Documentary Book List

Recommended Books on Non-Fiction/Documentary Film and Video

The Visible Evidence community has compiled this list of recently published books that were recommended as most valuable for thinking about documentary/non-fiction film and video. This list is open to books in languages other than English. In terms of criteria for inclusion, the definition of value is expansive, as the Visible Evidence community itself is expansive.

To recommend books for this list, please email the author, title, and a link to the press’ book page to Joshua Malitsky, associate professor in Cinema and Media Studies and director of Indiana University Media School’s Center for Documentary Research and Practice.

Recommended Books

Adamson, MorganEnduring Images: A Future History of New Left Cinema. University of Minnesota Press, 2018.

A timely reassessment of political film culture in the 1960s and ’70s, Enduring Images examines international cinematic movements of the New Left in light of sweeping cultural and economic changes of that era. Looking at new forms of cinematic resistance—including readings of particular films, collectives, and movements—it makes a case for cinema’s centrality to the global New Left.

Aguayo, Angela J. Documentary Resistance: Social Change and Participatory Media. Oxford University Press, 2019.

Documentary Resistance: Social Change and Participatory Media offers a new approach to understanding the networked capacity of documentary media to create public commons areas, crafting connections between unlikely interlocutors. In this process communities invest in the exchange of documentary moving image discourse around politics and social change. This book advances a new argument suggesting that documentary’s capacity for social change is found in its ability to establish forms of collective identification and political agency capable of producing and sustaining activist media cultures. It advances the creation of a conceptual, theoretical, and historical space in which documentary and social change can be examined, drawing upon research in cinema, media, and communication studies as well as cultural theory to explore how political ideas move into participatory action. This book takes a distinctive approach, understanding how struggles for social justice are located, reflected, and represented on the documentary screen, but also in pre- and post-production processes. To address this living history, this project includes over sixty unpublished field interviews with documentary filmmakers, critics, funders, activists, and distributors.

Alvarado, Alejandro. La poscensura en el cine documental de la transición española (Postcensorship in the Documentary Film of the Spanish Transition). Peter Lang International Academic Publishers, 2018.

Documentary cinema in Spain experienced one of its most productive moments during the years of the transition to democracy. This resulted in the production of some of the riskiest proposals, in aesthetic and political terms, in the history of Spanish cinema. These films filled the vacuum caused by the prohibition and propaganda with which Franco’s regime had controlled the documentary. But once democracy and freedom had been recovered, the new context did not favour documentary production; in fact to the contrary, as has been widely recorded by historians: the continuity of this type of cinema in Spain was a mirage. At the beginning of the 80s, various administrative, industrial and aesthetic factors came together that resulted in the practical disappearance of the documentary from the screens for more than two decades. Some of these films suffered processes that obstructed their production, distribution and screening, as was the case of El Proceso de Burgos, Despues de… or in a paradigmatic way Rocio, a documentary that continues to be affected, due to the fact that the screening of the complete film is still forbidden throughout the entire Spanish state to this day. In spite of the repeal of Francoist censorship in November 1977, the apparatus and the moral values of the regime and the triumph of political consensus subtly prolonged its influence. This study unravels the mechanisms that, by obstructing the production of a rupturist documentary cinema in full transition, could be called postcensorship because of the impact of these mechanisms against freedom of expression and creation during a full redefinition of public space in Spain.

Aufderheide, Patricia, Jaszi, Peter. Reclaiming Fair Use: Putting Balance back in Copyright. Second Edition. University of Chicago Press, 2018.

In the increasingly complex and combative arena of copyright in the digital age, record companies sue college students over peer-to-peer music sharing, YouTube removes home movies because of a song playing in the background, and filmmakers are denied a distribution deal when a permissions i proves undottable. Analyzing the dampening effect that copyright law can have on scholarship and creativity, Patricia Aufderheide and Peter Jaszi urge us to embrace in response a principle embedded in copyright law itself—fair use. Originally published in 2011, Reclaiming Fair Use challenged the widely held notion that copyright law is obsolete in an age of digital technologies. Beginning with a survey of the contemporary landscape of copyright law, Aufderheide and Jaszi drew on their years of experience advising documentary filmmakers, English teachers, performing arts scholars, and other creative professionals to lay out in detail how the principles of fair-use can be employed to avoid copyright violation. Taking stock of the vibrant remix culture that has only burgeoned since the book’s original publication, this new edition addresses the expanded reach of fair use—tracking the Twitter hashtag #WTFU (where’s the fair use?), the maturing of the transformativeness measure in legal disputes, the ongoing fight against automatic detection software, and the progress and delays of digitization initiatives around the country. Full of no-nonsense advice and practical examples, Reclaiming Fair Use remains essential reading for anyone interested in law, creativity, and the ever-broadening realm of new media.

Battaglia, GiuliaDocumentary Film in India: an Anthropological History. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2018.

