A global approach to documentary cinema


The bulk of my work as a research assistant for the Hurford Center’s artist-in-residence, Vicky Funari, is to help her build a portfolio of documentaries from various regions around the world. This is part of an ongoing process for Professor Funari, who hopes to pitch a new class to hopefully begin teaching by the spring of 2018. The focus of the class revolves around the similarities and differences of national cinemas in respect to documentaries. The repository of films and associated readings that I’ve created during the summer is meant to inform Professor’s Funari as to the structure and syllabus of this proposed class.

Since the distribution of films has only become more widespread throughout its history, the ideas behind certain cinematic techniques are carried far beyond the national cinema where it is released, prompting filmmakers to adapt and appropriate such techniques when necessary. In addition, film movements that focus primarily on fiction films, such as the French New Wave, can still have immense and noticeable influences on the style and technique of their documentary counterparts. Often times, documentaries can point towards critical aspects of local culture and identity, but beyond that can also inform audiences of the power of globalization, and the dynamic nature of the film medium in general.

Dziga Vertov's masterclass is often cited by scholars and filmmakers alike to be the greatest documentary ever made.

Dziga Vertov’s masterclass is often cited by scholars and filmmakers alike to be the greatest documentary ever made.

Springboarding of the heavy connections one can find between films from vastly different regions, I initially made the suggestion that Professor Funari structure the class around thematic similarities between films. I felt it would be more compelling to look into the relationship between films rather than focus on segregating films by geographic origin and contain them within literal and figurative borders. In order to help Professor Funari understand the structure I was proposing, I wrote a variety of mock-up rationales that explained the significance in exploring a particular theme, and a list of possible films to associate with said theme.

Although my background and academic interests within film have primarily been with fiction, i.e. Soviet Montage, French New Wave, and Third Cinema, I was never in a situation where my full focus was on documentary cinema. That being said, I really only had a basic understanding of relevant directions, film, and readings at best. Two months, and watching a shade under forty films later, I can safely say I’ve been able to increase the breadth and depth of my appreciation of documentary cinema. My research has been incredibly fulfilling, and would like to thank Professor Funari for her guidance and confidence in me to be in control over the direction of my research.

On one last note, my research also brought me into contact with the Tri-Co library system, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that a majority of the films I listed in the repository  where in fact available at at least one of the three colleges. I invite students to explore the large collection of intellectually engaging films that the libraries in the Tri-Co has built, whether that be for pleasure or academic research.

Featured image is from the poster of the film Anpo: Art x War, a documentary exploring the effect of American presence in Japan following World War II on Japanese artists.