Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I would like to take this last opportunity to express more carefully what I was speaking of in class. The question is why we so desperately want documentaries to be true. Already from the beginning of the class we talked about the definition of documentaries. What came up was partly that they are subjective takes, that they bear a claim to truth. That is as far as it goes. There is a claim to truth. History books have long laid a claim to objective truth and they rarely cite sources. But, we have absolutely no problem, as academics, to point out false accounts and distortions of what happened. We know that they tell one side, that not every part is “truth.” The same goes for all texts we use, and it shows in our writing. That is why we say “according to,” “claims,” “says,” “argues.” We are taught as critical thinkers to not take any information at face value, but interrogate the unstated assumptions, biases, sources etc. Just because a film claims to hold the truth, or maybe not even that, but the only way we know how to classify it is by saying that it is a documentary, does not mean that we can just relax and take everything at face value. I think it is important that Mark pointed out that some of the things claimed in Connected were not in accordance with scientific claims. But are we surprised that they didn’t? Why? Why do we so desperately want them to be true? Is it because we are so unsettled by the theoretical decentering of truth that we so desperately want to hang on to something as steadfastly true? I’m just wondering,


  1. Yeah, these are interesting questions. For me, I find them poking out both in docufiction, as well as some of the recent crop of docs like I'm Still Here, Catfish, and Exit Through the Gift Shop.

  2. "Is it because we are so unsettled by the theoretical decentering of truth that we so desperately want to hang on to something as steadfastly true?"

    I don't think that is it. I think that most of us would agree about the elusive nature of "truth," and about the subjective/relative qualities of perception. But I think, even in light of this, that it is important for documentary film-makers and "non-fiction" writers to make a sincere effort to present the most accurate information possible. So, this means having rigorous fact checking, conducting reviews of the latest research and literature, etc.

    In regard to Connection, I think far too many unsubstantiated claims were made - and that there was not really an effort to be even remotely careful about some of the claims expressed in the film. Knowledge is always going to be in need of revision due to continued discoveries, so finding one unchangeable "Truth" is not really something I'd even anticipate or welcome, but I think filmmakers who are working in this vein have a certain responsibility to at least make an attempt at verifying claims they are throwing out there.


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