A rhetoric of instrumentality : documentary film in the landscape of public memory




Ross, Leah Michelle

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We are at a particular moment in history where new technologies are changing the way films are made, distributed, and screened, as well as how audiences interact with documentary texts and discourses. This dissertation project questions documentary's instrumentality in the public sphere in two parts. Using the response to Ken Burns' The War, as a point of departure, it first addresses the lacuna of theory and scholarship on documentary films, owed largely to its nascent arrival in academia as a dedicated field of study. Using the films and the public response around the films, I point out the problems with how documentary has been understood in both public and academic thought, with particular emphasis on truth claims, subjectivity narratives, and audience identification, as well as production techniques as rhetoric. Secondly the project takes two cases studies to examine these issues in documentary discourse and to exemplify the ways technology is changing documentary as we know it, one a reality television show focused on teenage mothers and the other Michael Moore's well known film Fahrenheit 9/11. Ultimately I argue that we are in a new era of documentary production that may be characterized by its interactivity between films, publics, and discourses. It is my hope that by combining my practical knowledge of documentary production for film and television with academic scholarship I will provide a valuable text for documentary theorists and rhetoricians alike.



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