This book maps a hundred years of documentary film practices in India. It demonstrates that in order to study the development of a film practice, it is necessary to go beyond the classic analysis of films and filmmakers and focus on the discourses created around and about the practice in question. The book navigates different historical moments of the growth of documentary filmmaking in India from the colonial period to the present day. In the process, it touches upon questions concerning practices and discourses about colonial films, postcolonial institutions, independent films, filmmakers and filmmaking, the influence of feminism and the articulation of concepts of performance and performativity in various films practices. It also reflects on the centrality of technological change in different historical moments and that of film festivals and film screenings across time and space. Grounded in anthropological fieldwork and archival research and adopting Foucault’s concept of ‘effective history’, this work searches for points of origin that creates ruptures and deviations taking distance from conventional ways of writing film histories. Rather than presenting a univocal set of arguments and conclusions about changes or new developments of film techniques, the originality of the book is in offering an open structure (or an open archive) to enable the reader to engage with mechanisms of creation, engagement and participation in film and art practices at large. In adopting this form, the book conceptualises ‘Anthropology’ as also an art practice, interested, through its theoretico-methodological approach, in creating an open archive of engagement rather than a representation of a distant ‘other’. Similarly, documentary filmmaking in India is seen as primarily a process of creation based on engagement and participation rather than a practice interested in representing an objective reality.

Bennett-Carpenter, BenjaminDeath in Documentaries: The Memento Mori Experience. Leiden, Netherlands: Brill | Rodopi, 2017.

Memento mori is a broad and understudied cultural phenomenon and experience. The term “memento mori” is a Latin injunction that means “remember mortality,” or more directly, “remember that you must die.” In art and cultural history, memento mori appears widely, especially in medieval folk culture and in the well-known Dutch still life vanitas paintings of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Yet memento mori extends well beyond these points in art and cultural history. In Death in Documentaries: The Memento Mori Experience, Benjamin Bennett-Carpenter suggests that documentaries are an especially apt form of contemporary memento mori. Bennett-Carpenter shows that documentaries may offer composed transformative experiences in which a viewer may renew one’s consciousness of mortality – and thus renew one’s life.

Brylla, Catalin, Kramer, Mette, Eds. Cognitive Theory and Documentary Film. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

This groundbreaking edited collection is the first major study to explore the intersection between cognitive theory and documentary film studies, focusing on a variety of formats, such as first-person, wildlife, animated and slow TV documentary, as well as docudrama and web videos. Documentaries play an increasingly significant role in informing our cognitive and emotional understanding of today’s mass-mediated society, and this collection seeks to illuminate their production, exhibition, and reception. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the essays draw on the latest research in film studies, the neurosciences, cultural studies, cognitive psychology, social psychology, and the philosophy of mind. With a foreword by documentary studies pioneer Bill Nichols and contributions from both theorists and practitioners, this volume firmly demonstrates that cognitive theory represents a valuable tool not only for film scholars but also for filmmakers and practice-led researchers.

Bui, Camille. Cinépratiques de la ville: Documentaires et urbanité après Chronique d’un été. Presses Universitaires de Provence, Aix en Provence, 2018.

Le paysage urbain, qui engendre des visions mythiques dans le cinéma de fiction, tend à être discret dans la création documentaire, en particulier celle qui s’inscrit dans la continuité du cinéma direct et du cinéma-vérité. Si certains documentaires font perdre de vue les architectures spectaculaires ou les panoramas de carte postale, c’est pour inviter à mieux saisir la ville dans ses pratiques quotidiennes. C’est ce cinéma de l’urbanité qu’inauguraient, en 1960, Jean Rouch et Edgar Morin avec Chronique d’un été, film de parcours et d’interactions qui propose une expérience vivante au cœur de la géographie parisienne. S’appuyant sur ce film-matrice pour analyser un ensemble de films contemporains, cet ouvrage montre comment la mise en scène documentaire peut devenir agent d’une urbanité démocratique à l’heure de la globalisation et du néolibéralisme. Car pour Johan van der Keuken à Amsterdam, Richard Sandler à New York ou encore Shannon Walsh à Montréal, faire un film permet autant de témoigner que de prendre part à la vie urbaine aux côtés de citadins ordinaires. Comment rendre compte de ce rapport dynamique entre images et praxis ? Par une analyse sensible à la façon dont les forces de l’urbanité (mouvement, interaction, gentrification…) rencontrent des formes filmiques (cadre, son synchrone, montage…). Nourrie par l’apport des études urbaines, cette approche esthétique envisage comment le cinéma documentaire a le pouvoir de représenter et de pratiquer l’espace au présent, tout en projetant des villes à venir.

Cammaer, Gerda, Fitzpatrick, Blake, Lessard, Bruno, Eds. Critical Distance in Documentary Media. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

This collection of essays presents new formulations of ideas and practices within documentary media that respond critically to the multifaceted challenges of our age. As social media, augmented reality, and interactive technologies play an increasing role in the documentary landscape, new theorizations are needed to account for how such media both represents recent political, socio-historical, environmental, and representational shifts, and challenges the predominant approaches by promoting new critical sensibilities. The contributions to this volume approach the idea of “critical distance” in a documentary context and in subjects as diverse as documentary exhibitions, night photography, drone imagery, installation art, mobile media, nonhuman creative practices, sound art and interactive technologies. It is essential reading for scholars, practitioners and students working in fields such as documentary studies, film studies, cultural studies, contemporary art history and digital media studies.

