Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Australian Documentary

Williams, Deane. Australian Post-War Documentary Film: An Arc of Mirrors. Intellect Ltd, 2008. (Distributed in the United States by University of Chicago Press)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Brave New Films as Video Debate Site

Brave New Films is carrying a number of links to videos both original and captured from various sources.

The political organization of access to video is still just getting started. It is an interesting and potentially important development.

Here's one, for example, on Senator Joseph Lieberman, "Still Lying after All These Smears." The link contains some rebuttal of Lieberman's claims in a Fox News interview.

Soviet Documentary

The Chronicle of Higher Education carried a notice today of this new book on Soviet documentary --

Manufacturing Truth: The Documentary Moment in Early Soviet Culture, by Elizabeth Astrid Papazian (Northern Illinois University Press; 267 pages; $39). Describes how documentary approaches in film and literature helped redefine the role of the artist in the wake of revolution.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

First Thirty

From Penn State Newswire --

Big Ten Network to air '1st Thirty' episodes on Dec. 4

"1st Thirty," Penn State's online video series about the first 30 days of college life, will have its Big Ten Network debut at 5 p.m. Dec. 4 and will be rerun at 5 p.m. Monday, Dec. 8, and 11 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 10. "1st Thirty" is the true story of four strangers, living together by chance, who have their life videotaped. A student camera crew from Penn State's College of Communications worked with an outside multimedia production company to record about 85 hours of real-time events of four women students, identified only by their first names.

Read the full story on Live: http://live.psu.edu/story/36035/nw4

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hacking Democracy

You can watch Hacking Democracy here.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

HBO Acquires Barack Obama Documentary

Reuters news service reports that HBO has purchased the rights to an untitled documentary about President-Elect Barack Obama that is being produced by actor Edward Norton. Details.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

PBS - YouTube "Video Your Vote" Project

Have you seen the Video Your Vote Project?

This is a fascinating project, and clearly a model for citizen civic video.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Torturing Democracy

Torturing Democracy.

Documentary and supporting materials here.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

My Architect

"Don’t doubt the power of documentary films.

"That is one lesson William J. vanden Heuvel, the lawyer, diplomat and businessman, has learned. He says that the long-delayed project to build a memorial to Franklin D. Roosevelt on the southern tip of Roosevelt Island — first proposed in 1973 — is finally moving forward in large part because of “My Architect,” a 2003 documentary by the son of the architect Louis I. Kahn."

Sewell Chan, "Plans for Long-Stalled F.D.R. Memorial Move Forward," City Room [blog], New York Times, 25 September 2008.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Slacker Uprising

Michael Moore's new film, Slacker Uprising, premieres tomorrow on the Internet, with a free download.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fatal Politics

Steve Coll of the New Yorker writes on 19 September 2008 about a new web documentary on the 1972 presidential election and the Vietnam War.

"Ken Hughes, a research fellow in the Presidential Recordings Program, situated in the Miller Center, at the University of Virginia, is putting together an episodic Web documentary about the Vietnam War and the 1972 elections; some of his themes have an eerie resonance with this fall’s campaign"

The episodic documentary, Fatal Politics, is available on YouTube. See also Ken Hughes's site for Fatal Politics: The Nixon Tapes, Vietnam & the Biggest Republican Presidential Landslide on MySpace.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West

Do you have your copy of Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West?

A free DVD arrived in our mailbox this week, shrink-wrapped with our copy of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Why would we be getting a copy of this DVD, now two years old, in the midst of a presidential election campaign, inserted anonymously in the Chronicle? Why send this to academics, who are the only subscribers to the Chronicle? Who benefits by sending out these free copies?

The film has an official web site, which includes the claim that "Today, we find ourselves confronted by a new enemy, also engaged in a violent struggle to transform our world. As we sleep in the comfort of our homes, a new evil rises against us. A new menace is threatening, with all the means at its disposal, to bow Western Civilization under the yoke of its values. That enemy is Radical Islam." The site also promotes political action and campus activism in a rhetoric that sounds very much like the line taken by the neo-con hawks who led us into Iraq.

Serious reviews of the film are hard to find -- this is a propaganda film that exists mostly below the radar of serious journalists and critics. There are reviews and stories on Wikipedia , Huffington Post, and in a publication called The American Muslim. Eric Ose in the Huffington Post reports that 28 million copies are being sent to newspaper subscribers in swing states. "Funding is coming from a New York-based group called the Clarion Fund, a shadowy outfit whose financial backers are unclear."

Friday, May 30, 2008


Recount is showing this month on HBO. The film is a docudrama about the Florida election crisis of November and December 2000, which was ended when a Republican majority on the Supreme Court stopped a recount of the Florida votes and awarded the election to George W. Bush.

In the New Yorker, Hendrik Herzberg comments that Recount's "over-all factual accuracy has been attested to by close observers of the events it portrays. It reminds us of some essential truths about the election and its aborted recount: that more Floridians went to their polling places to vote for Al Gore than for George W. Bush; that a full and fair count would have confirmed the voters’ preference; that the White House was awarded to Bush, the half-million-vote loser across the nation, by a 5-4 Supreme Court diktat. The injustice of Bush v. Gore was obvious at the time; its sequel has proved it to be a tragedy."

Hendrik Herzberg, "Memory Lapse," The New Yorker, 2 June 2008.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Book Award Nomination

The Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary has been nominated for the 2008 Bruce E. Gronbeck Political Communication Research Award.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11

CNN announced today that documentary filmmaker Michael Moore plans to release a sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11 in the spring of 2009. The film, which does not yet have a title, reportedly will not focus on the Bush administration, and will instead examine the United States' relationship with the international community. Fahrenheit 9/11 is the highest grossing documentary film of all time.

