The Humanities Institute

Program Archive

The New Documentary Impulse

Once marginal, documentary cinema and documentary photography have joined documentary writing such as investigative journalism, as reality-driven modes of representation that bear witness to our times and help us understand and define our historical moment. Throughout the semester, we will try to explain today’s resurgence of interest in documenting ourselves and our world; we will reflect on the ethical issues surrounding documentary work (for example, when does a report, a film or a photograph become exploitative of the suffering of others?); we will reflect on the claims to authenticity or testimonial truth ascribed to documentary work; we will look at the status of documentary evidence; we will address the complex issues of subjectivity and objectivity; we will ask what kind of audience documentary works both address and produce; we will re-evaluate the roles and the status of images and video footage in television news in an era of digital “retouching”; we will explore, finally, the new forms the documentary impulse is taking today (for example, blogs or amateur digital photos, such as those of Abu Ghraib or of the Tsunami, whose global circulation has had immediate effects).

Speakers and Events

September 7, 2005
"The Beauty Academy of Kabul"
Liz Mermin
Director

Garrison Theatre

Under the Taliban, women in Afghanistan were forced to become faceless. Covered by burqas, forbidden to show even a tiny patch of skin, they lived in an almost unbelievably oppressive atmosphere for six long years. This engrossing film documents an unusual and ultimately very moving cultural exchange: a group of volunteer women, comprised of both Americans and Afghan-Americans, recently traveled to that country to teach beauty skills.

September 12, 2005
James Nachtwey
Photographer, Founder of vii Photo Agency

"Why Photograph War?"
Balch Auditorium

Screening of War Photograph (Christian Frei, director, Switzerland, 2001, 96 min) follows.
Introduction and Q&A with James Nachtwey.

September 14, 2005
"Gunner Palace"
Michael Tucker
Director

Q&A
Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center

Gunner Palace is an intimate portrait of the fragmented, chaotic and stress-filled existence of American soldiers at war in Iraq. Four months after President Bush declared the end of "major combat" operations in Iraq, American soldiers of the 2/3 Field Artillery AKA the "Gunners," continued to endure what they jokingly call "minor combat." Their barracks are the bombed out pleasure palace (complete with swimming pool and putting green) of Sadaam Hussein's son - located right in the middle of the most volatile section of Baghdad. With total access to all unit operations and activities, filmmaker Michael Tucker provides an inside look at the war not seen on the nightly news. Gunner Palace is a chaotic, surprising, real and sometimes amusing look inside the Iraq war as experienced and told first hand by our troops.

September 14, 2005
Rachel Mayeri
Assistant Professor of Media Studies, Harvey Mudd College

"Stories from the Genome: Narrative Experiments in Science Documentary"
Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center

September 18, 2005
Allan Sekula
Photogaphy and Mediam California Institute of the Arts

"From Documentary Photography to Documentary Film
Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center

September 18, 2005
Michael Renov
USC School of Cinema-Television

"First-Person Films: Some Theses on Self-Inscription"
Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center

September 18, 2005
Bill Nichols
Cinema Studies, San Francisco State University

"Orators, Fantasies, and the Ecstatic Documentary"
Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center

September 18, 2005
Kenneth Turan
Film Critic, Los Angeles Times

"Documentary Golden Age? We're Living in it."
Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center

September 21, 2005
"The Education of Shelby Knox"
Marion Lipschutz and Rose Rosenblatt
Directors

Introduction and Q&A
Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center

Introduction and Q&A with Marion Lipschutz and
Rose Rosenblatt, Directors; Special guest, Shelby Knox
The Education of Shelby Knox is a coming of age story about a teenage girl who joins a campaign for comprehensive sex education in the high schools of Lubbock, Texas. As Shelby is swept into the fight, she begins to question her deeply conservative Southern Baptist upbringing; when the campaign broadens to include a fight for a gay-straight alliance, Shelby confronts her family and her pastor, in the end declaring herself a feminist and a liberal Christian.

September 22, 2005
"The Trials of Henry Kissinger"
Eugene Jarecki
Director

Q&A and Introduction
Balch Auditorium

Introduction and Q&A with Eugene Jarecki, Director
Winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, one of the most influential statesmen of modern times, Henry Kissinger seems assured of his place in history. Yet, in this controversial and eye-opening documentary from Eugene Jarecki and Alex Gibney, journalist Christopher Hitchens makes the case that Kissinger is nothing less than a war criminal, directly responsible for prolonging the Vietnam War and masterminding the secret bombing of Cambodia and the coup of Chile's President Allende.

