was witnessed – live on TV, in real-time, as heinous, immediate and real violence. It was ugly, sickening, horrific, terrifying. Yet it was also difficult to look away. [Luke John Howie, ‘Representing Terrorism: Reanimating Post-9/11 New York City’, International Journal of Žižek Studies, Vol 3, No 3 (2009)]

It is the eve of another anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in America.

Film Studies For Free respectfully remembers the tragic and traumatic events of nine years ago tomorrow, and other closely related ones since, with a list of links to important, insightful, and openly accessible studies of the cultural depiction and (re)media(tiza)tion of the 9/11 attacks, as well as of their aftermath.

>Full Length Feature Films Free Online via BFI and Daily Motion


Film Studies For Free can’t believe its eyes!!

The British Film Institute has entered into a partnership with the advertising-supported, video-streaming site Daily Motion to provide access to some of the incredible wealth of films that the BFI has funded and distributed over many years.

Currently, as of today, the new channel is hosting 47 films of varying lengths, from amazing silents to rare poetic documentaries (like Chris Petit’s Radio On), as well as some incredibly important live action and animated fiction films, including a number of otherwise hard to see works by Terrence Davies and Lotte Reininger.

A must-visit site and a hugely laudable resource. Thank you BFI.

>Jump Cut’s Best Issue Ever?


 A re-enactment of a scene at Abu Ghraib in
Standard Operating Procedure (Errol Morris, 2008)

Back from its annual holidays, and (rather languidly) catching up with what it has missed, Film Studies For Free couldn’t believe its luck to discover that the always excellent film and television studies e-journal Jump Cut had published one of its best (and biggest) issues ever.  Just take a look at the following tasty section headings and then scroll down further for direct links to each and every article. 

Experimental documentary; Reframing Standard Operating Procedure—Errol Morris and the creative treatment of Abu Ghraib; Corporate Hollywood today; U.S. film; International film and television (East Asian film and television; South Asian film; Latin American film; Central Asian television; European film and television; Middle Eastern film); Sex and its Anxieties; Torture and horror film; Experimental and art worlds; and The last word on Fretting about film criticism

By the way, if you are a Facebook user and would like to receive FSFF‘s frequent, short, recommendations of openly accessible film studies resources of note, but don’t want to join its merry legion of Twitter followers, then why not visit and like Film Studies For Free’s handy Facebook page where lots of great and good film and moving image studies folk hang out?

Experimental documentary

Conference report: Reframing Standard Operating Procedure—Errol Morris and the creative treatment of Abu Ghraib [Society for Cinema and Media Studies panel. Saturday, March 20, 2010. 2:00-3:45 pm. Chaired by Linda Williams (University of California, Berkeley). Papers by Bill Nichols (San Francisco State University), Jonathan Kahana (New York University), and Williams with a response by Irina Leimbacher (University of California, Berkeley)]

Corporate Hollywood today
U.S. film
International film and television
East Asian film and television
South Asian film
  • Rage against the state: historicizing the “angry young man” in Tamil cinema by Kumuthan Maderya (Tamil cinema’s “Angry Young Man” genre enjoyed a popular run in the 1980s, depicting the violent struggle of anti-heroes against failed bureaucracies, corrupt politicians, crooked cops, and a feeble justice system) 
  • Indian cinema and Partition by Jyotika Virdi (Love and loss in India’s historical trauma, the Partition – Review of Bhaskar Sarkar’s Mourning the Nation: Indian Cinema in the Wake of Partition. (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2009))
Latin American film
Central Asian television
European film and television
Middle Eastern film

Sex and its anxieties

Torture and horror film
Experimental and art worlds
The last word

Obstinate Battles for Documentary Memory: Patricio Guzmán Resources Online

Regular readers will know, hopefully, that Film Studies For Free issues forth only on the topics that take its fancy. It receives no commercial or other patronage, and it does not respond to ‘prompts’ for its hypertextual-utterances: nor does it want any! It loves and supports free online culture, and it prefers to make its own reading, viewing and blogging choices. Sometimes, though, it does get independently inspired by commercially-available film releases or new offline publications of a very worthwhile kind, as was the case today. And the result is a little bit of unsolicited free advertising…

FSFF was so HAPPY to hear that Chilean documentarist Patricio Guzmán‘s films The Battle of Chile (19751978), The Pinochet Case (2001) and a particular personal favourite, Chile, Obstinate Memory (1997 – see the opening sequences above) have been released on a new DVD by a great and longstanding supporter of Latin American film culture — Icarus Films — that it decided to mark this very auspicious occasion with a related scholarly links-list in honour, and warm appreciation, of Guzmán’s hugely important films.

Happy birthday Albert Maysles! Videos and Other Links

[The video embedded above presents a conversation with] one of America’s foremost non-fiction filmmakers, Albert Maysles who along with his brother David (1932-1987) is recognized as a pioneer of direct cinema, the distinctly American version of French cinéma vérité. Their seminal early films Salesman (1968), Gimme Shelter(1970), and Grey Gardens (1976) became cult classics and are still finding new rapturous audiences. On the occasion of the publication of A Maysles Scrapbook: Photographs/Cinemagraphs/Documents, Maysles screens selections from filmed portraits of Orson Welles, Marlon Brando, and Truman Capote, and takes audience questions (courtesy of Hammer Museum at UCLA, March 10, 2009 on YouTube).

‘The documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles describes how using his digital video camera inspired him “to tape the little things that I witness in everyday life. They’d be pieces of poetry”‘, Aisling Kelliher, Everyday Cinema, MIT Media Lab

‘We can see two types of truth here. One is the raw material, which is the footage, the kind of truth that you get in literature in diary form – it’s immediate, no one has tampered with it. Then there’s the other kind of truth that comes in extracting and juxtaposing the raw material into a more meaningful and coherent storytelling form, which finally can be said to be more than just raw data.’ Stella Bruzzi citing Albert Maysles in ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’, EnterText 1.2, Spring 2001

It’s Thanksgiving and Albert Maysles’s birthday today. It’s very much a poignant timing for the latter occasion as the artist (and partner to Christo) Jeanne-Claude (Denat de Guillebo), who featured in a series of the Maysles’s Brothers‘ films, died on November 18, 2009. But, this year, Film Studies For Free is marking all three observances, and giving thanks for the Maysles’s highly influential filmmaking, with its usual tribute of links, below, to high-quality scholarly and other interesting online resources, in addition to the great video embedded above.

Video and website resources:
Interviews with or about the Maysles:
Scholarly/critical articles: