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Deep-Dive Into Documentary Filmmaking

Throughout cinematic history, documentaries have experienced a noteworthy journey and can be linked with a particular formal structure. Sophy Romvari describes this type of film as “a nonfictional motion picture intended to document some aspect of reality”. The information in this piece is drawn from her teachings. A documentary makes statements about reality and its current state, which can be done on a narrow or broad level.

A significant point on the timeline surrounding the world of film is when aspects of real-life could first be documented using moving images. The term “documentary” was not coined until 1926, and the initial form that led to it was known as an “actuality film”. These pieces were often one minute or less in length and it was common to consider them as moving photographs, rather than films. They are fundamental to the documentary-style we are familiar with today and are regarded as one of the main building blocks on the path to the present characteristics of these works.

The impact of the photographic image is also a crucial turning point regarding the evolution of creations depicting reality. A shift occurred in perception when it could be represented with a camera or other similar machines. This creates an alternate effect compared to the reflection of reality through an objective art form, such as painting. In addition, while the photographer’s choices in terms of the focus of their work partially indicate the personality of the individual, this does not play the same role that is demonstrated with a painter’s translation of themselves into their creations. All in all, the type of process that involves image-making is both a mechanical and a human one.

Although photography and filming are successful in representing reality, there are ways in which human interference can create elements of artificiality. Firstly, considering the presence of a camera, a decision has been made to document the scene from a specific angle. Thus, the set-up of framing is an example of human interference.

Secondly, the use of editing can have a strong influence on the emotions of the audience. This can be done by pairing certain images with one another. For instance, a concept that relates to this idea is the Kuleshov effect, which can be understood as the mental processing that occurs when viewers derive more meaning from the relationship between two shots in order (compared to a single shot by itself).

Thirdly, the continuous action of filmmaking includes the topic of staging, and documentaries are a part of this discussion. With the presence of this factor, the realness of the depicted events might still exist. However, a component of construction will always be present in these cases.

Furthermore, locations can be selected according to the mood the filmmaker is aiming to evoke. The close-up of a subject, and its degree, also plays a role in this area. For example, a shot can be framed in such a way that allows the spectator to take in the space while observing the subject’s inner emotional state at the same time. The extent to which a shot is held is important to consider as well. Cutting away to document a related and meaningful setting to the dialogue in question is a powerful action and continues to add to the atmosphere of the words being stated within a sequence. Therefore, while the information is presumably true, a portion from a film of this nature can become more dramatic due to these characteristics.

Concerning a documentary, it is interesting to think about the result of a director incorporating a cut or multiple cuts into their film. In these situations, they are suddenly granted the freedom and opportunity to move segments around. There is a possibility that presented conversations did not occur in the order they are portrayed in. On a similar note, dialogue during the filming process could have lasted for several hours, but the audience may only see a limited number of minutes within the final version of the documentary. Lastly, the impact of sound design is a crucial aspect to keep in mind as well. The method of adding or emphasizing a selection of sounds among the film’s stages can influence the viewer’s experience, such as music cues being present to signal when various conclusions have been reached.

Many conventions and modes are common features of documentary filmmaking. These are indications that most spectators have been exposed to in popular media. Some of the conventions that illustrate documented material include talking heads, a shaky camera, the use of titles, addressing the camera or the individual behind it, and zooming. A range of categories that documentaries can be sorted into are found footage (or archival), activism (centred around a social issue), ethnographic (or personal), observational, docufiction, poetic (sometimes termed experimental), and mockumentary.

Werner Herzog, at the age of 78, is an accomplished documentary filmmaker. With many works under his belt, he has been in the director, writer, producer, and actor’s chair throughout his career. Herzog studied history, literature, and theatre before establishing his own film production company in 1963. Another avenue he pursued is the staging of several operas in Germany and Italy. His features and films have been recognized with a variety of national and international awards, including one received by Into the Abyss. IMDb is a great source for further information on Herzog and his contributions to the landscape of cinema.

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