What preceded documentaries

Finally explainedWhat is a documentary allowed to do?

The award-winning documentary "Lovemobil" about the life of prostitutes in mobile homes in Lower Saxony is currently being criticized. The NDR speaks of staged presentations and therefore removes the film from the ARD media library. His nomination for the renowned Grimme Prize has also been withdrawn. Reason to ask what is really, what is staged, what can a documentary film?

(picture-alliance / chromorange / Angelika Maroch) Specialized knowledge of culture - finally explained
Post-drama? Dystopia? No idea. Every cultural scene cultivates its technical terms because they are catchy and applicable. We explain the terms and answer questions that you may not dare to ask. Because arrogance was yesterday.

Every film is also a documentary. It documents what can be seen in front of the camera - be it the play of actors in costumes and in front of artificially constructed backdrops.

Varieties of documentary film

There are many varieties of documentary film. A documentary that is made for the cinema in at least a somewhat longer form can be clearly distinguished from a short report for a news program or a magazine, and from a documentary, which is usually much more verbose and heavily designed through editing and music. It goes without saying that documentaries also use "re-enactment", i.e. the method of re-enacting certain scenes and moments for which there are no documentary images with actors. This procedure is particularly common for historical documentaries - after all, there were no film images before 1895.

On the other side of the genre spectrum, in the direction of fictional film, there are various mixed and hybrid forms and the subjective essay film.

Productions are part of it

They all mix fictional and subjective-personal elements with the objective "showing what is". Filmmakers like the German Werner Herzog or the Austrian Ulrich Seidl have become famous with such mixed forms. But even in the more recent documentaries by the multiple award-winning Italian Gianfranco Rosi, elements of the staging and design of reality are unmistakable.

Again and again, milestones in documentary film history are exploring the border area between narration and reality, showing and creating.

Authenticity is relative

The assumption that pure authenticity would be possible at all, that something like "objective images" could give, is mere naivety. Because even the decision as to where a filmmaker puts his camera, which setting he chooses, is a subjective and thus a design of reality - even if he never moves the camera afterwards and just lets the film run, without a single film cut or without add music and commentary later. The idea of ​​pure authenticity is just a puritanical fantasy.

Why it actually works is relative authenticity. There is an unspoken contract between a filmmaker and his audience. On the one hand, it assumes a responsible audience: viewers who perceive something like editing and editing and who at least unconsciously realize that when the camera moves, it is not done by the hand of God, but by will of the director.

On the other hand, the honesty of a filmmaker is also a prerequisite: Wherever productions or re-enactments are not immediately recognizable for everyone anyway, they have to be marked. This does not necessarily have to be done by a small caption indicating, for example, that reality is being reproduced here. It is completely sufficient to point out in the credits of a film that some scenes in the film were recreated by actors or actresses and actors and that not all characters seen in the film are identical to their real people.

Show what really existed

The big question about the truth in the cinema can only be answered relatively. What we see in the cinema is always the subjective personal truth of those who made this film. It also expresses itself in decisions about what to see and what not, what is staged, what is shown - and where the film looks away.

The only real and therefore decisive difference between documentary and feature film lies in the at least unspoken different demands of both genres.

The documentary claims to show something that really existed and was not invented. The feature film openly acknowledges that what it shows is made up and, at best, inspired by reality. But he does not want to be their representation. It is precisely the mixture of these two levels and playing with them that makes hybrid forms so attractive on the one hand; However, in times of fake news and alternative reality at the latest, it becomes a serious problem.