September 28, 2005
"The Fog of War"
Errol Morris, Director

Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center

The Fog of War is a 20th century fable, a story of an American dreamer who rose from humble origins to the heights of political power. Robert S. McNamara was both witness to and participant in many of the crucial events of the 20th century: the crippling Depression of the 1930s; the industrialization of the war years; the development of a different kind of warfare based on air power and the creation of a new American meritocracy. He was also an idealist who saw his dreams and ideals challenged by the role he played in history. Although strictly speaking, neither a work of biography nor a work of history, The Fog of War has produced important, new biographical and historical material.

September 29, 2005
Paul Stekler
Department of Radio-Television-Film, UT Austin

"Reel-ality Politics: How Real Politics Translates to Documentary Film"
Boone Recital Hall

Balch Auditorium, 7:30 p.m.
LAST MAN STANDING: Politics, Texas Style
U.S.A., 2004, 85 min
Introduction and Q&A with Paul Stekler, Director

September 29, 2005
Kathleen Fitzpatrick
Assistant Professor of Media Studies, Pomona College

"Documenting the Self: Blog as Narrative Archive"
Hampton Room, Malott Commons

October 5, 2005
"The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine"
Rithy Panh
Director

Introduction and Q&A
Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center

In 1975-79, the Khmer Rouge waged a campaign of genocide on Cambodia’s population. 1.7 million Cambodians lost their lives to famine and murder as the urban population was forced into the countryside to fulfill the Khmer Rouges’ dream of an agrarian utopia. In S21, Panh brings two survivors back to the notorious Tuol Sleng prison (code-named “S21”), now a genocide museum where former Khmer Rouge are employed as guides. Painter Vann Nath confronts his former captors in the converted schoolhouse where he was tortured, though by chance he did not suffer the fate of most of the other 17,000 men, women and children who were taken there, their “crimes” meticulously documented to justify their execution. The ex-Khmer Rouge guards respond to Nath’s provocations with excuses, chilling stoicism or apparent remorse as they recount the atrocities they committed at ages as young as 12 years old. To escape torture, the prisoners would confess to anything, and often denounce everyone they knew – though their final sentence was never in doubt.

October 6, 2005
"The Burnt Theater"
Rithy Panh
Director

Introduction and Q&A
Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center

In Cambodia artists are born into a family tradition of dancers, actors and singers and function as the entire nation’s collective source of creativity and imagination. Their strong will and inspiration exists beyond the wars, massacres, brutality and the government’s desire to deprive them of a voice. Within “The Burnt Theater” a group of actors discuss their daily reality and the cultural amnesia that inflicts Cambodia.

October 12, 2005
"The 3 Rooms Of Melancholia"
Pirjo Honkasalo, Director

Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center

This award-winning, stunningly beautiful documentary reveals how the Chechen War has psychologically affected children in
Russia and in Chechnya. Divided into three episodes or 'rooms,' the film is characterized by an elegantly paced, observational style, which uses little dialog, minimal voice-over commentary and a spare but evocative musical score. The 3 Rooms of Melancholia, which poetically blends sustained close-ups of children's faces with gray, fog-shrouded landscapes, illuminates the emotional devastation wrought on youngsters who have little or no understanding of the historical and political reasons for the bitter conflict...

October 19, 2005
Kathleen Howe
Director, Pomona College Museum of Art

"Document and Anti-Document: Rwanda, Gilles Peress, and Alfredo Jaar"
Hampton Room, Malott Commons

October 27, 2005
Albert Maysles
Documentary Filmmaker

Balch Auditorium

Garrison Theatre, 7:30 p.m.
LALEE’S KIN: THE LEGACY OF COTTON
U.S.A., 2001, 90 min
Introduction and Q&A with Albert Maysles, Director

October 27, 2005
Albert Maysles
Documentary Filmmaker

‘Christo and Jeanne-Claude’
Garrison Theater, Scripps College Performing Arts Center

November 3, 2005
John Biewen
Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University Correspondent, American Radioworks®, American Public Media

"Documentary Radio: Stories Told in the Dark"
Boone Recital Hall