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Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Absolute Power of Writing Processes

A scene from the documentary “The Missing Picture,”
a memoir of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia.
A writing process can possess the power to change a 'documentary' style reality (content over form) into an artistic form that approaches that reality by emphasizing form over content --- In other words, a more entertaining documentary.

Caution has to be used here, however, so as not to blur the lines of reality so extensively that you stumble into an unacceptable revisionism of facts.   

“The documentary as we have come to know it, especially in the United States, emphasizes content over form, information over aesthetics,” the festival’s program note says, adding that there is consequently a need “for the documentary to be reconsidered as art.” - Rithy Panh

Other key excerpts from source research article:

“I’m not really very concerned when I’m starting a film whether it will be documentary or fiction,” he said in an interview late last year. “When you’re making a documentary, you don’t have actors, but nonetheless, there is a writing process that does take place in the editing room. Every time you are getting ready to make a shot in a documentary film, you are asking yourself questions about your cinematographic approach. You are approaching the truth, but the image is never the truth itself.”

“It’s not that there isn’t a lot of really worthwhile work in the field,” said Dennis Lim, the film society’s programming director (and a former contributor to The New York Times). “But I feel it gets dangerously close to being just informational or journalistic.” He added: “We’ve come to think of documentary and fiction as very distinct forms, but the line isn’t as clear-cut as we have been conditioned to think. There’s a lot of work that falls in between.”

Writing processes can make true, biographical or documentary works read like literary fiction.

More on emerging writing processes from “The Missing Picture,” a memoir of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia, “Manakamana” set in a cable car in Nepal and “The Act of Killing,” a documentary about mass slaughter in Indonesia that relied heavily on re-enactments by members of the death squads that committed the original crimes:



What's Real Gets More Creative

‘The Missing Picture’ and Other Films Rethink Documentaries


The very first movies were, in their way, documentaries: snippets that showed the trot of a horse, a smoke-belching train pulling into a station or Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee procession. But the paths of fiction and nonfiction film soon diverged, and they remain distinct today, each with separate standards and expectations and consigned to separate categories at festivals and the Oscars.

But documentary filmmakers, chafing at those rules, eager to broaden the variety of tools at their disposal and hoping to tell their stories to a wider audience, have been pushing aggressively at the boundaries of their genre. The traditional “A-roll, B-roll, talking heads” paradigm, influenced by journalism, is increasingly being challenged by experiments in which all of the standard features of the traditional documentary — like voice-over, music cues and narrative arcs based on real life — are being mutated or eschewed and devices from the world of fiction embraced.

“It almost feels wrong to call the films that are coming out now documentaries,” said Richard Rowley, director of the Oscar-nominated“Dirty Wars,” which used film-noir techniques. “It sounds like we are stenographers, filing away records for future generations to see what life was like here, not storytellers. But there’s a huge body of docs being produced now that are as immersive and transformational as a well-constructed fiction film.”

There were indications of that approach in this year’s Oscar race, in which one of the nominees was “The Act of Killing,” a documentary about mass slaughter in Indonesia that relied heavily on re-enactments by members of the death squads that committed the original crimes. But it is even more evident in a crop of new documentaries that includes “The Missing Picture,”a memoir of genocide in Cambodia that opens in New York on Wednesday, and “Manakamana,” which takes place entirely in a single cable car in Nepal and will open in theaters next month.

In many ways, “The Missing Picture,” which last spring won the top prize the Cannes festival’s Un Certain Regard competition for “original and different” work and was nominated for an Oscar in the foreign-language category, is a hybrid. An intensely autobiographical account of the genocide the Khmer Rouge inflicted on Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, the film is directed by a survivor, Rithy Panh, and uses techniques unusual in documentaries.

Confronted with the absence of family records and the relative paucity of official documents, Mr. Panh, 49, had to search hard to find substitutes. He ended up using clay figures set in dioramas and mixed in whatever grainy archival footage he could find, along with Khmer Rouge songs and speeches, dream and fantasy sequences, and a haunting original score, topping all that off with a hallucinatory, poetic, French-language narration.

“I’m not really very concerned when I’m starting a film, whether it will be a documentary or fiction,” he said in an interview late last year. “When you’re making a documentary, you don’t have actors, but nonetheless, there is a writing process that does take place in the editing room. Every time you are getting ready to make a shot in a documentary film, you are asking yourself questions about your cinematographic approach. You are approaching the truth, but the image is never the truth itself.”















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Source article: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/16/movies/the-missing-picture-and-other-films-rethink-documentaries.html?ref=international
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