________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 25. . . .March 5, 2010.


Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary.

Pepita Ferrari (Writer & Director). Michelle van Beusekom (Producer).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2008.
97 min., DVD, $99.95.

Subject Headings:
Documentary films-History and outcasts.

Grades 11 and up / Ages 16 and up.

Review by Cathy Vincent-Linderoos.





“I did it because I wanted to get away with a film.” (Werner Herzog)

“Real-life is so much more interesting than anything you can make up.” (Kevin Macdonald)

Documentary film-makers from 14 different countries explain their own individual approaches to creating this art-form. Social responsibility, ethics and techniques are touched upon.

     Answers to questions like ''How did you decide to become a documentary maker?', ''What is documentary in your view?'', "What purposes are served by editing?", "How do you capture intimacy with your subject?'' and 'How do you attempt to achieve objectivity?'' are expressed by various ones of the group of more than thirty directors. However, we are not meant to hear the question; we hear only the answers to what we surmise was the question. There is no visible or audible interviewer. The answers are illustrated or modelled by examples chosen from certain films; the model film selected was created by whichever of the directors answered the relevant question.

     Film directors include Werner Herzog, Kevin Macdonald, Jennifer Fox, Nick Broomfield, Alanis Obomsawin, Michael Brault, and Errol Morris, to mention a few.

     Since they speak in one of three different languages -- English, French, Spanish -- we are given the appropriate English translation in print captions. If there is any obvious similarity among the directors, it is their frequent use of metaphor. Filming documentary, they say, is likened to doing the tango; it is like enacting a dance; it is like jazz; it is put together like a braid.

     This film is very thorough and will have a variety of uses in the hands of a teacher or student of the history of modern documentary film-making. For example, each student in a class could be given the name of a different director before seeing the film. Each student then takes notes on the particular director assigned while seeing this film. That should prove helpful to everyone as the various directors are interviewed numerous times, answering different questions.

     I enjoyed watching this documentary and will look for films by many of these directors in the future. I think it would have its greatest appeal to students in college and university because of its over-arching scope and because of its length. Teachers and students should find the film's webpage at the National Film Board very helpful because longer interviews with each director profiled in the film are made available online. Also available is a second disc “with over four hours of additional content.”


Cathy Vincent-Linderoos is a retired teacher living in London, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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