Campo, Javier, Pérez-Blanco Humberto, Eds. A Trail of Fire for Political Cinema: The Hour of the Furnaces Fifty Years Later. University of Chicago Press, 2019.

Marking the 50th anniversary of the premiere of La Hora de Los Hornos (The Hour of the Furnaces) (Getino and Solanas, 1968), A Trail of Fire for Political Cinema is an edited collection that closely analyses the film, looking to the context and the sociopolitical landscape of 1960s Argentina, as well as the film’s legacy and contemporary relevance. Attention is paid to the corpus of political documentaries made between 1968 and 1976, including those that marked the last coup d’état in Argentina, to emphasize how formal and thematic trends relate to their Argentinian social context. In order to highlight The Hour of the Furnaces’s contemporary relevance as a form of politically engaged activism, the book will also look at Fernando Solanas’s documentary output in the twenty-first century.

Cazenave, Jennifer. An Archive of the Catastrophe: The Unused Footage of Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah. SUNY Press, 2019.

Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 magnum opus, Shoah, is a canonical documentary on the Holocaust—and in film history. Over the course of twelve years, Lanzmann gathered 230 hours of location filming and interviews with survivors, witnesses, and perpetrators, which he condensed into a 9½-hour film. The unused footage was scattered and inaccessible for years before it was restored and digitized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In An Archive of the Catastrophe, Jennifer Cazenave presents the first comprehensive study of this collection. She argues that the outtakes pose a major challenge to the representational and theoretical paradigms produced by the documentary, while offering new meanings of Shoah and of Holocaust testimony writ large. They lend fresh insight into issues raised by the film, including questions of resistance, rescue, refugees, and, above all, gender—Lanzmann’s twenty hours of interviews with women make up a mere ten minutes of the finished documentary. As a rare instance of outtakes preserved during the pre-digital era of cinema, this unused footage challenges us to establish a new critical framework for understanding how documentaries are constructed and reshapes the way we view this key Holocaust film.

Chambers, Ciara, Jönsson, Mats, Vande Winkel, Roel, Eds. Researching Newsreels: Local, National and Transnational Case Studies. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

This volume addresses the underscrutinised topic of cinema newsreels. These short, multi-themed newsfilms, usually accompanied by explanatory intertitles or voiceovers, were a central part of the filmgoing experience around the world from 1910 through the late 1960s, and in many cases even later. As the only source of moving image news available before the widespread advent of television, newsreels are important social documents, recording what the general public was told and shown about the events and personalities of the day. Often disregarded as quirky or trivial, they were heavily utilised as propaganda vehicles, offering insights into the socio-political norms reflected in cinema during the first half of the twentieth century. The book presents a range of current research being undertaken in newsreel studies internationally and makes a case for a reconsideration of the importance of newsreels in the wider landscape of film history.

Cohen, HartThe Strehlow Archive: Explorations in Old and New Media. Routledge, 2018.

The Strehlow Archive is one of Australia’s most important collections of film, sound, archival records and museum objects relating to the ceremonial life of Aboriginal people. The aim of this book is to provide a significant study of the relationship of archives to contemporary forms of digital mediation. The volume introduces a specific archive, the Strehlow Collection, and tracks the ways in which its materials and research dissemination practices are influenced by media forms we now identify with the emergence of digital technology.

Conway, MikeThe Tunnel and the Struggle over Television News in Cold War America. University of Massachusetts Press, 2019.

In 1962, an innovative documentary on a Berlin Wall tunnel escape brought condemnation from both sides of the Iron Curtain during one of the most volatile periods of the Cold War. The Tunnel, produced by NBC’s Reuven Frank, clocked in at ninety minutes and prompted a range of strong reactions. While the television industry ultimately awarded the program three Emmys, the U.S. Department of State pressured NBC to cancel the program, and print journalists criticized the network for what they considered to be a blatant disregard of journalistic ethics. It was not just The Tunnel’s subject matter that sparked controversy, but the medium itself. The surprisingly fast ascendance of television news as the country’s top choice for information threatened the self-defined supremacy of print journalism and the de facto cooperation of government officials and reporters on Cold War issues. In Contested Ground, Mike Conway argues that the production and reception of television news and documentaries during this period reveals a major upheaval in American news communications.

Daniels, JillMemory, Place and Autobiography: Experiments in Documentary Filmmaking. Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2019.

There has been a significant growth in autobiographical documentary films in recent years. This innovative book proposes that the filmmaker in her dual role as maker and subject may act as a cultural guide in an exploration of the social world. It argues that, in the cinematic mediation of memory, the mimetic approach in the construction of documentary films may not be feasible, and memory may instead be evoked elliptically through hybrid strategies such as critical realism and fictional enactment. Recognizing that identity is formed by history and what ‘goes on’ in the world, the book charts the historical trajectory of the British independent filmmaking movement from the mid-1970s to the present growth of new online distribution outlets and new media through digital technologies and social media.

Fox, Broderick. Documentary Media: History, Theory, Practice. Second Edition. Routledge Publishers, Taylor & Francis Group, 2018.

