David MacDougall
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The practice of documentary
in The art of the observer
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In documentary films both the filmmaker and the viewer are observers, with the viewer observing the filmmaker’s observations. In observational cinema, to a greater extent than in other documentary forms, filmmakers attempt to give the audience access to their position as observers. The problem remains, however, of how to render the deeper significance of what is observed, and this may require filming strategies more commensurate with the complexity of life itself. The view that a simple camera recording gives the most accurate representation of social life is misleading in that it ignores this underlying complexity. Rather, it is the filmmaker’s structuring of his or her observations that allows a film to reveal more accurately the depth of human experience. This in turn requires certain arts on the part of the filmmaker, which can be called the arts of observation, adaptation, construction, allusion and performance. The chapter uses the example of the author’s film Gandhi’s Children (2008) to demonstrate how each of these arts may be employed.

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The art of the observer

A personal view of documentary

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