The Split Blog

This week’s blog entries will cover one of two possible subjects:


Subject #1 – Salesman

Those who didn’t get to go to the festival need to watch Salesman (which can be found on youtube – or below…).  After watching the film provide your thoughts on the film.  Be sure to write about the style, structure, and character.

Cinema festival stamp

Subject #2 – Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival

While those who got to attend the festival need to write about one or several of the films that you watched that stood out.


To See or Not to See? That is the Question…

ImageCharles Lanzmann directed the documentary Shoah, which is considered one of the foremost films about the Holocaust, in 1985.  Lanzmann’s 9.5 hour film (yes – I said nine and a half hour long film) used only personal testimony and contemporary footage of Holocaust sites.  No historical footage is used at all.  In fact, he is famously quoted as saying the following:

If I had found an actual film, a secret film, since that was strictly forbidden—made by an SS man and showing how 3,000 Jews, men, women, and children, died together, asphyxiated in a gas chamber of the crematorium 2 in Auschwitz—if I found that, not only would I not have shown it, but I would have destroyed it. (Visual Culture and the Holocaust – edited by Barbie Zeilzer – pg 133)

ImageNot ten years after Shoah Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List recreates a scene where the viewer is forced to go through the entry into Auschwitz with a group of women.  We watch their hair being cut.  Being forced to disrobe and then pushed into a shower, but we have heard the rumours along with the women about the gas chambers.  The doors are closed and locked.  The lights go out.  We, like those in the chamber, await the next moment with trepidation.  This scene is on youtube if you are interested in seeing it.  Search for Schindler’s List Shower Scene.

This moment – while powerful – also brings forth so many questions.  Should Spielberg have recreated a moment like this?  Has he truly captured this moment, or does the dramatisation of events like these have the danger of fictionalising truth?


Night and Fog takes a different approach to both Shoah and Schindler’s List.  Resnais moves between two types of footage – contemporary images of Auschwitz (1950s) and historical footage.  He does not attempt to recreate anything – in fact – the commentary during the contemporary footage refers to how the camera cannot show these moments now.  The camera can only show the outer shell.  The commentary over the historical footage often says little, allowing the power of the image to speak.

Discussion Starter: We spoke in class about the ethics of showing certain images.  Blog about your thoughts about Night and Fog.  Also, what do you think about showing scenes of extreme violence (actually captured on film, or recreated).  Point to examples if you would like.

How Far Have We Come?

The following is a short text taken from your book Imagining Reality by Boleslaw Matuszewski.  Matuszewski was a camera operator for the Lumiere’s operations in St. Peresburg, Russia.  He was the first person who seriously considered and then write about the documentary possibilities of cinema.  The following is from a pamphlet he wrote in 1898.



Discussion Starter: Obviously things have changed since Matuszewski wrote this short piece.  Comment upon the positive and negative thoughts that he presents.  Feel free to take this discussion in your own direction and to add your own examples.  If you quote another source you need to cite it!

Truth vs. Fact


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).

Welcome to the New Fall Semester

I have finally gotten around to posting the first blog of the semester (I’ve been promising it for the last two classes).  While it might be a meager offering – this blog marks the beginning of what I hope will be an enlightening, and enjoyable, discussion on nonfiction films.

For those of you in class – if you have not made your wordpress site yet please do so ASAP.  Simple go to and sign up.  It is free.  Follow the instructions.  There are no extra points for style – I’m interested in your thought and comments on your fellow classmates.  Though, if you want to make it look pretty I’m not stopping you!

You will have one blog entry per week – so one entry for every two classes we meet.

So… blog entry #1 will come next week…  Be Prepared…

Social Documentaries and their Stars…

If you were to ask anyone (who is not currently studying documentary) to name any documentary filmmaker, there is a really good chance that the name Michael Moore would be in the top 5.

Regardless of personal politics, Michael Moore’s impact on the documentary form cannot be denied. The majority of his documentaries have had theatrical releases, which have lead to successful runs for other documentary films in the last 25 years. Many also point to his style of filmmaker – a naïve guy simply asking questions to create a self reflexive documentary – as unique. This is not necessarily true. There have been a number of filmmakers who have placed themselves in this role (Michael Rubbo in Waiting for Fidel and Nick Bloomfield in his numerous films beginning in the 1980s.)

