May 10, 2022

What’s Not (in fact) a Documentary Film

What is a documentary? Part 2

Let’s deal with a little unreality first. Check out the about page for Reality Films. You may detect some irony 🙂

Also, check out their film Discovering Bigfoot, listed as a documentary on Tubi. I just finished watching it — an excruciating 1:50:33 of gibbering nonsense that has the look, feel, and sound of a documentary.

The first installment of this series introduced the idea that (something called) reality is at the core documentary filmmaking. And I suggested this as a reasonable beginning point:

Let’s start this whole examination (over multiple parts) with this dichotomy: Sometimes what’s in front of the camera being captured by the photographer is a scene that would/could/might be occurring whether or not the documentary crew is there to capture it. Sometimes what’s in front of the camera being captured by the photographer is a scene that would/could/might not be occurring because it was created for the film crew to capture.

This bifurcation is useful for talking about a film such as Discovering Bigfoot. It’s intended as a way to begin making sense of some of the differences between fiction and non-fiction filmmaking. Given that the film shows us utterly nothing convincing (and science has yet to discover so much as a bit of scat or hair), it’s easy to claim that what’s in front of the camera being captured by the photographer are scenes that would/could/might not be occurring because they were created for the film crew to capture.

In other words: fiction.

No Christopher Guest mockumentary is listed anywhere as a documentary. Easy to see why, I think.

But Discovering Bigfoot is listed as a documentary.

That’s not a good thing. At the core of documentary film should be reality. As far as we know there is no such thing as a bigfoot.

Now, a documentary about a guy who chases bigfoot (I think this has been done), or about bigfoot as cultural mythology (I think this has been done) could be cool. But stating its existence as fact is out of bounds.

From the core being reality, we must now consider facts.

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