What we think of as documentary film has its roots in the last years of the nineteenth century when August and Louis Lumiére filmed the workers leaving their factory in Lyon. Whereas the early pioneers were self-taught, the art and craft of filmmaking has been taught at film schools ever since the foundation of VGIK, the Moscow Film School just after World War One.

A century later on, the advent of digital technology and almost universal availability of mobile communication networks means that sounds and images can be captured on affordable, hand-held devices and uploaded instantly to be seen by anybody on the globe  – at least those with (uncensored) access to the internet. Consider this: YouTube claims (as of January 2012) that it receives 60 hours of uploads every minute. How long before that record is broken? [November 2015 – it’s 500 hours uploaded every minute, with projections of some 800 hours/minute for early 2016 – so it must be well over 1000 hours/minute by now, December 2017!!!!]

Awash in a tsunami of images and sounds, so much seems to have changed and the only constant seems to be flux; yet the fundamental questions faced by documentary filmmakers are not just those framed by issues of technological change. As Chris Marker reminded us: “…rarely has reality needed so much to be imagined.” Not a bad rallying cry for the next generation of young filmmakers struggling to make sense of their worlds.

Teaching Documentary is a resource for filmmakers who teach documentary  filmmaking.

John Burgan, August 2012


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