Moore's decision to release the film after the 2008 presidential election raises an interesting issue with respect to the era of The New Political Documentary. One of the defining features of the 2004 political documentaries was their release before the election, and their apparent goal of altering the outcome of the race. It will be interesting to see if other filmmakers forge ahead this fall with a new class of political documentaries, or if they will follow Moore's lead and concentrate on larger issues that transcend the 2008 election.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Standard Operating Procedure

The new Errol Morris documentary, Standard Operating Procedure, was released in April amid much controversy. In addition to the film's controversial subject -- the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal -- Morris admits to having paid many of the individuals interviewed in the film, a highly uncommon practice in documentary film. In the end, the film leaves the viewer to ponder a question that resonates with all documentary film: can a photograph change the world?

Saturday, May 3, 2008


MediaStorm is a production company founded by Brian Storm. The company produces independent documentaries using easily available technologies.

A story on Apple's web site describes the technology Storm uses for his projects in collaboration with other artists.

Yom Hashoah

Yesterday, May 2, was Holocaust Remembrance Day -- Yom Hashoah. The Holocaust marks a break in history, a series of events so terrible that it seemed to challenge one's sense of what it means to be human. What is one to think and feel after the Holocaust?

Documentarians have made their own contributions to the question of witnessing and remembering the Holocaust. The image here is from Alain Resnais, Nuit et Brouillard -- Night and Fog -- (1955), available from Criterion. Resnais combines color footage that he shot in the abandoned camps with black and white archival footage, opening a dialogue between past and future that draws the viewer into a meditation on response and responsibility, on the difficulty of seeing and acknowledging, remembering and forgetting.

In the Gazette (Montreal), Jeff Heinrich marked the day with a useful list of Holocaust documentaries.

See also --

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Taxi to the Dark Side

The Oscar winning 2007 documentary Taxi to the Dark Side is now in general release. David Denby, in a brief New Yorker review, writes that "the movie produces an uncanny impression of a disastrous logic at work in the interrogation process: the Army and C.I.A. interrogators, under great pressure to produce information, assume that the prisoners under their control must be guilty of something. If not, what are they all doing there? Cut off from any possible counsel, harassed, stripped, hooded, bound, and, in many cases, threatened with dogs or abused physically, the prisoners were locked into a system of punishment before any guilt was established. Sickening, but essential." (David Denby, "Taxi to the Dark Side," The New Yorker, March 31, 2008)

The film reports on the death during interrogation of Dilawar, an Afghan taxi driver, by American soldiers, then widens to an investigation of the torture regime of the Bush administration.

A. O. Scott, in his New York Times review of the film, writes that "If recent American history is ever going to be discussed with the necessary clarity and ethical rigor, this film will be essential." (A. O. Scott, "Taking a Long, Bumpy Road to Systematic Brutality," New York Times, January 18, 2008). See also Adam Liptak, "The Power of Authority, A Dark Tale," New York Times, December 30, 2007.

(poster from Rotten Tomatoes)

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Political Box Office

Box Office Mojo has published an on-line list of the top grossing political documentaries. According to Mojo, Fahrenheit 9/11 is far ahead of all others.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Fred Wiseman's documentaries now on DVD

For years it has been difficult to acquire legitimate copies of Frederick Wiseman's distinguished series of documentaries on tape. Now at long last they are available on DVD. The prices are fairly high for institutions on licenses that include public exhibition rights (typically $400) but the films are available to individuals for $29.95.

I have long worried that Wiseman's films had fallen out of our collective memory because of the difficulties of access. At long last most of the films are accessible. It's a great opportunity for anyone who cares about documentary, and it makes studying the films systematically or teaching a course on Wiseman's films much more reasonable than it has been for decades.

Beginning with Titicut Follies (1967), Wiseman has chronicled American life and institutions in a brilliant series of long-form observational documentaries inflected with his own personal vision.

This is a special treat for me -- in 1989 Carolyn Anderson and I published Reality Fictions: The Films of Frederick Wiseman (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press), which was succeeded by a second edition in 2002.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What's inside

Here is the table of contents for The Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary.

New Political Documentary: Rhetoric, Propaganda, and the Civic Prospect
Thomas W. Benson and Brian J. Snee

Fahrenheit 9/11—Virtual Realism and the Limits of Commodified Dissent
Shawn J. Parry-Giles & Trevor Parry-Giles

Documentary Dialectics or Dogmatism? Fahrenhype 9/11, Celsius 41.11, and the New Politics of Documentary Film
Jennifer L. Borda

Vietnam Flashbacks
Roger Stahl

Theology, Politics, and the Evangelical Base: George W. Bush: Faith in the White House
Martin J. Medhurst

Unprecedented: Mimesis and Miscarriage
Robert E. Terrill

Talking Heads Rock the House: Robert Greenwald’s Uncovered: The War on Iraq
Susan Mackey-Kallis

Outfoxing the Myth of the Liberal Media
Ronald V. Bettig and Jeanne Lynn Hall

More at Southern Illinois University Press and at Amazon

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Welcome to Political Documentary.

We -- Brian Snee and Tom Benson -- are the editors of The Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary, a collection of original critical and historical essays on political documentaries produced for the 2004 election season. We have started this blog as a place to discuss some of the issues raised in the book, and to extend the discussion started there on the politics and rhetoric of documentary.

The Rhetoric of the New Political Documentary at Southern Illinois University Press and at Amazon.com

Tom Benson is Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Rhetoric at Penn State University.

Brian Snee is assistant professor of Communication at SUNY Potsdam.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors, and not necessarily those of our universities.