In a digital moment where both the democratizing and totalitarian possibilities of media are unprecedented, the need for complex, ethical, and imaginative documentary media—for you, the reader of this book to think, question, and create—is vital. Whether you are an aspiring or seasoned practitioner, an activist or community leader, a student or scholar, or simply a curious audience member, author Broderick Fox opens up documentary media, its changing forms, and diversifying social functions to readers in a manner that is at once rigorous, absorbing, and practical. This new edition updates and further explores the various histories, ideas, and cultural debates that surround and shape documentary practice today. Each chapter engages readers by challenging traditional assumptions, posing critical and creative questions, and offering up innovative historical and contemporary examples. Additionally, each chapter closes with an “Into Practice” section that provides analysis and development exercises and hands-on projects that will assist you in generating a full project prospectus, promotional trailer, and web presence for your own documentary.

Fritsche, MariaThe American Marshall Plan Film Campaign and the Europeans: A Captivated Audience? London: Bloomsbury, 2018.

The American Marshall Plan Film Campaign and the Europeans is the first book to explore the use of the Marshall Plan films and, importantly, their distribution and reception across Europe. The study examines every available film – the 170 that remain from the 200 estimated to have been made – and looks at how they were designed to instil hope, argue the case for economic restructuring and persuade the Europeans of the superiority of the liberal-capitalist system. The book goes on to reason that the films served as a powerful weapon in the cultural Cold War, but that the European audiences were by no means passive victims of the US propaganda effort. Maria Fritsche discusses the Marshall Plan films in the context of countries across Western, Northern and Southern Europe, covering the majority of the 17 European countries that participated in the Plan in the process. The book incorporates 70 images and utilises a vast number of archival sources to explore the strategies the US adopted to sway the minds of the Europeans, the problems they encountered in the process and, not least, the varied responses of the European audiences.

Geva, DanThe Ethics Lab Guidebook. CILECT, 2019.

Establishing a video collection of ethical testimonies of students, teachers, filmmakers, and scholars from film schools throughout the world lies at the heart of The Ethics Lab’s effort to explore the ethical dimension of our lives and art-making. This Guidebook explores, step by step, The Ethics Lab’s goals and methodology that return to and revitalize a primordial human practice: recounting autobiographies. Ethics, in this worldview, is no longer perceived as a set of restrictive dos and don’ts. Nor is it imposed as a set of universal abstracts or legal imperatives. Rather, our ethical landscape is shaped by its community members, who serve as a vital source for creative self-growth and comprise a nurturing locus of inspiring communality. The Ethics Lab Guidebook’s challenge is to inspire people to navigate their moral landscape under the guidance of the beckoning lights of thousand-year-old stars of moral wisdom—making an invaluable contribution to the film school educational system and to contemporary research in the field of ethics.

Geva, Dan. Toward a Philosophy of the Documentarian: A Prolegomenon. Palgrave Macmillan, 2018.

The theme of this book is the documentarian—what the documentarian is and how we can understand it as a concept. Working from the premise that the documentarian is a special—extended—sign, the book develops a model of a quadruple sign structure for-and-of the documentarian, growing out of enduring traditions in philosophy, semiotics, psychoanalysis, and documentary theory. Dan Geva investigates the intellectual premise that allows the documentarian to show itself as an extremely sophisticated, creative, and purposeful being-in-the-world—one that is both embedded in its own history and able to manifest itself throughout its entire documentary life project, as a stand-alone conceptual phase in the history of ideas.

Glick, JoshuaLos Angeles Documentary and the Production of Public History, 1958-1977. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2018.

Los Angeles Documentary and the Production of Public History, 1958–1977 explores how documentarians working between the election of John F. Kennedy and the Bicentennial created conflicting visions of the recent and more distant American past. Drawing on a wide range of primary documents, Joshua Glick analyzes the films of Hollywood documentarians such as David Wolper and Mel Stuart, along with lesser-known independents and activists such as Kent Mackenzie, Lynne Littman, and Jesús Salvador Treviño. While the former group reinvigorated a Cold War cultural liberalism, the latter group advocated for social justice in a city plagued by severe class stratification and racial segregation. Glick examines how mainstream and alternative filmmakers turned to the archives, civic institutions, and production facilities of Los Angeles in order to both change popular understandings of the city and shape the social consciousness of the nation.

Grieveson, LeeCinema and the Wealth of Nations. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2018.

Cinema and the Wealth of Nations explores how media, principally in the form of cinema, was used during the interwar years by elite institutions to establish and sustain forms of liberal political economy beneficial to their interests. It examines the media produced by institutions such as states, corporations, and investment banks, as well as the emergence of a corporate media industry and system supported by state policy and integral to the establishment of a new consumer system. Lee Grieveson shows how media was used to encode liberal political and economic power during the period that saw the United States eclipse Britain as the globally hegemonic nation and the related inauguration of new forms of liberal economic globalization. But this is not a distant history. Cinema and the Wealth of Nations examines a foundational conjuncture in the establishment of media forms and a media system instrumental in, and structural to, the emergence and expansion of a world system that has been—and continues to be—brutally violent, unequal, and destructive.

