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The word history is enough to put many people to sleep. However, in the vast world of filmmaking, various techniques are used to tell a story and determine if there is a concrete idea that’s worth pursuing. In the panel Beyond Burns: The Next Wave of Historical Documentaries, four filmmakers stressed the importance about historical archives and how documentaries have a fundamental reliance on using these archives to tell their stories.
For those who may be newbies to creating historical documentaries, James Marsh (Project Nim) reinforces the idea that an archive should be one of the first discoveries of filmmaking; it decides if the film is viable or not. Once you’ve stumbled upon some archives, you can then figure out if the raw materials are strong enough to embark on your path to a documentary.
Archives are the anchors to stories; without a solid foundation and background, the idea drifts further from the purpose. Chad Freidrichs (The Pruitt-Igoe Myth) quipped up that filmmakers are the educators and by culling through archives, they can discover new stories to share with viewers. And though Pietro Marcello (La Bocca del Lupo) arrived late to the panel, he jumped right into the conversation by adding that archival footage shows history and makes the past much more compelling.
Marsh said that archives aren’t always used for documentary purposes, declaring that some films can be quite annoying when they use archives for comic relief rather than intelligence. One pitfall of dramatic reconstruction is that archives are often done in a lazy manner. When they’re done badly, the documentary takes the audience out of the world they should be in. Archives are used to show how clever filmmakers are and the power that reconstruction has as the potential to be truthful and effective. People come into documentaries with expectations and when reconstruction is executed poorly, the film has not achieved its purpose.
The panel’s closing remarks were that archives are preserved as documentary advantages and form the basis for a successful film. They were firm and passionate about their work and how archives are the starting point to make a documentary. The filmmakers were also open for any questions and constantly stressed that archives are a necessity, not a bonus.
Vox Rating: VVV
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- Panel recap: The Creative Treatment of Reality
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