Documentary films may set out to be objective but most end up advocating a point of view (Fox 2011, Taibbi, 2013). This seems to be true even of films attempting to follow a cinéma vérité style. The approach may be subtle and well-meaning as in the films of National Geographic, or openly confrontative as in the films of provocateur Michael Moore but most films fall somewhere along this spectrum. Documentary films may present facts akin to describing a scientific experiment (Spurlock’s Supersize Me, 2004) or a social science ethnographic presentation (Guggenheim’s An Inconvenient Truth, 2006) or they may follow a literary narrative pattern, involving characters, plot, problem and solution (Hustwit’s Helvetica, 2007). Sometimes the documentary develops into a narrative of its own (Psihoyos’ The Cove, 2009). This narrative approach has been supported from the standpoint that stories are a fundamental cognitive strategy through which humans process knowledge and learn (Sachs, 2012). In deconstructing narrative, the approaches followed by Bakhtin (1981), Derrida (2004), and Boje (2008) are used to map the narrative trajectories of several recent documentary films. Using a visual approach derived from Tufte (2001), McCandless (2010) and Lankow et al (2012), these narrative maps are presented. Discussions on narrative paradigms effective in documentary filmmaking will be summarized. A report on an attitudinal survey carried out to determine Asian student audience reactions to presentation of facts compared with learning through narrative is also presented.
Natusch Barry, Nihon University, Japan
Beryl Hawkins, Temple University Japan, Japan
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