So Long Art of Persuasion, You Will Be Missed

I remember choosing this studio because of Liam’s pitch last year when he said that, only people who feel passionate about an issue, who are angry about something in the world should apply. And that intrigued me. While I am not necessarily the biggest fan of non-fiction, I’ve known for a while that I need to become one if I want to be a good writer. I did not however know if I was quite angry enough to be the type of person that Liam wanted for his studio. It turns out I needn’t have worried. This semester I have stuck to my guns, created political, poetic and socially conscious documentaries that I’m very proud of, all while skirting a line every documentary maker doesn’t want to cross, especially when it comes to the construction side of a found footage political and poetic documentary – the line of sensationalism vs. poignancy to get your point across. I constantly danced back and forth over this line, and knew that, even though my passion for these subjects constantly drove me forward to pursue the, ‘poetic justice’ of sorts, they deserved, it could drive me over that line, using the subjects to exaggerate the issue to the pointless alienation of the audience, instead of getting the point across effectively. Knowing where that line is, is important for any poetic film-maker.

Here are the links to my three written assignments. You can see from reading each one how I grew in my knowledge and understanding not only of documentary convention, but just how poetic documentaries fit into the medium, when they break almost every convention, or at least seek to.

Assignment one post:

Assignment two post:

Assignment four reflection post:


I didn’t just learn a great deal from the great academic writers and film-makers we read and watched films from. I also learnt a great deal from the production process, continuosly pitching and adjusting the direction of the film to meet with these shifts. Being constantly ready to adapt to any situation is key to documentary making, as it is all happening in current time.

Progress report from project brief three examples:





Another key thing I’ve learnt from this whole process, of producing both brief three and four, is how to work collaboratively and creatively in a team, which is vital to any creative project.

Progress report from project brief four examples:




Link to all of my other posts from The Art of Persuasion studio:

The Final Answer to the Unanswerable Question: How do we Make Documentary That is Both Political and Poetic?

In our final piece we were asked to create a documentary that challenged three of the following conventions:

  • no interviews
  • no voice-over
  • only found-footage or other appropriated material
  • is non-photorealistic
  • deliberately breaks some other identifiable documentary convention

For our final project, Blair and I decided to create a documentary that challenged the first four of those conventions.

But how is this still a documentary? How can a documentary be both political and poetic?

The performative and poetic modes are by far the most experimental of Nichols’ modes and I would argue that our film fits into one of these categories far more than it does any other. The performative mode “stress[es] the emotional complexity of experience” (Nichols, 2010, 202), while the poetic mode treats “people more typically… on a par with other objects as raw material that filmmakers select and arrange into associations and patterns of their choosing” (Nichols, 2010, 162). In this way I feel that our documentary fits snuggly into the poetic mode, but also nicely aligns with the sentiment from the quote about the performative mode, allowing “the emotional complexity of experience” to come through. The key difference between this documentary, which fits into the more experimental of Nichols’ modes, compared with a more traditional documentary, a documentary that would have all of the above conventions intact and not intentionally broken, is the indexical quality of the images, or their photo-realistic nature. A more traditional documentary intentionally leads the viewer to make their own decision, usually the decision the filmmaker wants them to make. In order to manipulate the audience in this way without causing an uproar of sorts they need to create a contract with the audience through the indexical quality of their imagery and sound, building an inherent trust in the almighty ‘voice of god’ narrator. When compared with our film, there is no explicit leading of the audience and the viewer is ultimately left to make up their own decision. Experimental documentaries break the contract which usually exists with a documentary, as they do not ask the audience to trust the information they are providing is truthful, instead creating a new kind of contract with the viewer, one that accepts they already have the knowledge to understand what is occurring and to make up their own mind, simply asking the audience to see the world the way the filmmaker does.

