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.

Brief 4: A New Hope

Brief 3 is officially over, which means the beginning of a whole new chestnut – brief 4. Liam had us work together in groups with the people we were sitting with (who just happened to be Samantha and Blair from brief 3), to create pitches for a new film that could work as our brief 4 works. Liam showed us some very interesting pieces, including a documentary made entirely of people’s stolen phone conversations and a documentary narrated by a dead general’s wandering ankle.

Liam then showed us the constraints for our next project:

any of the three –

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

And all I could think about how I could break ALL of the conventions. This led me to developing a very interesting idea, an idea that actually started with one constraint – found-footage. I knew if I used found-footage it would never use interviews or voice-over. I would let the clips speak for themselves. That was three down. the quota was filled. But this non-photorealistic thing really intrigued me. If I was going to make a film I knew I wanted it to somehow be that. And then Liam went on to further explain what it meant – to be non-photorealistic, it simply had to not fit within simplistic ideas of what film looks like. Anything that breaks that frame, that mold works, whether it’s colour or shape. And then it hit me – split-screen. We would play each side of the frame against the other in order to produce the critique we wanted.

I was telling this all to Blair, who was next to me, and she loved the idea and was spurring me on, asking me all the right questions to get me thinking. Even though the structure was there, Blair pointed out, it wasn’t very clear what we were critiquing yet. I was thinking about the fake surface nature of relationships that technology produces, and how that stolen phone conversations documentary we watched earlier did it so well. Made something we see as so normal so creepy. Pointing out the obvious flaws in the structure. And then I knew what socio-political structure I wanted to critique, one that is always everywhere, it is always at the forefront of our minds through advertisements and entertainment we consume on a regular basis. The Hollywood system. We would use Hollywood to critique itself and reveal its own illusions.

It was the perfect idea and exactly the kind of thing I wanted to make for my final film, and Blair agreed that it would be a great film to make.



Blair and I have decided to work together on this film, which is amazing because not only did I love working with her on our previous project, but I really feel like I need someone’s help to pull this off in what little time we have left, and who better than Blair, a masterful editor with a keen eye and a love for Hollywood films.

We spent today’s lesson (Thursday) working on our concept and we’ve decided to root our critique in Hollywood’s portrayal of women. With this does come some heavy connotative issues, but I say if we’re using well known material why not use these connotations to our message’s advantage?

We’ve already come up with some very interesting things we can possibly use, such as what I’m calling a ‘slap compilation’. Using footage of women from all different films we will compile a sequence of women being repeatedly slapped to introduce our film with impact. This will hopefully be accompanied by a song called ‘He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)’ by The Crystals, an all female group from the 60’s.However, I am very aware of the heavy connotative values of this song and so have a backup option – classical Hollywood music that progressively speeds up and becomes off-kilter, breaking the illusion.

We’ll be officially pitching our film next week, so hopefully we’ll get some good feedback from the class (which I don’t doubt) and will be able to develop it more from there.

Group Project Update: Week 7 Crit Panel

After a marathon of pulling shifts day after day, sparing what time we could, when we could in the edit suites, (which I’ve come to lovingly call ‘the dungeon’) we finally managed to (or I should say Samantha managed to, with a few tiny last minute tweaks from me) pull the audio together, allowing us to assemble our documentary in its entirety and finish the day before the crit panel (which was technically the day before it was actually due, but we treated as though it was the actual due date).

Our crit panel was made up of Liam, Paul Ritchard and Van Rudd. Paul, as a film and documentary maker himself was an obvious choice for the panel. Van on the other hand was rather, like the studio, an outside the box choice, but fit our political and poetic studio perfectly, being a well-known political artist.

