Issues in Contemporary Documentary


Documentary is fast changing: with the digital revolution and the enormous increase in Internet usage, the range of information and outlets for distribution and outlets for distribution continues to become more diverse. In this context, are the traditional themes and frequently irreconcilable critical positions of study still valid - or are they changing, and if so, how? In short, what are the issues for documentary studies now?

The starting point of Issues in Contemporary ...

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Documentary is fast changing: with the digital revolution and the enormous increase in Internet usage, the range of information and outlets for distribution and outlets for distribution continues to become more diverse. In this context, are the traditional themes and frequently irreconcilable critical positions of study still valid - or are they changing, and if so, how? In short, what are the issues for documentary studies now?

The starting point of Issues in Contemporary Documentary is that although documentary history cannot be ignored, the genre needs to be understood as complex, multi-faceted, and influenced by a range of different contexts. Jane Chapman brings to life the challenges of contemporary documentary in an accessible way by balancing theoretical discussion with the use of cutting-edge material from Europe and North America and the developing world.

While the need for critical appraisal of documentary is greater than ever before, Chapman believes that future discourses are likely to be shared between academics and specialist online communities as viewers become makers, and both categories may also become activists. Maintaining all parties can benefit from an awareness of continuity and change, she predicts that activist documentary will increasingly become a category to follow in the future.

Each chapter contains recent international case studies, and the content evolves thematically with definitions, representation, objectivity, subjectivity, censorship, authorial voice, reflexivity, and ethics as headings. This free-standing, innovative study can also be used in conjunction with Documentary in Practice (Polity 2007) by the same author. The two books provide an essential two-volume introduction for all students and scholars of film and media, plus those, practitioners seeking insight into their craft.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Brings the study of documentary up-to-date through a range of contemporary examples, which is particularly useful for journalism students who are interested in documentary practice, whilst offering historians of film and television an important contextual resource for understanding issues in documentary today."
Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television

"Broad-ranging ... This book is undoubtedly recommended as an undergraduate textbooked, evidenced by its lucid exposition and easily accessible and clearly presented case studies; however, it nonetheless offers a useful account and summary of the key debates that surround and inform the terrain of the contemporary documentary."
Times Higher Education

"Jane Chapman's book offers students a clear introduction to some of the main questions and debates surrounding current documentary practice. Not only is the whole book developed around selected examples, it is informed throughout by the ethical, creative, and technological challenges of actually making films and programmes. Its strongly 'insider' viewpoint usefully complements the 'outsider' framings of most film and television studies."
John Corner, University of Liverpool

"In a clear, comprehensive style, Jane Chapman has vividly laid out the key issues in documentary. With attention to historical trends and theoretical debates this book will be of enormous use to scholars and practitioners of documentary. This book should find a wide audience among students and viewers of documentary."
Paula Rabinowitz, University of Minnesota

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780745640105
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 8/24/2009
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 244
  • Product dimensions: 6.70 (w) x 9.60 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Jane Chapman is Reader in Journalism Studies at the University of Lincoln.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements vii

Introduction 1

The question: continuity and change

Contextual issues

Methodology and how to use this book

Chapter summary

1 Definitions: Issues and Influences 8



Evolution of the genre

Cinema, television and ‘docu-soap’

Definitions of fiction and non-fiction

Case study: Death of A President (2006)

Genres, categories and uses of documentary

The journalistic documentary


Arguments about truth

Case study: Loose Change (2005) and Screw Loose Change (2006)


2 Representation: Problems, Purpose and Perspective 28



Representing history

Ethnography and pioneering democratization of representation

Ethnography and the ‘other’

Case study: She's a Boy I Knew (2007)

Institutions, minorities and identity politics

Representing collective struggle

Representing trauma, women, children and human rights

Comparative case study: War/Dance (2007), Autism: the Musical (2007)


3 Objectivity/Subjectivity: Pursuing Truth? 48



From verityé to television current affairs

Objectivity and the journalistic documentary

Institutional influences

Television impartiality and balance

Forms of subjectivity

Case study: Tarnation (2003)

Audiences and activism

Presenting the personal

Subjectivity and the essay form

Activist subjectivity

Case study: Sicko (2007)

Case study: 9/11 Chronicles (2007)

Mash-up, documentary and the Internet


4 Censorship: Whose World Is It? 72



Circumventing the State


The self-censorship of the market and funding

Case study: Outfoxed (2004)

Institutional practices

Case study: The War Tapes (2006)

Historical memory and censorship by inertia

Political contexts

Potential audience reception


5 Authorial Voice: Editorial and Message 93



Uses of documentary and authorial voice

‘New documentary’ in the 1980s and 1990s

Role of subject matter

Case study: An Inconvenient Truth (2006)

Historical contexts

Direct Cinema and observational films

Case study: Être et Avoir (2002)

Use of interviews

Use of voiceover

Balancing evidence with argument

Comparative case study: Taxi To the Dark Side (2007), No End in Sight (2007)

Using authorial voice to extend a film's debate


6 Reflexivity: Techniques and Reflection 114



Reflexivity and anthropological films

Comparative case study: Tribe (2007), Amazon (2008), Return of the Tribe (2007)

Vertov and the reflexivity of process

Audience reflexivity

Political challenges and the audience

Reflexivity with deception

Producer reflexivity

Subjective reflexivity and personal autobiographical film

Case study: A Complete History of My Sexual Failures (2008)

Case study: Les Plages d'Agnès (2008)


7 Audience: A World View or Viewing the World? 134




Counting values on the Net

Perceptions of responsibility

Changing viewing environments

Comparative case study: The Family (1974), The Family (2008)

The ‘contract’ with audience

Genres, activism and engagement

Case study: Battle for Haditha (2007)

Audience identification


8 Ethics: Shifting Boundaries 156



‘Consent’: dealing with participants, and payment



Balance of power

Case study: A Jihad For Love (2007)

‘Informed consent’

‘Privacy’ and institutions

Case study: Titicut Follies (1967) and informed consent

The problems of intervention and privacy


A right to know?

Fakery and digital images

Case study: Zeitgeist (2007)

Codes and limitations on journalistic values


Conclusion 178

Notes 182

Bibliography 186

Filmography 196

Index 201

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