Truth vs. Fact

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Factsomething that truly exists or happens.

Truthfidelity to an original or to a standard or ideal.

I begin this evening’s blog post with the definition of the two words “fact” and “truth”.  We ended our class discussion today focused on these two words in relation to the major difference between documentary and news – yet there are still so many who associate documentary with news, or news topics with documentary.  There is a place for the “news documentary” and there are documentaries that focus more on current events and have a more “news” like aesthetic to them, yet there still needs to be a very defined line drawn between the two – otherwise we can enter some unethical waters.

Today we watched Joris Iven’s classic film “Regen” (1929) – a documentary – not a weather report ;-).  Not only was it important as a city symphony film, it was a very important avant-garde documentary.  Ivens, having shot random rain showers in Amsterdam over several months, clearly manipulates time and space, as he “creates” a 14 minute rain storm in this documentary.  Yet – we are still seeing reality.  This rain actually fell in Amsterdam.  That is a fact.  Wait – an edit!  Another shot of rain.  And, yes, this rain actually fell in Amsterdam, but is it the same rain that we previous saw or another rain?  Um… are we really asking ourselves questions like this or are we watching the movie?  Immersing ourselves in the reality that Ivens is presenting for us?  The beauty that he has captured?

Discussion Starter: In every film there is manipulation.  In every documentary there is manipulation of the truth.  That is a fact.  Can you live with that truth?  

Just a reminder – Blog responses should be a minimum of 200 words (1/2 a page, single spaced if you were to type it out and print it) (500 words for honor students).

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11 Comments

  1. Many people in class were absolutely heartbroken when we learned of the “facts” of Nanook of the North. However, I didn’t really feel that ache as if I was lied to. I already had a sense that the truth had been manipulated, or at least shots had been staged because there were far off shots of the entire family leaving camp quickly on a sled. In reality, they wouldn’t have left the camera crew behind. However, I am used to looking for these clues in such “reality” TV shows where they are surviving in the wild, where a guy has some janky camera he is filming “everything” with…yet there are panning and long shots with a much nicer, high definition camera between the “real” shots. The same type of ethical question is posed on these shows. In one aspect…you are learning many truths on how one would be able to survive in these extreme climates and locations, yet there is obvious manipulation of truth. In all of these instances whether it be television or documentary, I believe it is our duty as filmmakers to not step over the line of complete “lies”. This is why it has become hard to trust film because you don’t always know who and what is credible, nor do you know the intentions of the filmaker. Many have this criticism of documentary filmmakers such as Michael Moore. It is hard to know where to draw the line, but it all depends on what type of message we are trying to portray in our documentary. The fact that his name wasn’t really Nanook and that wasn’t his family isn’t that important, because Robert Flaherty was more trying to show the truths of the Inuit people and the way they lived. In the case of the wilderness television shows…if the main character goes and eats a steak dinner after filming and acts famished on camera, that may be considered crossing that line. If the techniques he uses would prove to be ineffective in a real situation, then that would certainly make me as a viewer feel lied to.

    Reply
    • Su-Ann

       /  September 15, 2013

      I agree too that there is a line between acceptable manipulation and plain lies. But how do we pin-point that certain act or scenario that defines ‘the line’? Does it extend from positioning the camera at a certain angle (which, in my opinion is a form of manipulation), or hiding particular facts of the documentary?

      Reply
      • I was wondering what do we consider “the line” as well. And will what we find acceptable manipulation change as time goes on? or is there really any difference in what’s acceptable now than in the past? Either way I always feel like there will be some hidden or missing information.

    • I believe the point of documentary is to convey some sort of truth, wether it is conveyed through staged scenes or real live situations. I did not want to accept this at first. I used to think that a documentary had to be live footage of events as they happened, and that a staged event in this genre of film was blasphemy. Later I came to the realization that sometimes a staged reenactment can covey a truth like no other.