If you look at another poetic documentary I made earlier in the semester, you’ll see how the non-indexical quality of the imagery allows for more abstract conclusions to be drawn, possibly in relation to the viewers own experiences, while also allowing for broader connotations to be created through multiple and often seemingly discordant associations at once (for example, the use of the imagery of propaganda from the stolen generation mixed with Pauline Hanson’s speech about abolishing multiculturalism sends a strong message that can be interpreted literally many ways, but the overall impression, idea and emotional effect resonates similarly to most people):

Documentaries will always push some kind of agenda as they are created for a purpose by the filmmaker. Luckily, this purpose is most often related to social change and causes of social justice and finding a way to bring such important issues to the forefront. Filmmakers often seek to critique the world and the social structures around them and while all documentaries push their creators agendas onto the viewer, experimental films in particular seek not simply factual evidence, they rely upon the widespread nature of the idea they are critiquing and instead seek to open up the viewer’s mind to another, very human experience. Creating an empathetic connection and placing the viewer into the shoes of the individuals in the situation which you are critiquing, rather than simply stating the facts. Nichols’ argued that in order for a documentary to remain ethical within the socio-political realms it operated, it needed to provide its subjects with “agency”, showing them as “an active, self-determining agent of change” as opposed to a “victim” who “suffer[s] from a plight” (Nichols, 2001, 212). This is an interesting point, as films in the poetic mode, such as the two found footage films I have made this semester, often take away a subjects agency, treating the subject as a whole. While this can be seen as a bad thing, the interesting thing about both of the found footage films, Duck and Cover and I Don’t Exactly Hate Women… Utilise the fact that their subjects have no agency in the film as a further critique on the social system which they are criticising.

Thomas Waugh argued that documentary form is inherently committed to social change through his idea of the “committed documentary” (Waugh, 2011). Documentaries are inherently instruments for social change and therefore political critique. For instance, my found footage documentary I Don’t Exactly Hate Women directly critiqued the Hollywood system, a structure deeply embedded within society’s very social structure. The documentary did this through critiquing Hollywood’s portrayal of women, bringing light to the fact that it hasn’t very well changed in the half a century or so since Hollywood came into existence. The film did all of this while being an entirely experimental film, fitting into the poetic mode.

So, in my final answer to that penultimate question, yes, I do believe that a documentary can be both political and poetic. In fact, I believe that the documentary is stronger for it, as the poetic nature of such experimental and convention-breaking films creates far more empathetic films that don’t just reveal the facts, but relate to human existence itself.

  • Nichols, Bill, 2010, “Introduction to Documentary, Second Edition.” Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 142-211
  • Nichols, Bill, 2001, “Documentary Film and the Modernist Avant-Garde”, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Summer, 2001), pp. 580-610
  • Waugh, Thomas. 2011. “Why Documentary Filmmakers Keep Trying to Change the World, or Why People Changing the World Keep Making Documentaries”. The Right to Play Oneself: Looking Back on Documentary Film [Visible Evidence Series, Volume 23], University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis. pp. 24– 41.

Hollywood vs. Women: Week 5

It’s officially week 13, meaning classes are already over and our project is now due this Friday (tomorrow). We got a tonne of great feedback last week from Liam during the rough cut process and we’ve booked a suite every day this week. We’ve been down here editing constantly, day in, day out. And I finally feel like it’s coming together. Before, even at the rough cut stage, we only really had segments, sections we knew we wanted to use, but we didn’t know how we were going to combine them. Until Liam gave us an idea, an idea we’d had from the very beginning but never really fully utilised. To use production footage to not just separate the segments but draw a unique distinction between the segments, bringing deliberate notice to the cuts, to the production side of the film, to not just critique Hollywood, but shatter the illusion that Hollywood creates.

With this new element, this new-found idea to draw everything that was once so separate even further apart and yet together into a cohesive, jarring whole, it was finally beginning to look like a documentary and not just a bunch of sequences.

We spent most of our days this week not only piecing together footage, using footage we hadn’t already to create new sequences, and then stitching those sequences together with production footage segues, but also sourcing new footage, footage to add more layers and evidence to another argument we are trying to make about the portrayal of women, this time off-screen. Through using the voices and sometimes even faces of only male directors and mostly male crews, it emphasises the way in which women in Hollywood, are still treated as lesser than their male counterparts, not just as characters, but as employees of the system itself. the sheer number of male directors we were able to find only further compounded our argument.

We were still searching for material this morning, but we were only looking for the finishing quote, and we managed to find 3.

‘She’s a slut’ – Jeremy Renner

’I don’t exactly hate women…’ – Alfred Hitchcock

‘What do you think you’re looking at, sugar tits?’  – Mel Gibson

We also managed to finish the film! A whole day early too 🙂 You’ll be able to see the finished version in my reflection, that I’ll be posting tomorrow.