My pragmatistic thoughts on documentary

I suppose by now I have a rather strange opinion of what “documentary” could or should mean, primarily due to my influence of philosophical pragmatism. Many of the later American Pragmatists wholly reject the notion of ‘truth’, and so this makes it quite difficult to set apart an account of the real from that fabricated scene of the imagination in mainstream cinema. I took a great interest in Pragmatism because I firmly believe human culture in all forms: science, art, and politics will continue to distance itself from notions of hard-fast truth and objectivity. So it’s no surprise to me that we would see documentaries start to walk this line in contemporary art. Even television documentary has long since departed from its traditional method of narrating a list of facts.

Kitty Zulman gives us a clear account on just how documentary evidence is changing forms. It blurs boundaries between hard evidence and “image manipulation”, and directors string together an emotional journey of “real life” footage. As we saw in Arun Khopkar’s work, (particularly in that first film, was it “Figures of Thought”?) some interesting methods are used to mirror the documentary style with the documented subject. He follows the work of his painters by literally following the camera along every stroke, fluid in motion and seamlessly connected to an analogous musical score. In effect his work is not an objective account of “what’s going on,” but a recreation of what’s going on through an alternate, more easily transferable medium.

I’d like to think filmmakers are also working to merge fact and fiction from the other end, that is by presenting our traditional narrative plots as real-time footage of actual events. These are the types of films I most typically enjoy, as they seem to connect my view with the here and now, developing a perspective of one’s place in modern society. In my work I hope to create an immersive film environment that ensnares its viewers so deeply in plot development that it appears downright voyeuristic. I wish for them to feel they are standing in the very room where events are taking place, so that a film can further its impact on a person and more importantly, on the relation between people.

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