Wednesday, October 20, 2010

documentary modes


It is documentary film theorist Bill Nichols who writes about the chief characteristics and deficiencies of each documentary mode (Introduction to Documentary (2001:139). It was interesting, then, this morning to read Cynthia Lucia's interview with the filmmaker of Dogora, Patrice Leconte in Cineaste: "Personal Politics and Vision in Dogora: An Interview with Patrice Leconte". Now, Leconte is not really a documentary filmmaker, nor has he read any documentary film studies (most documentary filmmakers haven't). In the interview I can sense how he is struggling over the shortcomings of the mode(s) he chose for this film:

Lucia writes: Yet, as is true of certain moments in Wiseman’s work, at points in Dogora the absence of information not only impedes viewer comprehension, but it also potentially inhibits active or, at best, activist viewer response. The footage centered on the Steung Mean Chey garbage dump—the largest open landfill in Asia, located a half hour outside Phnom Penh City—is a case in point. We see impoverished adults and children collecting waste (and sometimes consuming something edible they may find) through day and night. We also see images of children studying and sleeping in a schoolroom. It’s difficult to make sense of these images—what they mean or how they are connected. In the French DVD release of the film, Leconte, on the commentary track, explains that the school is run by PSE (Pour un Sourire d’Enfant [For a Child’s Smile]), a French organization devoted to helping the children, many of whom are orphans, obtain an education and the basic necessities of life. At the time of filming, Christian des Pallieres oversaw the school and the charitable work involving landfill residents. While the images evoke a powerful emotional response, one wonders if a bit more information might elicit something more substantial—whether through further research, donations, or other support of landfill workers. At the same time, of course, that could easily tip the film’s balance away from the lyrical to a more didactic, public-service mode—and that, too, would present a problem.. Lucia writes of a 'fissure—between the personal, lyrical project of the film and those disquieting images that seem to press for something more'.