If you have a love of documentary film, then, very simply this book is for you.
A few months ago, I found myself presented with an interesting proposition: to make a documentary film. It was a startling idea, to say the least. What do I know about making a film, let alone a documentary? The answer would be zero. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Aside from watching hundreds of documentary films--and I do mean literally, hundreds, I knew nothing about how to make one. But at the heart of every good film is a good story; this especially holds true for documentaries. I had one of those. I also had great footage and interviews. I thought I was nearly there; so why not? Let's make a documentary.
After a healthy dose of the `Filmmaking for Dummies' style books, which there are many, I felt prepared for my new adventure. And then my boyfriend brought me a book by Bill Nichols, simply titled Introduction To Documentary. What? A textbook? Leave it to my Engineer mate to make this an academic exercise. Bah Humbug. But, it was this book, which took me back to the drawing board, forcing me to throw out all my previous conceptions and perceptions; to understand why I love documentaries, what makes them special, what makes them work and how ultimately, I, as a storyteller will do exactly that; choose the story to tell and how to tell it. Introduction to Documentary caused me to realize that I didn't just want to make a good film, because I could; but that I wanted to create something of value with a message and meaning; to, as Mr. Nichols says, `stand in intimate relation to a historical moment and those who populate it.'
About the book: It is a textbook. I mention this so that when you choose to embark upon this reading journey, you are apprised that the material may be esoteric at times, may be academic and is certainly above and beyond the scope of `Dummies' style books. However, it is not a dull or dry book, as many texts fall victim to. Bill Nichols himself is an expert in contemporary American and foreign film, having written ten books on the subject. He recently retired as a Professor of Cinema from San Francisco State University. These levels of expertise, coupled with his teaching background, make this book insightful and extraordinarily thought provoking. In the 323 pages, he discusses and encourages us the readers to contemplate many aspects of documentary film from how to define documentary, which sounds easy, but turns out, not so much; to, `ethical concerns' in documentary; the ethics of representing others. It was a fascinating topic, that I had not previously considered, and it is integral to the heart of documentary. One chapter that I found particularly compelling was; `what gives a documentary a voice of its own'? It was also the chapter which caused me to re-evaluate everything I had done over the past 8 months. He then moves through categories and models of documentary film, how documentaries have addressed social and political issues and concludes with a listing of distributors.
For me, after reading the final page, I put the book down, feeling a new sense of inspiration, a deeper appreciation of the genre and armed with more focused goals. I realized that `Oh yes, it was definitely time to go back to the drawing board and start over.' I always knew I could tell a good story. Now, I wanted to tell a great story....and in no small part, due to this book, I believe I can....