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  • Writer's pictureRKPROST

Documentary Constructions

In light of the final paper project, my father sent many documentaries for me to choose from. The way in which “documentarists can experiment with numerous ways of presenting reality and capturing different truths,” made me think about the construction of nature/wildlife documentaries. On one hand they provide beautiful imagery of “real” landscapes and biology, but on the other hand, the many techniques employed represent reality, which the audience views on screen.

If one views a documentary with an ethnocentric frame of mind, the images captured may seem exotic. For example, my father sent me, Planet Earth: Prepare to See It As Never Before. The anchorage of the title provokes a sense of wonderment. Some believe nature documentaries educate and inspire people to travel to these foreign locations. Others argue the untouched lands and thriving animals represented in these documentaries contribute to a level of environmental ignorance. People may disregard the harm being done to the planet when magnificent destinations and unique creatures live on. I’d like to think the wildlife documentary codes and conventions will allow future documentarists to go against them.

Due to the positive responses from previous documentaries, rather than solely presenting entertainment to a passive audience, the directors may use a documentary style approach to make statements and encourage change through a call to action from their audience. While people perceive information from documentaries as fact due to the style and convention norms, these same techniques “construct events…in particular ways.”

The representation modes demonstrate a “documentary can never capture pure truth or objective reality.” The construction of narrative is one example of a representation mode. The footage of animals may have been filmed at different dates, times, or even locations, but when cut together it establishes them as characters. The audience becomes emotionally invested due to the music and close up shots of the creatures eyes. Additionally, whether or not an animal is actually in the wilderness is a fact which gets left out. The advancement in technology allows documentarists to create a more cohesive narrative. The addition of sound effects during postproduction, sensationalizing common occurrences to provoke an emotional response, CGI reconstructions, and staged shots are just a few examples. The audience assumes the animal is in its natural habitat and are producing authentic sounds because of the preconceived notion about a documentary’s purpose to portray reality. This only reinforces an active audience’s ability to realize documentaries present entertainment and “partial truths.”

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