The documentary: female subjectivity and the problem of realism

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Few film genres are as significant for feminism as the documentary. It is overwhelmingly the genre to be taken up for advocacy purposes and as a tool within grassroots movementsthe documentary genre is crucially tied to the politicization of women’s experience. In comparison with fiction feature film, more women work as directors or in key roles in documentary production, making it critical to women’s representation in the industry in many parts of the world. Despite this, documentary directors achieve a more modest public profile than their counterparts in fiction. Moreover, documentary has been undertheorized in scholarly approaches to media and cinema. In this chapter I take up the question of gender and documentary, exploring its relevance at the nexus of critical debates and filmmaking practice, both historical and contemporary. Including documentary in a collection focused on cinema and gender might be seen as apoint of contention: the opportunities for distributing documentary, and non-fiction formats more broadly, are extremely diverse and the genre has close associations with histories of television as much it does with those of cinema. Avenues for circulation are expanding, moreover, to include the proliferation of subscription television, the Internet, and streaming services. Nevertheless, while documentary may exist as a multiplatform media form, the study of the genre has been located in cinema studies accounts and approaches since the earliest days of the discipline-documentary has been understood and critiqued through the terms of film aesthetics, production practices, and audience address. This history of critique operates as a point of departure for this chapter. Specifically, I expand on the way gender has been addressed both by documentary filmmakers and scholars, focusing in particular on the problem of realism. I bring this historical discussion to an analysis of two recent examples: the first, Stories We Tell (2012) drawn from a North American context and the second, First Australians (2008), an Australian context.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Companion to Cinema and Gender
EditorsKristin Lené Hole, Dijana Jelača, E. Ann Kaplan, Patrice Petro
Place of PublicationAbingdon Oxon UK
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)9781315684062
ISBN (Print)9781318924956
Publication statusPublished - 2017

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