Thursday, April 7, 2016

Documentary: Real Life or Half-Truth

In nonfiction media education, every student always gets asked the question of whether or not staging a scene from real life is still nonfiction. If you haven't asked that question - try it. Robert Fenton is the historical example of this question in action through his photography of the Crimean War.
One photo is the photograph right after a battle, while the other is a photograph right after Fenton placed a few canon balls in the road to make the scene more intense. The question is - which is true? 

In documentary film, this question of half-truths becomes even more prevalent. A filmmaker could stage a subject in his room with a poster of half-naked women behind him or the filmmaker could stage him at his church for an interview. Which is true? 

In my opinion, documentary film is a series of half-truths. At the beginning of my exploration into documentary film, my goal was always to bring the truth to life, to be an advocate of accuracy, a sultan of specifics. However, one quickly realizes that life is full of half-truths. Unfortunately, the human psyche does not exist on a binary of real and fake. Instead, our beings are made up of half-truths. Subjects in documentaries reveal, but they cannot reveal everything. But if what I see in every documentary is a half-truth, what's the other half? I don't believe its a half-lie. I don't believe it's half-fake. Documentary film can just only capture what the time and place allows. So rather than being half this or half that, a documentary is a product of circumstance. 

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