Everyone’s documentaries came together beautifully, and while I was late because of technical issues, we managed to pull it off and show our films to the panel in time. Even though we didn’t get our feedback in the classroom, we did get it in the hallway after class, after being ushered out. Standing there in a hallway, surrounded by my tutors and group members I felt so incredibly elated hearing all of the feedback they had to give. I am so proud of how Duck and Cover turned out! All of the feedback we received was exactly the response I was aiming for when I was crafting the documentary. The satire and the soundtrack in particular hit-home with the powerful imagery, getting it positive reviews all around. No Borders had the same unanimous positive feedback, which was a major relief for all of us after all of our hard work on the project. There was only one minor piece of constructive feedback related to our use of over-lays, which to be honest, after all the work we put into it, we were willing to let pass and simply hand in.

I’m really proud of both films.

Group Update: Week 6

This week I had another epiphany. While searching under a new search term that Blair thought of, I came across the missing piece for the found footage documentary’s uncomfortable, disconcerting soundtrack; this PSA from 1951 entitled “Duck and Cover”

I immediately went to work chopping and looping the 45 seconds of audio, cutting in the bigoted statements from politicians and the sounds of ocean waves and boat creaks creating a layered soundscape I knew would fit perfectly with the found footage I had already sourced.

We showed the layered audio piece to the class as well as the footage I’d already roughly pieced together and they thought that it would work well to convey the message we are trying to convey through this found footage documentary.

We also showed a rough cut of the footage Samantha and I had taken earlier in the week around the State Library and China Town, trying to show the many positive, neutral and negative layers of Melbourne. Blair did a great job editing together a rough cut of the footage as she had with the Palm Sunday March footage she and Samantha took earlier in the process. The class liked the footage but felt they needed to hear the finished audio as well to get a clearer picture of the whole documentary, which I definitely agree with.

On Tuesday this week Samantha and I interviewed another person, with questions more in line to our documentaries current state. Samantha did the same today with another person, and now I’m beginning to feel that the first person’s audio needs to be re-recorded or discarded. This shot footage documentary is taking quite the toll on our group. If we don’t figure out this audio soon…

Group Project Update: Week 5

This week I decided to stop simply hunting for found footage and start editing it together, so I started to build a rough cut. Realising that my rough cut was almost entirely still images I decided to hunt down some footage as well, so I sourced some old news reels:

These should create a really interesting juxtaposition.

Inspirational Quote of the Week – Abed Nadir, Community

“Documentarians are supposed to be objective to avoid having any effect on the story. But we end up having more effect than anyone, because we decide to tell it. And we decide how it ends. Will your story be yet another sad portrait of yet another man who just wanted to be happy? Or will your story acknowledge the very nature of stories, and embrace the fact that sharing the sad ones can sometimes make them happy.” – Abed Nadir, Community

Feedback: Assignment One

An interesting quote from Liam Ward to get all those documentary makers out there thinking, and going that extra mile:

“On the one hand we need to strip it of its negative connotations, and on the other hand we need to examine the devices and formal techniques a doco film-maker might employ in order to manipulate viewers. Then the real pandora’s box emerges.

How does that kind of formal experimentation and deliberate manipulation relate to the aim of collaborating and giving agency to people?

This isn’t a question that’s designed to be answered, but rather one to think about in your own film-making.”

Group Project Update: Week 4

This week we started going into the edit suites. So far Samantha and I have been chipping away at the 2.5 hour long interview we had trying to find something to use. Most of it is incredibly abstract, and to me doesn’t seem to fit at all, but Samantha seems to find some merit in it, wanting to create not just a portrait of Melbourne but a portrait of the person as well. Let’s hope we can find an interesting blend of the two somewhere.

I also sourced more found footage. Here are some examples of the awesome things I found this week in my further explorations:

Christmas Island, August 29, 2001. Handout picture of some of the 438 asylum seekers onboard the Norwegian cargo ship MS Tampa on Monday 27th August, 2001. The boat people where rescued from their sinking ferry in international waters and remain onboard the ship which is anchored off Christmas Island. Australia refused the boat permission to enter Australia's waters and Indonesia has since taken a similar stance. (AAP Image/Wallenius Wilhelmsen)

resize white-australia1 the-white-australia-policy the-vietnam-war-20-638 Mongolian_octopus part_1a_3 p03fchhr MN008748

I’m really excited to see how all of this comes together into the one documentary.