We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Crafting Truth

Documentary Form and Meaning

Louise Spence and Vinicius Navarro

Publication Year: 2010

Documentaries such as Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman's Born into Brothels, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, Jeffrey Blitz's Spellbound, along with March of the Penguins and An Inconvenient Truth have achieved critical as well as popular success. Although nonfiction film may have captured imaginations, many viewers enter and leave theaters with a nanve concept of "truth" and "reality"-for them, documentaries are information sources. But is truth or reality readily available, easily acquired, or undisputed? Or do documentaries convey illusions of truth and reality? What aesthetic means are used to build these illusions?

A documentary's sounds and images are always the product of selection and choice, and often underscore points the filmmaker wishes to make. Crafting Truth illuminates the ways these films tell their stories; how they use the camera, editing, sound, and performance; what rhetorical devices they employ; and what the theoretical, practical, and ethical implications of these choices are. Complex documentary concepts are presented through easily accessible language, images, and a discussion of a wide range of films and videos to encourage new ways of thinking about and seeing nonfiction film.

Published by: Rutgers University Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

pdf iconDownload PDF (73.4 KB)


pdf iconDownload PDF (58.7 KB)
pp. vii-viii

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (85.7 KB)
pp. ix-xi

Writing acknowledgements is a most pleasurable, yet difficult, task. The thanks we owe to the people who assisted, encouraged, and endured us during the five years we were working on this project are enormous. It is clear that this book was built on the wisdom and generosity of many people, especially Karen Backstein...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (110.4 KB)
pp. 1-8

On the fifteenth of November, 1897, at the opening of the Empire Palace Theatre on Dame Street, citizens of Dublin were treated to a program of films that Alexandre Promio, an itinerant cameraman and promoter for the Lumière brothers’ Cinématographe, took and developed just days before. Arriving in Ireland from Liverpool, Promio filmed the Belfast docks, the Belfast...

Part One: General Concepts

read more

1 Authenticity

pdf iconDownload PDF (234.1 KB)
pp. 11-35

We begin with an assertion: All representation is transformation. And that transformation is always partial—in both senses of the word. Stories are never lift ed from life intact (they are constantly sifting out the superfluous), and we can never know something separate from our way of thinking. It is important to emphasize this early in our discussion because, as the title...

read more

2 Evidence

pdf iconDownload PDF (214.9 KB)
pp. 36-58

Documentary films and videos do not simply represent sociohistorical experience; they have to convince us that what we see on screen did happen. How do they do this? What kinds of evidence do they use to persuade us to accept them as truthful and accurate? Why do we believe this evidence? These are easy and important questions to pose but tough ones to...

read more

3 Authority

pdf iconDownload PDF (219.4 KB)
pp. 59-82

Documentaries are authored. They also generally speak with authority. And sometimes authorities give testimony on screen. Authority thus forms part of the complicated ways by which documentaries represent nonfictional reality. In fact, it is because documentaries speak to us with authority that we trust what they have to say. But where does that authority come from?...

read more

4 Responsibility

pdf iconDownload PDF (232.2 KB)
pp. 83-110

Documentary makers bear responsibility for what they represent. Their films and videos can help us understand the world we live in, shape our perception of historical events, and influence our opinions about current issues. They can also affect the lives of the people represented. Documentaries turn private matters into public affairs, exposing their subjects to the scrutiny...

Part Two: Structural Organization

read more

5 Argument

pdf iconDownload PDF (270.1 KB)
pp. 113-134

Documentaries are cohesive units, not unstructured bits of information. Most follow a characteristic and somewhat predictable organizational pattern. They order different events, assign importance to specific subjects, and propose answers to posed problems. (In Poetics, Aristotle called this organization of events “plot.”) Documentaries, in other words, have an overall...

read more

6 Dramatic Stories, Poetic and Essay Documentaries

pdf iconDownload PDF (269.5 KB)
pp. 135-158

An argument is only one way to organize a documentary. Some nonfiction films rely on dramatic conventions familiar from fiction storytelling, focusing on the events that surround a particular individual and the actions taken by that individual to accomplish a specific goal. Others use less conventional structures and arrange information in a personal or poetic manner...

Part Three Formal Techniques

read more

7 Editing

pdf iconDownload PDF (290.1 KB)
pp. 161-186

What do we mean when we say a book is “cinematic”? What is it that reminds us of the movies? Sometimes it might be the vividness of the descriptions. And sometimes it might be the amount of action. But oft en what we have in mind is the positioning of one part of the narrative next to another, the arrangement of story information, what we would call in film and...

read more

8 Camerawork

pdf iconDownload PDF (257.1 KB)
pp. 187-212

In the first minutes of Born into Brothels (Ross Kauffman and Zana Briski, 2004), we hear a voiceover saying: “It’s almost impossible to photograph in the red light district. Everyone is terrified of the camera. They are frightened of being found out. Everything is illegal.” The comments play over black-and-white still photographs of prostitutes in north Calcutta, India. And the...

read more

9 The Profilmic

pdf iconDownload PDF (246.7 KB)
pp. 213-238

We have already explored the ways filmmakers position fragments of lived reality through editing. And we know that camerawork can add to or subtract from the events or situations documented. But we haven’t discussed how the profilmic environment—that which the camera records— contributes to the making of a documentary. Nonfiction filmmakers often draw...

read more

10 Sounds

pdf iconDownload PDF (228.3 KB)
pp. 239-264

Sound! We have looked at several films made in the silent period. Few of them, of course, were shown without sound; some early films were presented by lecturers and many were accompanied by live music. But for a long time now recorded sound has been a major part of documentaries—especially the information conveyed through voiceover commentary and interviews. Words...


pdf iconDownload PDF (151.5 KB)
pp. 265-281

About the Authors

pdf iconDownload PDF (69.7 KB)

E-ISBN-13: 9780813552323
E-ISBN-10: 081355232X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813549026

Page Count: 296
Illustrations: 51 illustrations.
Publication Year: 2010