Art and Facts This survey has not touched on films and videos


Conclusion: Art and Facts
This survey has not touched on films and videos that push the boundaries of nonfiction
art, such as Georges Franju’s Le Sang des BĂȘtes (Blood of the Beasts) (1949), Chris
Marker’s Sans Soleil (1982) and Le Tombeau D’Alexandre (The Last Bolshevik) (1993),
Jay Rosenblatt's Human Remains (1998), Bill Viola’s I Do Not Know What It Is I Am
Like (1986), or Juan Downey’s J. S. Bach (1986). Works like these defy easy
categorization and perhaps should be considered as a separate genre.
There has been much theorizing but no general agreement about what is a
documentary. For most makers of documentaries the form excludes attack and how-to
videos as well as propaganda and industrial films paid for by their sponsors. But these
boundaries are not altogether fixed. Nanook of the North, Flaherty’s first film, was
financed by a French fur company hoping to enlarge its business; his last, Louisiana
Story (1948), by the Standard Oil Company hoping to create a good image about its oil

General Motors has paid millions of dollars to sponsor many of PBS’s prestige
documentaries and the company has been allowed to run 15-second commercials on the
network in support of its sponsorship. Documentaries may be nonfiction works, but not
all nonfiction works are documentaries.
From its origins in the Enlightenment, the documentary project has used art to
record facts; and by recording, to illuminate; and by illuminating, to bring before a wider
public. In each period of its history the documentary has fulfilled an artistic and a social
function, both giving pleasure and informing, seeking truth in both the aesthetic and the
material realms. The pull between art and facts is the dynamic process that lies at the
center of documentary production. Balancing the claims of each and honesty in motive
are what differentiate documentaries from other nonfiction products.
By the end of the twentieth century video technology itself was undergoing
further change with the development of the Internet and the industry’s acceptance of a
digital future. The implications for documentary makers of this development are
uncertain. Some see potential in the way documentary material - text, sound, interviews,
still and moving images - can be supplied in interactive, non-linear form, with Web sites
supporting in greater quantity and more detail what is edited into a film or video
documentary. But for others, the documentary’s integrity as a work of art will always
remain the primary challenge of the form.

 * * * *
Barnouw, E. (1993). Documentary, a History of the Non-Fiction Film. Second revised
edition, Oxford Univ. Press, New York.
Barsam, R. (1992). Nonfiction Film: A Critical History. Revised and expanded edition,
Indiana Univ. Press, Bloomington.
Bluem, A. W. (1965). Documentary in American Television: Form, Function, Method.
Hastings House, New York.
Brownlow, K. (1978). The War, The West, and The Wilderness. Secker & Warburg,
Einstein, D. (1987). Special edition: a guide to network television documentary series
and special news reports, 1955-1979. Scarecrow Press, Metuchen.
Einstein, D. (1997). Special edition: a guide to network television documentary series
and special news reports, 1980-1989. Scarecrow Press, Lanham.

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