This style is used often in social documentaries that examine a problem or struggle of a particular group of people. By placing themselves into their films, these filmmakers invite their audience one the journey of discovery. The audience discovers things at the same time as the filmmaker. The filmmaker can comment on them (often applying their own politics to the interpretation) and move on. The goal is the influence the audience by revealing the “truths” that are discovered.

There is something that is convincing about it, but is there some kind of manipulation occurring?

Discussion Starter: Discuss the more convincing scenes in Roger and Me. Comment on why they are convincing in your eyes. Next discuss the scenes that appear manipulated. Why are they manipulative in your eyes?

The Thin Line

For the last semester we have been discussing the issue of truth, especially in documentary film.  Some have argued that there is no truth and everything that is presented in a documentary is subjective.  Others have argued that there is a truth, especially when it comes to events.

In 1988 Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris release his film THE THIN BLUE LINE, which was the story of a miscarriage of justice.  1 year later, Randall Adams, who was imprisoned for the murder of a Dallas police officer was released.  One of the stated reasons was that the documentary uncovered new details concerning the case.

THE THIN BLUE broke new ground for what documentary could be and do. 1) What documentary can BE – with Morris’ use of artistic and tasteful reenactments opened the door to the use use of acceptance of regular use of reenactments. 2) What documentary can DO – many argue that this film was a major force behind the reopening of the Randall Adams case and exoneration. While always present, the power of the documentary (the truth) was clearly seen in this case.

Discussion Starter:
Bellow are two links. The first is audio interview with Morris shortly after THE THIN BLUE LINE was released. Listen to both and then comment on your opinion of Morris’ view of truth, especially as seen in his documentary.

NPR Inteview with Errol Morris

The second is a short essay written and read by Errol Morris concerning his view of truth.

Films that you can choose for Presentation

The below list of films are among the choices that you can do your final presentation on. If you have come across another film in your readings that you would like to present on please speak to Prof. Dojs about it. Some of these films are available on netflix, others can be found on other websites. If there is a film that you really want to focus on but have a hard time obtaining a viewing copy please let Prof. Dojs know.

A few rules:
– Obviously a film can only have one presenter.
– I would like to make sure that we have several different films focused on. You might be asked to choose another to allow for more diversity.

Comment below to claim the film that you would like to present on.

The films:

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927) Ruttmann
Coal Face (1935) Cavalcanti
The Four Hundred Million (1938) Ivens
The City (1939) Steiner and Van Dyke
The Land (1941) Flaherty
Listen to Britain (1942) Jennings
A Diary for Timothy (1945) Jennings
Why We Fight Series:
– The Battle of Britain (1943)
– Divide and Conquer (1943)
– The Nazis Strike (1943)
– The Battle of China (1944)
– The Battle of Russia (1944)
– War Comes to America (1945)
The Days Before Christmas (1958) Koenig
Experimental Films of Arthur Lipsett
Momma Don’t Allow (1955) Reisz and Richardson
We are the Lambeth Boys (1959) Reisz
Chronicle of a Summer (1961) (Rouch)
The Chair (1962) Drew Associates
Happy Mother’s Day (1963) Leacock and Chopra
Stravinsky (1965) Koenig and Kroitor
Monterey Pop (1968) Pennebaker)
High School (1969) Wiseman
Gimme Shelter (1970) Maysles brothers and Zwerin
Woodstock (1970) Wadleigh
Waiting for Fidel (1974) Rubbo
Hearts and Minds (1974) Davis and Schneider
The World at War (1975) Isaacs
Grey Gardens (1975) Maysles Brother
The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter (1980) Field
Soldier Girls (1980) Broomfield and Churchil
The Times of Harvey Milk (1984) Epstein and Schmiechen
Tongues United (1988) Riggs
A Brief History of Time (1992) Morris
The War Room (1993) Pennebaker, Hegedus, and Cutler
Crumb (1995) Zwigoff
When We Were Kings (1996) Gast
Paradise Lost (1 any of the series) Berlinger and Sinofsky (or others in the series)
Waco: The Rules of Engagement (1997) Gifford and Gazeccki
One Day in September (1999) MacDonald
Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer (2003) Bloomfield
Capturing the Friedmans (2003) Jarecki
When We Were Kings (2005) Gast
The Fog of War (2002) Morris
Bus 174 (2002) Padiha and Lacerda
Spellbound (2002) Blitz
Bowling for Columbine (2003) Moore
Born into Brothels (2004) Kauffman and Briski
Super Size Me (2004) Spurlock
Murderball (2005) Rubin and Shapiro
49 Up (The ‘Up’ Series) (2005) Apted
Grizzly Man (2005) Herzog
An Inconvenient Truth (2006) Guggenheim
Jesus Camp (2006) Ewing and Grady
The Bridge (2006) Steel
Shut Up and Sing (2006) – Kopple and Peck
When the Levees Broke (2006) Mini-series
Encounters at the End of the World (2007) Herzog
Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008)
The Cove (2009) Psihoyos
Man on Wire (2008) Marsh
Waiting for Superman (2010) Guggenheim
Catfish (2010) Joost and Schulman
Gasland (2010) Fox
Tabloid (2011) Morris
Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2011) Herzog

