PRE PROPOSAL FOR A DOCUMENTARY STUDY FILM

Submitted by The Center for Visual Communication
447 E. Mt. Airy Avenue

Philadelphia, PA 19119
215 242 1678

For additional information contact: Jay Ruby

Funds are sought to produce a film which explores the methods emoloyed in the production of a documentary film. The purpose of the Study Film is to critique the decision making process of actuality filmmaking by examining the procedures of one particular film. The Study Film will provide students and other concerned individuals with a better understanding of the techniques used by actuality filmmakers to construct a filmic reality. Recent confusion and concern with the practices of broadcast journalism as witnessed during, the "60 Minutes" trial and the ongoing litigation by General Westmoreland against CBS suggest that there is a need for materials which aid us in understanding the illusions of actuality film.

The Study Film will be produced by a team of scholar/filmmakers who are making the film which is the object of study The Country Auction Film (proposal available). while the Study Film is a logical extension of the ideas which motivated the making of the Auction Film, it is designed to be self-contained. It can be used as a companion to the Auction Film or independently of it.

The core of the Study Film will be an examination of the development of one socio economic role in the country auction process the antique dealer. Dealers attend auctions to purchase objects for resale, usually outside the rural community of the auction and often in national antiques markets. Dealers introduce certain economic values often foreign to the community. On one band, they cause the prices of certain items to soar, thus enabling the heirs to realize more profit from the auction. On the other band, they take away objects of family and community value. Dealers are often colorful individuals entrepreneurs who gamble on their ability to know bargains and the market. As a character in a documentary film, they could easily be portrayed either as "interesting eccentrics" or as thieves stealing the heritage of a community.

The Study Film will follow the role of a dealer from conceptualization to actualization when a particular dealer is chosen, through an examination of how we actually filmed him; and finally, how the decisions were made in the editing process to represent him in a certain way. Audiences will see how alternative characterizations would have been possible with the footage available and on what basis the decisions were made to develop the role of dealer.

The Study Film continues an exploration begun with the Auction Film. The Auction Film is based upon the assumption that there is a need to go beneath the surface appearance of a country auction as an interesting event to examine the underlying socio cultural processes which are enacted in any one particular event. The Auction Film combines ethnographic research with a cinematic style which deconstructs the particular auction as an event to reveal auctions as process.

We have from the beginning been aware of the necessity to regard our own behavior as data relevant to a critical understanding of our films. All pre¬production and planning meetings were audio taped and all production documents such as written crew instructions have been kept. We plan to integrate this information into both films as well as into accompanying written materials. We will reveal our methods and ourselves to provide the audience with the information essential for a critical understanding. (The rationale for this approach to filmmaking has been articulated by one of the team members Jay Ruby. A bibliography is available).

In the Study Film the emphasis will be to illuminate the process of making actuality films. We feel that documentary films are too often passively accepted as recordings of reality and not understood as cultural constructions. The reflexivity in the Auction Film will be channeled towards gaining an understanding of our analysis of the auction. We will be concerned with letting the audience comprehend our construction of the film. In other words, in the Auction Film we examine the production of an auction as a cultural event and in the Study Film we examine the production of a documentary film as a cultural event.

Documentary filmmakers and scholars who wish to communicate their research findings visually are often prone to uncritical acceptance of the current canons of documentary realism without critically examining them. The result is that many documentary films accidently perpetuate unsophisticated folk models of behavior. For example, there is a tendency to explore social institutions in terms of characters who are either folk heroes or villains. While these characterizations are often tempting as shortcuts to understanding, they are barely more than caricatures which may satisfy our momentary desire to be entertained but hardly are sufficient for any sort of serious social analysis.

The Study Film and accompanying written materials will give audiences a unique opportunity to examine the methods employed in the production of a documentary film. The Study Film continues and expands upon the tradition begun by films like The Ax Fight and Cinema Dead or Alive Along with these films, the Study Film is based upon the idea that film needs to be demystified and that audiences need to become more aware of the ways in which imagemakers organize visual statements.

In a time when most people learn about the world through television news, there is an urgent need to help people comprehend the conventions of cinematic realism. We believe the Study Film constitutes a step in that direction.

A complete proposal, budget, and resumes for the production are available.