documentary film analysis
What is a scene? In A Short Guide to Writing about Film, Timothy J. Corrigan defines a scene this way: “A space within which a narrative action takes place; it is composed of one or more shots.” Wikipedia defines a scene as “a part of the action in a single location.” A scene is sometimes harder to identify in a documentary than in a feature (fictional) film because the structure is typically not a “story” in the way we are used to in feature films, but the idea is essentially the same. Sometimes it is clear when a film shifts from one scene to another, such as when a cut takes us to a totally different time and place in the film. At other times, however, what constitutes a scene is less clear and becomes a matter of judgment. In a documentary film, which is built around ideas, a shift from one idea or point to another might constitute a scene change.
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Documentary films use a variety of methods (e.g., images, words, sounds, and various film techniques) in order to present an argument. View a documentary film and analyze the rhetorical and persuasive strategies employed by the filmmaker in the construction of the film’s argument. Identify the filmmaker’s thesis and analyze the rhetorical strategies and persuasive devices and film techniques used in order to develop the film’s thesis. Take notes as you view the documentary. Your essay should do all of the following:
Seeing Red (Jim Klein and Julia Reichert, 1983)
Description: The archive contains a wide range or amateur and professional film from short to full-length features. Films are grouped into themes: Jewish Communities, Holocaust and the Second World War, Pre-State, State of Israel and Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Films can be browsed by title or keyword searched.
All structural and content-related attributes extracted automatically from the first three processes, together with the semantic ones entered manually, are taken as reference metadata for ‘indexing’ video documents, as well as their retrieval and browsing based on this indexing. A VDR system may relate in different ways to this rich metadata, using terminological methods for querying based on categories, meanings or
Senior Lecturer in Film, University of Roehampton
Professor of Professional Practice, University of Southern California, Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism
- 2010: Oil discovery claimed in eastern Congo under Lake Edward in Virunga National Park.
- A home to thousands of people and the last mountain gorillas.
- 2012: Instability returns.
- What is the central argument being made by the filmmaker?
- What evidence does the filmmaker offer in support of the argument?
- How is this story told? Do you see a central narrative—a forward moving story, or train, that makes you want to keep watching?
- Once you’ve identified the train/narrative spine, where and in what context does it return? Is it there at the film’s end? Does the film satisfactorily conclude the story it promised in the opening?
- Who are the people in the film? What role does each play in the overall story?
- What other elements stand out in this film? For example, does something stand out in terms of editing, music or cinematography?
- Can you identify individual sequences (akin to chapters) that have a unique focus and a clear beginning, middle and end?
- Do you see how the ordering of these sequences also advances the overall narrative?
- Does the film’s pacing feel slow to you? Does it feel dense with information? Just right?