The Purist of Direct Cinema

Robert Drew might be considered the creator of American Direct Cinema, but it is Frederick Wiseman who is one of the only filmmakers who have stuck to the strict rules in all of his films.

ImageIt class we watched his first film, TITICUT FOLLIES (1967), which is about the Bridgewater State Hospital.  Wiseman films his subjects over several months, shooting an enormous amount of 16mm footage.  He never interviews.  He never uses additional lights.  He never stages any of the actions.

ImageBelow are a couple of quotes from Wiseman about Documentary.

“Any documentary, mine or anyone else’s, made in no matter what style, is arbitrary, biased, prejudiced, compressed and subjective.  Like any of its sisterly or brotherly fictional forms it is born of choice – choice of subject matter, place, people, camera angles, duration of shooting, sequences to be shot or omitted, transitional material and cutaways.”

“Sometimes, in his lofty condescension, a filmmaker seeks to bring enlightenment to the great unwashed and force feed this or that trendy political pap to an audience which has not had the opportunity, or perhaps even the wish, to participate in either the experience or the mind of the filmmaker.  This…suggests to the filmmaker that he is important to the world.  Documentaries like plays, novels, poems – are fictional in form and have no measurable social utility.”

Cousins, Mark, and Kevin Macdonald. Imagining Reality: The Faber Book of Documentary. London: Faber, 2006. 279,282. Print.

Discussion Starter: After reading the above quotes comment on your viewing of TITICUT FOLLIES.

Here is the entry (a little late)

I was a little late getting the blog entry up for this week – SOOOO… you can use this week to catch up with your blogging (especially your critical comments on your classmates blogs). Remember – Your blog and comments are 50% of your overall grade. If you do an average job you will get the average grade (C). I say “aim higher” because many time you score lower than what you expect.

We will have an opportunity to discuss more about what the Canadians were doing in the 1950s in the NFB- especially in the famous Unit B group – next week.

Be sure to read Chapter 14 for next week. For those who have been reading along, you will notice that we will be skipping two chapters. We will have an opportunity to discuss some of the information within – especially when we get to our presentations.

Now would be a good time to talk a little more about those requirements…

There are two options for your final project (though there are a few of your doing both). This project is 30% of your overall grade.

Option #1: Choose a film that we did not watch this semester from a list of approved films. You will research this film and prepare a 10 minute presentation about the film. You must use at least 3 clips from the film. If you need help getting the clips please let me know (within ample time) and I will help. The presentation must discuss who the film maker is, his initial goals in making this film, where the funding came from, the historical importance of this film, and the importance to the documentary movement. It is important to make connections to filmmakers/movements that we have discussed in class and in our blog.

Option #2: Shoot your own 3-5 minute documentary/mockumentary in the style of a film that we have watched (or on the approved list of films). This film must clearly utilise style and/or technique in sampled film. You will present this film within a presentation in which you will discuss your inspiration, how you applied the specific style and/or technique in your own work, the historical importance of that style and/or technique in film history, and examples of other films that utilise the same elements. The presentation, along with the screening of your short film will be 10 minutes.

I will work up a list of the approved films and post it soon.