Hallas, Roger, EdDocumenting the Visual Arts. Routledge, 2019.

Bringing together an international range of scholars, as well as filmmakers and curators, this book explores the rich variety in form and content of the contemporary art documentary. Since their emergence in the late 1940s as a distinct genre, documentaries about the visual arts have made significant contributions to art education, public television, and documentary filmmaking, yet they have received little scholarly attention from either art history or film studies. Documenting the Visual Arts brings that attention to the fore. Whether considering documentaries about painting, sculpture, photography, performance art, site-specific installation, or fashion, the chapters of this book engage with the key question of intermediality: how film can reframe other visual arts through its specific audio-visual qualities, in order to generate new ways of understanding those arts. The essays illuminate furthermore how art documentaries raise some of the most critical issues of the contemporary global art world, specifically the discourse of the artist, the dynamics of documentation, and the visuality of the museum. Contributors discuss documentaries by filmmakers such as Frederick Wiseman, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Jia Zhangke, and Trisha Ziff, and about artists such as Michael Heizer, Ai Weiwei, Do Ho Suh, and Marina Abramović.

Hamilton, Kevin, O’Gorman, NedLookout America! The Secret Hollywood Studio at the Heart of the Cold War. Interfaces: Studies in Visual Culture. Dartmouth College Press, 2018.

This is the first work ever written on the most important film studio in U.S. Cold War history: Lookout Mountain Laboratory, known during the 1960s as the 1352nd Photographic Group of the United States Air Force. The studio, christened Lookout Mountain Laboratory after its hilltop location in Hollywood, operated from 1947 to 1969 at the nexus between the emerging military-industrial complex and the Hollywood culture industry. It made hundreds of movies, processed hundreds of thousands of feet of film, stored volumes of Cold War imagery, and served as a regular meeting spot for atomic scientists, military brass, and Hollywood professionals. In the course of its history, Lookout Mountain Laboratory employed hundreds of Hollywood studio veterans and could summon the services, as needed, of such film luminaries as John Ford, Jimmy Stewart, and Marilyn Monroe. Moreover, Lookout Mountain Laboratory worked closely with the most important innovators in scientific and technical film and photography in mid-century America, above all the government contractor EG&G (or Edgerton, Germeshausen, and Grier). Based on extensive archival research and interviews, this landmark history engages with issues of the Cold War, the visual culture of the era, and the cultural collaborations of the national-security state.

Honess Roe, Annabelle, Pramaggiore, Maria, EdsVocal Projections: Voices in Documentary. London: Bloomsbury, 2018.

Vocal Projections: Voices in Documentary examines a previously neglected topic in the field of documentary studies: the political, aesthetic, and affective functions that voices assume. On topics ranging from the celebrity voice over to ventriloquism, from rockumentary screams to feminist vocal politics, these essays demonstrate myriad ways in which voices make documentary meaning beyond their expository, evidentiary and authenticating functions. The international range of contributors offers an innovative approach to the issues relating to voices in documentary. While taking account of the existing paradigm in documentary studies pioneered by Bill Nichols, in which voice is equated with political rhetoric and subjective representation, the contributors move into new territory, addressing current and emerging research in voice, sound, music and posthumanist studies.

Imran, RahatActivist Documentary Film in Pakistan: the Emergence of a Cinema of Accountability. First Edition. Routledge Publishers, Taylor & Francis Group, 2018 (paperback).

This book, the first academic book on Pakistani documentary cinema, traces the development of activist filmmaking practices in Pakistan which have emerged as a response to the consequences of religious fundamentalism, extremism, and violation of human rights. Beginning with the period of General Zia-ul-Haq’s Islamization process (1977-88), it discusses a selection of representative documentary films that have critically addressed and documented the various key transformations, events, and developments that have shaped Pakistan’s socio-political, socio-economic, and cultural history. Such activist filmmaking practice in Pakistan is today an influential factor in addressing the politics, and negative and oppressive effects of the Islamization era, discriminatory laws, particularly gender-discriminatory Sharia laws, violation of human and citizen rights, authoritarianism, internal strife, the spread of religious fundamentalism, and the threat of Talibanization, and oppressive tribal customs and traditions. The contribution of Pakistani documentary filmmakers stands as a significant body of work that has served the cause of human rights, promoting awareness and social change in Pakistan, particularly regarding gender rights.

Jaeckle, Jeff, and Ryan, Susan, Eds. ReFocus: The Films of Barbara Kopple. Edinburgh University Press, 2019.

As the first woman to win two Best Documentary Oscars and the recipient of numerous lifetime achievement awards, Barbara Kopple deserves scholarly attention. Two of her early documentaries, Harlan County USA and American Dream, not only won Academy Awards but are foundational within the study of documentary as a whole. In ReFocus: The Films of Barbara Kopple, a range of international scholars trace Kopple’s career to date, analysing her contributions in the contexts of funding, style, production and reception, and examining her films’ interrogations of social class using the lenses of gender, sexuality and race. In a shifting digital media landscape, Kopple’s critical reputation is also assessed, alongside her enduring influence on contemporary filmmakers.

