Cutting real : self-reflexive editing devices in a selection of contemporary South African documentary films

Maasdorp, Liani (2012-03)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2012.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Since John Grierson first coined the term “documentary film” in the 1920s, there has been a debate about the objectivity or subjectivity of the filmmaker. Some theoreticians believe that a documentary filmmaker may not interact subjectively with her subject. Contemporary perspectives lean towards acknowledging the subjectivity of the filmmaker, and accept that subjectivity is intrinsic to the making of a documentary film. Some would even argue that it is precisely the subjectivity of the filmmaker – the meeting of an individual, subjective perspective with the pro-filmic world – that makes a particular film unique. Brecht believed that the structure of a theatre piece could be used to counter the audience's uncritical emotional engagement and identification with the content of the work. This Verfremdungseffekt enables the audience to engage intellectually with the work. The audience does not get lost in the content of the piece, but rather views it from a critical distance. Brecht believed that this distantiation does not exclude entertainment, but that the audience would be able to enjoy the production while viewing it from a critical, intellectual distance. The self-reflexive mode of representation is identified by Nichols as one of the primary ways for a filmmaker to engage with her subject. Self-reflexivity entails the inclusion of cues within the film reminding the viewer that it is, indeed, a film. The motivation for this is to make the audience aware of the constructed nature of the film, thereby acknowledging the subjectivity of the filmmaker. The most overt form of self-reflexivity in documentary films is the inclusion of the director in the film. The focus of this study is, however, more specifically on how editing devices can be used to foreground the construction of a film. Structural analysis of a selection of recent South African documentary films is undertaken as part of this study. The result of this in-depth analysis is a list of twenty-eight conspicuous, selfreflexive editing devices used in these films. To test the effect of self-reflexive editing devices, I purposely incorporated them into the construction of a documentary series, Booza TV, of which I was one of the editors. The goal of Booza TV is to change viewers' perceptions of alcohol and alcohol abuse. Both quantitative and qualitative research results pointed to the ability of the series to achieve this goal. The perception change, however, is not the focus of this study. Instead, findings specifically related to the viewer's experience of the editing of the production are analysed. These findings show that viewers do notice self-reflexive devices, that the devices can contribute to their enjoyment of the production and that self-reflexive devices are able to communicate subtext to the audience. The conclusion is drawn from the research conducted in this study that the potential of a documentary film to change viewers' perceptions is as dependent on the way the film has been constructed as it is on the content of the film.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Sedert John Grierson in die twintigerjare begin het om die term 'dokumentêre film' te gebruik, word daar gedebatteer oor die objektiwiteit al dan nie van die filmmaker. Party teoretici glo dat 'n dokumentêre filmmaker nie subjektief mag omgaan met haar onderwerp nie. Kontemporêre perspektiewe neig egter om te erken dat die dokumentêre filmmaker subjektief is, dat subjektiwiteit intrinsiek is aan die maak van 'n dokumentêre film, en boonop dat dit juis die subjektiwiteit van die filmmaker is wat 'n film uniek maak. Dit is die ontmoeting van 'n individuele, subjektiewe perspektief met die waarneembare wêreld. Brecht het geglo dat die struktuur van 'n teaterstuk of film gebruik kan word om die gehoor se verbintenis met die inhoud daarvan te verbreek. Hierdie Vervremdungseffekt lei daartoe dat die gehoor in staat is om krities om te gaan met die produksie. Dit lei verder tot 'n kritiese interaksie met die materiaal. Die gehoor raak nie verlore in die inhoud van die stuk nie, maar slaag daarin om dit intellektueel te beskou. Brecht het geglo dat hierdie vervreemding nie vermaak uitsluit nie, maar wel die gehoor toelaat om die teaterstuk of film te geniet terwyl hulle dit krities en intellektueel beskou. Die self-refleksiewe voorstellingsmodus word deur Nichols geïdentifiseer as een van die primêre maniere vir 'n filmmaker om met haar onderwerp om te gaan. Selfrefleksiwiteit behels die insluit van tekens binne 'n film dat dit 'n film is. Die motivering hiervoor is om die gehoor bewus te maak van die konstruksie van die film, om sodoende die subjektiewe perspektief van die filmmaker te erken. Die mees blatante vorm van self-refleksiwiteit in dokumentêre films, is die insluiting van die regisseur in die film. Die fokus van die studie is egter op die gebruik van redigeringstegnieke om die konstruksie van 'n film op die voorgrond te plaas. Daar word van strukturele analise gebruik gemaak in hierdie studie om 'n verskeidenheid hedendaagse Suid-Afrikaanse dokumentêre films in diepte te beskou. Die resultaat van hierdie analise is 'n lys van ag-en-twintig sigbare redigeringstegnieke wat in hierdie films gebruik is. Om die effek daarvan te toets, het ek doelbewus self-refleksiewe tegnieke gebruik in die konstruksie van 'n dokumentêre reeks genaamd Booza TV, waarvan ek een van die redigeerders was. Die doel van Booza TV is om gehore se persepsie aangaande drank en drankmisbruik te verander. Beide kwantitatiewe en kwalitatiewe navorsingsresultate het aangedui dat die reeks dié doel wel bereik. Persepsieverandering is egter nie die fokus van hierdie studie nie. In stede daarvan word daar in diepte gekyk na gehore se ervaring van die self-refleksiewe redigeringstegnieke in die produksie. Daar is gevind dat gehore self-refleksiewe redigeringstegnieke raaksien, dat die tegnieke kan bydra tot gehore se genot van die produksie, en dat die tegnieke gebruik kan word om subteks in die film te kommunikeer.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/20058
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