NeMLA 2019 - Truth in Documentary and Docufiction: Images of Transnational Realities

Caroline Wakaba Futamura's picture
Call for Papers
September 30, 2018
District Of Columbia, United States
Subject Fields: 
French History / Studies, Film and Film History

Although the term “documentary” with respect to film was not coined until 1926 by John Grierson, precursors to this genre have existed for ethnographic purposes from the late-nineteenth century. Defined by Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary as “a presentation (such as a film or novel) expressing or dealing with factual events: a documentary presentation,” this cinematographic form, even from its very inception, has been grappling with the hybrid version, docu-fiction. This latter genre, a combination of seemingly mutually exclusive elements—objective factual and subjective fictional—seems to undermine the very essence of what constitutes documentary cinema. Yet even Robert Flaherty’s ethnographic motion picture Moana, the first film ever associated with Grierson’s notion of “documentary,” is considered a docu-fiction.

From ethnographic colonial cinema on West Africa to documentaries about immigrants and refugees in Calais’s “Jungle” in France, French motion pictures have (audio)visually portrayed intersections of cultures, languages, and peoples for over a century. Yet today more than ever, given the extraordinary reach and accessibility of videos and films on account of social and digital media, publics globally have been confronted with the challenging feat of discerning between fact and fiction, particularly with respect to local, national, and international events and crises. In this light, to what extent has (pseudo) non-fiction film been exposing rather than fabricating truth? This panel thus aims to examine how French and Francophone documentary and docu-fiction films depict transnational realities and the role that political lenses play in dictating truth.

This panel welcomes papers that examine how French and Francophone documentary and docu-fiction films have created a cinematographic space for (un)truthfully representing transnational realities. Possible themes can include but are not limited to: colonial documentary cinema, representations of immigrant and/or refugee identities, media and “truth.”

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