«How to understand documentary films.
A documentary film is fundamentally different from different types of feature films (both fiction and non-fiction, for example, from works of video art) in that it does not have a production as an intermediary between reality and the film version representing it on the screen. Documentary cinema reflects reality itself: it has no actors, roles, exciting plot, or suspense. But this is still a movie, so a documentary film has a script, a compositional sequence of scenes, a system of characters, key images, symbols, and its own film language. Some directors make dynamic, action-packed documentaries on the topic of the day or on current historical topics, while others are inclined to poetic reflection on human life and death, problems of family, religion, and historical development. Many people in the digital video era shoot on black and white film.
1. Analysis of film narrative. The principles of film storytelling in documentary films differ significantly from plot construction in feature films. And although the narration is also embodied here in the words of the off-screen narrator and in the construction of video sequences - plans and shots, its structure is different. In a staged feature film, as in literature, one can distinguish between a narrator and a narrator. The narrator is someone who is not there from the characters’ point of view, “they don’t see him,” and the viewer never sees him through the eyes of the characters, although he may appear in the frame. The narrator is the one who, even without participating in the action and even being invisible on the screen, lives in the same world in which the heroes live. In documentary films there is no narrator in this sense. There may be an author's text in a film, but we perceive it as a statement about our real world, which means we are on the same level as the film's characters and the narrator, who often coincides with the author. In documentary films, the difference between plot and plot, which is fundamental for a fiction film, practically disappears. As a rule, the duration and sequence of events on the screen coincides with the real duration and sequence of events. Of course, often in documentary films there is a verbal account of events that can cover several years and even centuries in a few minutes of screen time. But such a story is either introductory and purely informational in nature, or - as in television documentary - is accompanied by the presence of the narrator on the screen in real time (which again indicates the coincidence of the plot and plot time plans).
The narrative fabric of the documentary film is divided into episodes. As in feature films, the criteria for highlighting an episode are the unity of place, action and composition of characters presented on the screen. It is necessary to highlight episodes in the context of a historical analysis of the film. Using episodic division, you can understand how the director structures the actual material. For example, if certain scenes are shown as confirmation of the author's earlier theses, one can expect that the interpretation of a historical phenomenon presented in the film may turn out to be biased when the facts are interpreted in the light of a certain ideology.
2. Analysis of scenes: points of view and sources of the film. As is the case of fiction films, in a documentary film the people and events shown are seen through someone's eyes; more often - through the eyes of the artist himself, less often - through the eyes of the heroes. If the director directly films what is happening, he gives a specific visual interpretation to the images that appear on the screen. If he uses newsreel footage and films witnesses to events talking about them, his point of view and assessment of events may appear in the choice of evidence: if he aims to express one or another ideological position, one interpretation will prevail in the film. If he wants to look at things from different sides, he attracts contradictory evidence. The very structure of the film depends on the chosen position: the director can look at history from the position of a contemporary, or maybe from the position of a descendant, a foreigner or a laugher. Highlighting this position is key to understanding the film.
3. Video and sound. The stylistic decision in the film reflects the author’s attitude to the events depicted. Thus, modern documentary films, telling, for example, about the totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century. or about recent wars, adheres to a rigid style of presentation of textual material, selects bright, frightening scenes from photo and video archives, newsreels. All means of influencing the viewer are used: contrasting shots, sound effects, specific music, style of scoring and pronunciation of the text. In documentary films, on the contrary, the entire range of artificial effects (soundtrack, voiceover, interviews) is often absent, and the focus is on representing reality itself. As mentioned, many directors shoot on black and white film. This, depending on the picture, can be interpreted as a stylization of historical reality (newsreel footage), or, on the contrary, as a departure from the color correspondence of reality itself and the aestheticization of the depicted world. (Author: A.V. Korchinsky).”
Troitsky Yu. L. Visual historical sources: typology and information potential // Visual images of the past: new strategies for use in educational and research practice. – Novosibirsk: NSPU Publishing House, 2014. – P.120–121. (in Russian)