Johnson, Martin L. Main Street Movies: The History of Local Film in the United States. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2018.

Prior to the advent of the home movie camera and the ubiquitousness of the camera phone, there was the local film. This cultural phenomenon, produced across the country from the 1890s to the 1950s, gave ordinary people a chance to be on the silver screen without leaving their hometowns. Through these movies, residents could see themselves in the same theaters where they saw major Hollywood motion pictures. Traveling filmmakers plied their trade in small towns and cities, where these films were received by locals as being part of the larger cinema experience. With access to the rare film clips under discussion, Main Street Movies documents the diversity and longevity of local film production and examines how itinerant filmmakers responded to industry changes to keep sponsors and audiences satisfied. From town pride films in the 1910s to Hollywood knockoffs in the 1930s, local films captured not just images of local people and places but also ideas about the function and meaning of cinema that continue to resonate today.

Kinik, Anthony, Jacobs, Steven, Hielscher, Eva. The City Symphony Phenomenon: Cinema, Art, and Urban Modernity Between the Wars. First Edition.  Routledge Publishers, Taylor & Francis Group, 2019.

The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise of the city symphony, an experimental film form that presented the city as protagonist instead of mere decor. Combining experimental, documentary, and narrative practices, these films were marked by a high level of abstraction reminiscent of high-modernist experiments in painting and photography. Moreover, interwar city symphonies presented a highly fragmented, oftentimes kaleidoscopic sense of modern life, and they organized their urban-industrial images through rhythmic and associative montage that evoke musical structures. In this comprehensive volume, contributors consider the full 80 film corpus, from Manhatta and Berlin: Die Sinfonie der Grosstadt to lesser-known cinematic explorations.

Kishore, ShwetaIndian Documentary Film and Filmmakers: Independence in Practice. Edinburgh University Press, 2018.

Independent documentary is enjoying a resurgence in post-reform India. But in contemporary cinema and media cultures, where ‘independent’ operates as an industry genre or critical category, how do we understand the significance of this mode of cultural production? Based on detailed onsite observation of documentary production, circulation practices and the analysis of film texts, this book identifies independence as a ‘tactical practice’, contesting the normative definitions and functions assigned to culture, cultural production and producers in a neoliberal economic system. Focusing on selected filmmakers, the book establishes how they have reorganised the dominance of industrial media, technology and social relations to develop practices that build upon principles of de-economisation, artisanship and interdependence.

Loustaunau, Esteban and Shaw, Lauren, EdsTelling Migrant Stories: Latin American Diaspora in Documentary Film. University of Florida Press, 2018.

In the media, migrants are often portrayed as criminals; they are frequently dehumanized, marginalized, and unable to share their experiences. Telling Migrant Stories explores how contemporary documentary film gives voice to Latin American immigrants whose stories would not otherwise be heard. The essays in the first part of the volume consider the documentary as a medium for Latin American immigrants to share their thoughts and experiences on migration, border crossings, displacement, and identity. Contributors analyze films including Harvest of Empire, Sin país, The Vigil, De nadie, Operation Peter Pan: Flying Back to Cuba, Abuelos, La Churona, and Which Way Home, as well as internet documentaries distributed via platforms such as Vimeo and YouTube. The second part of the volume features transcribed interviews with documentary filmmakers, including Luis Argueta, Jenny Alexander, Tin Dirdamal, Heidi Hassan, and María Cristina Carrillo Espinosa. They discuss the issues surrounding migration, challenges they faced in the filmmaking process, the impact their films have had, and their opinions on documentary film as a force of social change.

MacKay, John. Dziga Vertov: Life and Work (Volume 1: 1896-1921). Academic Studies Press, 2018.

Largely forgotten during the last 20 years of his life, the Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov (1896-1954) has occupied a singular and often controversial position over the past sixty years as a founding figure of documentary, avant-garde, and political-propaganda film practice. Creator of Man with a Movie Camera (1929), perhaps the most celebrated non-fiction film ever made, Vertov is equally renowned as the most militant opponent of the canons of mainstream filmmaking in the history of cinema. This book, the first in a three-volume study, addresses Vertov’s youth in the largely Jewish city of Bialystok, his education in Petrograd, his formative years of involvement in filmmaking, his experiences during the Russian Civil War, and his interests in music, poetry and technology.

Miles, Adrian, Ed. Digital Media and Documentary – Antipodean Approaches.  Springer Link, 2018.

This collection of essays by Australian based practitioner–theorists brings together new research on interactive documentary making. The chapters explore how documentary theory and practice is influenced by digitisation, mobile phones, and new internet platforms. The contributors highlight the questions raised for documentary makers and scholars as new production methods, narrative forms, and participation practices emerge. The book presents an introduction to documentary techniques shaped by new digital technologies, and will appeal to documentary scholars, students, and film-makers alike.

Morag, Raya. Perpetrator Cinema: Confronting Genocide in Cambodian Documentary. Wallflower | Columbia University Press, 2020.

