Documentary Now! – Call for Provocations: Has documentary failed?
December 15th 2018, 1-5pm
BIMI, Birkbeck, University of London, WC1H 0PD
Documentary has often been lauded for its ability to educate, transform, provoke, and mobilise. High cultural value and social responsibilities have been attached to documentary film and television because of its supposed real-world impact. However, with a few notable exceptions, history has shown that this promise hasn’t been achieved as hoped. Equally, methods that might have been effective in the past, may not serve in the present. What works in one culture and society might not function in others. So, at a moment when the forms of documentary are expected to intervene in the dominant consensus, it is instead imperiled in a post-truth vortex where faith in visible evidence has plummeted, audiences are increasingly siloed into social media echo chambers, and expert knowledge and the factual are increasingly undermined.
What is the role of documentary today, as nationalism, authoritarianism, and neoliberalism threaten mainstream reportage? What are its possibilities and obligations when non-fiction funding, exhibition, and distribution seem increasingly oriented towards anodyne, character-driven ‘storytelling’? What is happening in the enquiry and practice of documentary in cultures outside the so-called West that have been overlooked? And what about documentary in the context of art, where the notion of failure is often something positive?
Further, what are the roles of documentary scholars in this context? After a century of questioning the boundaries between documentary and fiction, of examining authenticity and ethics, of celebrating fakes, mock-documentaries and ecstatic truth, what part does documentary studies play in the normalization of post-truth and ‘alternative facts’? What ideas from philosophy, history, literature, social political sciences, and theory are failing documentary now? What are the obstacles inhibiting meaningful exchange within academia and between the academy and the public on these issues?
Intentionally provocative and polemical, this focus on failure seeks to stir up urgent questions of documentary ideals, aims, processes and possibilities in the current context. Where does the past cease to serve us and what now?
13:00-14:15 Session 1: Has documentary failed?
14:30-15:45 Session 2: Has documentary studies failed?
16:00-17:00 Collective discussion: How can we do better? (Inc. discussion of future events)
17:00— Post-event drinks
Call for Provocations
Proposals are invited for short position papers for either Session 1 or Session 2 (please specify). For each session, a panel of 6 provocateurs will be chosen to lead the discussion with a 3-5-minute statement of their position (600-word position papers will be circulated in advance). The format is designed to maximise audience interaction and discussion. Keep it short and polemical.
Please submit a short provocation pitch (150 words max) along with a brief bio (up to 100 words) to DocNow2018@gmail.com by 22nd October 2018.
About Documentary Now!
Documentary Now! an annual conference held in London between 2008-2014, returns in conjunction with the Documentary Special Interest group of the British Association of Film, Television and Screen Studies to investigate and interrogate contemporary issues in documentary around the world and across platforms. Events will explore traditional and alternative formats of exchange (e.g. conference papers, workshops, roundtables, film screenings and discussions, filmmaker talks) in the pursuit of lively, generative and inclusive discussion.
Plans for the future of Documentary Now! will be tabled at this first event and all interested parties are invited to join in this discussion.
Steering Committee: Bella Honess Roe (University of Surrey), Alisa Lebow (University of Sussex), Silke Panse (University for the Creative Arts), Leshu Torchin (St. Andrews), Kiki Tianqi Yu (Queen Mary University of London).