Documentary for change

Paul Falzone, University of Pennsylvania


This study is about filmmakers who use documentary film and video to bring about social or political change, a genre of documentary that I describe as "documentary for change." Documentary as a whole and the documentary for change genre in particular have met with significant critical and commercial success in recent years. Meanwhile digital and new media technologies have provided new access to the medium and have had implications for what documentary can be, who makes it, how it gets made, and how it gets seen. This study is fundamentally concerned with documenting two interrelated aspects of contemporary documentary for change filmmaking: evolutions in the visual aspects of the genre and the democratization of the tools of documentary creation and distribution. Drawing from a mixture of fieldwork, collaborative production, correspondence, interviews and new media sources including DVD commentary, blogs, vlogs, and online forums, this media ethnography documents a unique phase in the ongoing history of this genre: the moment at which the means of production and distribution simultaneously evolved. This investigation finds that advances in digital filmmaking (production and postproduction) and in new media technologies (distribution) have expanded access for authors, audiences and approaches that otherwise might have been excluded from the process. Meanwhile, stakeholders in the old model of filmmaking have had to 'rethink their role in the new media environment. At the same time, an ascendant "free culture" approach to visual materials and expanding interne resources and digital archives have changed the look and possibilities of documentary for change, allowing filmmakers to easily create documentary without using a camera. The ease of documentary production combined with a larger media convergence has also broken down many of the borders between different mediums, making documentary only one in an interrelated web of advocacy media. This study concludes that there is every indication that the democratization of the medium has only just begun, but that merely having access to the technology is not enough. Storytelling remains an essential ingredient of successful documentary for change filmmaking. ^

Subject Area

Mass Communications|Cinema

Recommended Citation

Falzone, Paul, "Documentary for change" (2008). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3346208.