Narrative practices and Anglo-saxon documentary film-making: from propaganda to dissent

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Narrative practices and Anglo-saxon documentary film-making: from propaganda to dissent

From the expository documentary pioneered by John Grierson in 1926 to the interactive and reflexive genre that Michael Moore’s films emblematically illustrate, the history of the documentary is one of ever-changing cinematographic forms. In his seminal book on the topic (Representing Reality, Bloomington and Indiana, Indiana University Press, 1971), Bill Nichols splits these filmic productions into four categories (expository, observational, interactive and reflexive) which nevertheless seem to interweave to spawn a new hybrid genre mirroring the reality it investigates. These variations correspond to different challenges: they are suited to the reality that is recorded and also to the message that the filmmaker wants to get across. Whether the topic is political commitment, a collection of memories, didactic essays or a social investigation, the documentary never stops revisiting its narrative structures to rewrite History or conjure up counter-versions of historic events. Because of the political strength that mimetic illusion endows the documentary with, this genre can further propaganda (The New Deal) and political dissent alike (conspiracy theories).
The purpose of this issue is to study the strategies devised by documentary film-makers when they choose to narrate History. Possible topics range from a study of the discursive strategies at work in the films that helped modernize the genre to the analysis of the discourse on History in the films that investigate events of the past. The following topics represent possible fresh fields of investigation:

- Documentary and censorship: when historic truth comes up against vital national interests
- The role of television in the evolution of the documentary
- Politically committed documentaries
- The writing of a Counter-History or the politically committed documentary form
- The social tradition of the documentary
- The fictional dimension of the documentary
- The documentary as a collection of memories

Proposals should not exceed 500 words, should include a short bibliography and should be sent both to Delphine Letort ( and to Georges Fournier ( by 1st December 2010.

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