Documentary Film Essay

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Does this type of production herald an exciting new era for media literacy, enacting Alexandre Astruc’s prophecy of cinema becoming our new ?

Or is it just an insidious new form of media consumption?

Personal essay films have been widely diffused to teachers and community organizations, because they so powerfully evoke responses from and make connections for audiences.

They are also favorites of film scholars, who use them to demonstrate with all the drama of the personal voice, the formal structures in filmmaking.

And, as pointed out in the essays by Volker Pantenburg, the common notion of the essay film as a form for free-flowing, subjective non-conformity, a concept borrowed from literary conceptions of the essay that are as old as Michel de Montaigne, has itself become a convention bordering on cliché.

My own working definition of the essay film errs on the side of inclusion at the expense of qualitative judgment or inflated promises of uniqueness: for me, an essay film explicitly reflects on the materials it presents, to actualise the thinking process itself.Therefore we would like to draw your attention to our House Rules.In a world bedazzled by intractable images, do we need the essay film now more than ever? Lee weighs up this distinctively self-aware, searching form of cinema through both video and text–Sight and Sound The Essay Film: Some Thoughts of Discontent from Kevin B. I cannot recall how the term ‘video essay’ came to be the adopted nomenclature for the ever-increasing output of online videos produced over the past few years by an ever-growing range of self-appointed practitioners (including myself).My own entrance into this field was an organic synthesis of my backgrounds as a film critic and a filmmaker, two modes that had competed with each other in my mind until I started to pursue the possibilities of critically exploring cinema through the medium itself.This practice is readily possible in an age when digital technology enables virtually anyone with a computer (not even a video camera, as images are overly abundant and accessible) to produce media with nearly as much ease as it is to consume it.Rascaroli’s dismissal of Moore underestimates how his blunt-force polemics elicit (and even solicit) an active response from the audience, stimulating a critical engagement with the film and its political discourse, a strategy akin to the incendiary film essays of Santiago Álvarez (featured in the BFI series).Richter’s definition doesn’t help much to differentiate the essay form from much of experimental cinema.He once described his practice as “images commenting on images”, an analytic technique that, through its resourcefulness and simplicity, frequently yields eloquence.He is represented in the BFI series by , a perversely inspired selection, given how much more overtly essayistic some of Farocki’s other films are compared to this Wiseman-esque observational chronicle of behavioural training sessions (birthing lessons, police drills, a striptease rehearsal).It is easy to see why teachers like such films for this purpose.They are not only creative approaches to the medium, but they engage viewers’ curiosity and empathy with their personal stories.


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