Perpetrator Cinema explores a new trend in the cinematic depiction of genocide that has emerged in Cambodian documentary in the late twentieth- and early twenty-first centuries. While past films documenting the Holocaust and genocides in Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and elsewhere have focused on collecting and foregrounding the testimony of survivors and victims, the intimate horror of the autogenocide enables post–Khmer Rouge Cambodian documentarians to propose a direct confrontation between the first-generation survivor and the perpetrator of genocide. These films break with Western tradition and disrupt the political view that reconciliation is the only legitimate response to atrocities of the past. Rather, transcending the perpetrator’s typical denial or partial confession, this extraordinary form of “duel” documentary creates confrontational tension and opens up the possibility of a transformation in power relations, allowing viewers to access feelings of moral resentment.

Motrescu-Mayes, Annamaria, Nicholson, Heather Norris. British Women Amateur Filmmakers. Edinburgh University Press 2018.

The study of amateur filmmaking and media history is a rapidly-growing specialist field, and this ground-breaking book is the first to address the subject in the context of British women’s amateur practice. Using an interdisciplinary framework that draws upon social and visual anthropology, imperial and postcolonial studies, and British and Commonwealth history, the book explores how women used the evolving technologies of the moving image to write visual narratives about their lives and times. Locating women’s recreational visual practice within a century of profound societal, technological and ideological change, British Women Amateur Filmmakers discloses how women negotiated aspects of their changing lifestyles, attitudes and opportunities through first-person visual narratives about themselves and the world around them.

Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Third Edition. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017.

The third edition of Bill Nichols’s best-selling text provides an up-to-date introduction to the most important issues in documentary history and criticism. A new chapter, “I Want to Make a Documentary: Where Do I Start?” guides readers through the steps of planning and preproduction and includes an example of a project proposal for a film that went on to win awards at major festivals. Designed for students in any field that makes use of visual evidence and persuasive strategies, Introduction to Documentary identifies the genre’s distinguishing qualities and teaches the viewer how to read documentary film. Each chapter takes up a discrete question, from “How did documentary filmmaking get started?” to “Why are ethical issues central to documentary filmmaking?” Here Nichols has fully rewritten each chapter for greater clarity and ease of use, including revised discussions of earlier films and new commentary on dozens of recent films from The Cove to The Act of Killing and from Gasland to Restrepo.

Nichols, BillSpeaking Truths with Film: Evidence, Ethics, Politics in Documentary. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2016.

How do issues of form and content shape the documentary film? What role does visual evidence play in relation to a documentary’s arguments about the world we live in? In what ways do documentaries abide by or subvert ethical expectations? Are mockumentaries a form of subversion? Can the documentary be an aesthetic experience and at the same time have political or social impact? And how can such impacts be empirically measured? Pioneering film scholar Bill Nichols investigates the ways documentaries strive for accuracy and truthfulness and simultaneously fabricate a form that shapes reality. Such films may rely on reenactment to re-create the past, storytelling to provide satisfying narratives, and rhetorical figures such as metaphor or devices such as irony to make a point. Documentaries are truly a fiction unlike any other. With clarity and passion, Nichols offers incisive commentaries on the basic questions of documentary’s distinct relationship to the reality it represents, as well as close readings of provocative documentaries from this form’s earliest days to its most recent incarnations. These essays offer a definitive account of what makes documentary film such a vital part of our cultural landscape.

Odorico, Stefano. The Interactive Documentary Form: Aesthetics, Practice and Research. Bielefeld: transcript, 2018.

While the concept of the documentary film is well established, interactive documentary is a newly emerging form of non-linear, non-fiction narrative that animates viewers to control their own path through a film. Stefano Odorico examines the aesthetic structures and dynamics of interactive documentary as a web-based film experience. His study considers theoretical issues such as critical complexity, reality effect, and polyphony, and assesses their respective media practices. Questions of distribution and preservation are addressed through the analysis of a number of film festivals, museums, and archives. Lastly, Odorico explores the potential of interactive documentary as a research method not only specifically for film and media studies but also for the academia more generally.

Ramírez-Soto, Elizabeth(Un)veiling Bodies: A Trajectory of Chilean Post-Dictatorship Documentary. Studies in Hispanic and Lusophone Cultures, 20. Cambridge: Legenda, 2019.

Documentary plays an essential role in the struggles over memories of Latin America’s dictatorial pasts. Ever since Chile’s military coup of 11 September 1973, whether inside the country or in exile, filmmakers have passionately and incessantly documented, created, and reenacted memories from this traumatic event and its aftermath. (Un)veiling Bodies analyses the rich landscape of Chilean documentary during the first two decades after the restoration of civilian rule in 1990. Ramírez-Soto proposes a trajectory that shifts from revealing the bodies of direct victims to unveiling the body of the film itself. This is a journey deeply intertwined with the country’s own democratic transition. Informed by the affective turn in film studies, this book offers a novel approach to this largely unexplored field of Chilean cinema by arguing that these heterogeneous works shift from a ‘cinema of the affected’ to a ‘cinema of affect’. By doing so, these documentaries contribute to Chilean society’s own restoration of the senses.

Ramos, Julio, and Robbins, Dylon, Eds. Guillén Landrián o el desconcierto fílmico. Almenara Press, 2019.

