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How reflexive documentaries engage audiences in issues of representation: apologia for a reception study

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According to theory, reflexivity heightens the viewer's awareness with respect to the problematic relationship between reality and documentary film. This claim, however, has not been sustained (or rejected) by empirical research. The following article describes some of the preparatory work for such an investigation. To examine viewer response to reflexive elements in light of issues of representation, a reception study is proposed. Reflexivity is described as the employment of one or more of the six functions of the documentary communication process in the reflexive mode, a definition that is demonstrated by analyzing nine documentaries that are reflexive to a larger or lesser extent. These films include pinnacles of reflexive film-making, such as Man with a Movie Camera (Vertov, 1929) and Chronique d'un t (Rouch and Morin, 1961) but also Sherman's March, (McElwee, 1986) and Biggie and Tupac (Broomfield, 2002), which are not usually associated with the reflexive canon and may be characterized as (pseudo)-reflexive.

Keywords: issues of representation; reception study; reflexivity

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1386/sdf.1.3.245_1

Publication date: December 19, 2007

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  • Studies in Documentary Film is the first refereed scholarly journal devoted to the history, theory, criticism and practice of documentary film. In recent years we have witnessed an increased visibility for documentary film through conferences, the success of general theatrical releases and the re-emergence of scholarship in documentary film studies.
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