      Reply
  2. In my younger days I would watch survival shows quite often. The one that really stood out to me was Man Vs. Wild. Man Vs. Wild with Bear Grylls was a very popular show, due to its high production value. This, however, bothered me greatly. I didn’t know much about film at the time, but common sense was knocking at my door. If this man was out in the wilderness alone, then how could we see this? What happened next shattered my love for the show, but in turn helped spark my interest in film. I decided to do a little research on the show. Bear Grylls had an entire camera crew with him. There were even photos of him eating better meals in the wild with is crew than what I would eat in my home! Don’t tell my mother I said this. Seeing those things literarily crushed me. I idolized Bear Grylls. I would watch Man V.s Wild, then run out into the woods behind my home and try to “survive” for hours on end. I would build forts, gather berries, and even try to hunt snakes. All of these ended in tragedy, but the experience of being just like Bear made it for me. After the truth was found I viewed Bear as a fraud. I despised that show and that man. He later did a commercial for Degree deodorant and I refused to buy it just because he endorsed it. I would think to myself, “why would I buy this? Bear is a fake. If I wear this I will be a fake as well! He probably doesn’t actually use Degree anyway.” All of this aside, I realized that this was a regular thing for TV shows and movies. It was almost like magic to me. How could they trick people into believing these things? How did they make things seem so real? I began to study the secrets of film daily. The more I learned the more I questioned everything about the film industry. Slowly but surely every single show I loved was ruined for me, but in turn I learned how the producers tricked not only me, but everyone else. I was fascinated and I was hooked. I decided to become one of these film guys. I began to saved money and later bought my first camera. With it my friends and I would reenact our favorite TV shows. The videos were atrocious at best, but they slowly got better. Film became my one true love due to the findings that destroyed the wonder of the shows I loved. It was bittersweet at its finest. Later on in life I began to regain my love for the shows that I had once labeled as fakes. This love was a little different though. I loved the entertainment value of the shows and realized that although it could be staged or didn’t happen exactly the way they would show it to us, it did in fact happen. There was some truth to it. Bear Grylls really did teach survival skills regardless of wether he was actually having to use them himself to survive. I finally decided that this was good enough for me.

    Reply
    • I agree with you Wiley, when I first found out that Man vs. Wild was fake it kind of made me wonder what else did i believe was reality was really manipulated. It’s like I expected him to be a real life Tom Hanks in Castaway.But as I got older I realized that most of what we watch is for entertainment.

      Reply
      • Su-Ann

         /  September 15, 2013

        Well.. the point of his show was to educate people on survivability in extreme situations. Obviously, he doesn’t eat worms and insects every day in his life. I think there is manipulation in EVERY documentary/non-fiction film, so I’m ready to accept the fact that there will be some false aspects of these productions. Good point though.. I’ve never really thought of whether man vs. Wild was fake or not. I guess I didn’t really think it mattered because all it did for me was make me gag. hah.

    • You guys all make good points – but do you think it is ok to manipulate the truth?

      Reply
      • I believe even if it’s manipulating the truth to tell the truth, you venture into a grey area in truth because sometimes what a filmmaker feels is the truth isn’t the actual truth but the truth of how they feel. Stephen Colbert calls this “truthiness.” However, I do see why you would want to cut an igloo in half or show what happens on a mail train while it’s stopped instead of while it is going down the track. I suppose it depends on what you are manipulating the truth to show.

    • When it comes to television, I don’t think the idea is really to tell the truth. I think it is more to entertain. As we all know real life is often boring. If they didn’t manipulate the truth, there would be no viewers and the show would go off the air.

      Reply
  3. I usually think of the truth as objective, but when it comes to documentary it is often subjective. It is the filmmaker’s truth. It can be used for both good and bad. It can be used to manipulate the truth and make it seem one way, when it is actually another. It can also be used to present a way at looking at a subject in a way you never thought about before.
    One thing I usually think of as far as the manipulation side of things goes is propaganda films. They do present a new way to look at a subject, but they are often used to show a side in a much more negative light than they often are. It can make people freak out when it’s not anything to freak out about. It can also calm people when they should be freaking out.
    As bad as the word “manipulation” sounds, it isn’t always malicious. It is often used in documentary in order to show what something is really like. You might be trying to get footage of something, but it may not go as planned. You may edit it in order to show how something usually goes down, even though it didn’t go that way the day you are shooting.
    Personally I still feel that is dishonest, but I see the point of it. When you don’t think of documentary in the usual way you think of documentary, and you start thinking of it as non-fiction, you realize why you would need to use manipulation to show the truth. I will be honest that is a weird thing for me to think.

    Reply

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