El cine de Guillén Landrián estremece la percepción habitual de los cuerpos y las cosas. En tanto transforma el horizonte de las formas reconocibles, su trabajo impacta no sólo la lógica de las sensaciones sino también las categorías normativas del orden cinemático en su relación más íntima con el gobierno de la vida. Esto explica, al menos en parte, la censura de su obra y su gradual deterioro en las bóvedas del ICAIC por casi tres décadas, hasta que una nueva generación de cineastas y críticos, cerca del año 2000, la redescubre y transforma en figura de una revisión mayor de la historia del cine cubano de la Revolución.

Slugan, MarioFiction and Imagination in Early Cinema: A Philosophical Approach to Film History. Bloomsbury, 2019.

When watching the latest installment of Batman, it is perfectly normal to say that we see Batman fighting Bane or that we see Bruce Wayne making love to Miranda Tate. We would not say that we see Christian Bale dressed up as Batman going through the motions of punching Tom Hardy dressed up us Bane. Nor do we say that we see Christian Bale pretending to be Bruce Wayne making love with Marion Cotillard, who is playacting the role Miranda Tate. But if we look at the history of cinema and consider contemporary reviews from the early days of the medium, we see that people thought precisely in this way about early film. They spoke of film as no more than documentary recordings of actors performing on set. In an innovative combination of philosophical aesthetics and new cinema history, Mario Slugan investigates how our default imaginative engagement with film changed over the first two decades of cinema. It addresses not only the importance of imagination for the understanding of early cinema but also contributes to our understanding of what it means for a representational medium to produce fictions. Specifically, Slugan argues that cinema provides a better model for understanding fiction than literature.

Warren, Shilyh. Subject to Reality: Women and Documentary. University of Illinois Press, 2019.

Revolutionary thinking around gender and race merged with new film technologies to usher in a wave of women’s documentaries in the 1970s. Driven by the various promises of second-wave feminism, activist filmmakers believed authentic stories about women would bring more people into an imminent revolution. Yet their films soon faded into obscurity. Shilyh Warren reopens this understudied period and links it to a neglected era of women’s filmmaking that took place from 1920 to 1940, another key period of thinking around documentary, race, and gender. Drawing women’s cultural expression during these two explosive times into conversation, Warren reconsiders key debates about subjectivity, feminism, realism, and documentary and their lasting epistemological and material consequences for film and feminist studies. She also excavates the lost ethnographic history of women’s documentary filmmaking in the earlier era and explores the political and aesthetic legacy of these films in more explicitly feminist periods like the Seventies. Filled with challenging insights and new close readings, Subject to Reality sheds light on a profound and unexamined history of feminist documentaries while revealing their influence on the filmmakers of today.

Williams, Deane, Ed. Ten Years of Studies in Documentary Film. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2019.

This volume is a ‘time capsule’ of the first 10 years of Studies in Documentary Film (2007–2016), tracing not only the development of the journal but also of documentary studies in the same period. Issues such as the rise of digital documentary forms and authorship, documentary activism, and the Chinese Independent documentary, as well as diverse political issues, are raised in the introduction and evidenced in the articles. The chapters have been chosen for the various themes they raise in documentary studies but also the broader field of documentary scholarship (including publishing), and the rise of the internet as a powerful force in documentary studies.

Yu, Kiki Tianqi‘My’ Self on Camera: First Person Documentary Practice in an Individualising China. Edinburgh Studies in East Asian Film. Edinburgh University Press, 2018.

‘My’ Self on Camera is the first book to explore first person narrative documentary in China’s post-Mao era. Since the emergence of the individual as an ever more important social figure in China, this mode of independent filmmaking and cultural practice has become increasingly significant. Combining the approach of cultural ethnography, interviews, and textual analysis of selected films, this study examines the motivations, key aesthetic features and ethical tensions of presenting the self on camera, as well as the socio-political, cultural and technical conditions surrounding its practice. This book problematises how the sense of self and subjectivities are understood in contemporary China, and provides illuminating new insights on the changing notion of the individual through cinema.

Zimmermann, Patricia R. Documentary Across Platforms: Reverse Engineering Media, Place, and Politics. Indiana University Press, 2019.

In Documentary Across Platforms, noted scholar of film and experimental media Patricia R. Zimmermann offers a glimpse into the ever-evolving constellation of practices known as “documentary” and the way in which they investigate, engage with, and interrogate the world. Collected here for the first time are her celebrated essays and speculations about documentary, experimental, and new media published outside of traditional scholarly venues. These essays envision documentary as a complex ecology composed of different technologies, sets of practices, and specific relationships to communities, engagement, politics, and social struggles. Through the lens of reverse engineering—the concept that ideas just like objects can be disassembled to learn how they work and then rebuilt into something new and better—Zimmermann explores how numerous small-scale documentary works present strategies of intervention into existing power structures. Adaptive to their context, modular, and unfixed, the documentary practices she explores exploit both sophisticated high-end professional and consumer-grade amateur technologies, moving through different political terrains, different platforms, and different exhibition contexts. Together these essays demonstrate documentary’s role as a conceptual practice to think through how the world is organized and to imagine ways that it might be reorganized with actions, communities, and ideas.