‘The Art of Documentary’, an interivew with Haslell Wexler

Megan Cunningham’s article titled ‘The Art of Documentary’ features an interview with the reclaimed documentary film-maker, Haskell Wexler.

The article divulges in Wexler’s film-making style, where he often provoked actions from documentary subjects in order to entice drama as well as to present a certain type of documentary. Wexler defines his approach to cinema verite documentary making as “Using your filming ability” (pg. 89), suggestively to present a filmic piece that a director envisions. Interestingly, Wexler tells how he has often foreseen what may be needed to make a cut work better and to enhance a scene. In doing so, Wexler disclosed how he filmed Keith Richard’s jamming, however he recognized at the time that he would need a shot of Richards entering the room to make the shot work and so he made that happen. Although Wexler did intervene with how the shot, I consider this approach a documentary tactic, one that perhaps I should consider when shooting my documentary. In saying this, it is always important to have an awareness of elements surrounding your film, which may be how to make a shot work better, a sound that you pass by or even potential cut away.


Wexler tells that, “All images we see are images now presented by the people that want to present them. And they don’t necessarily present the truth” (pg. 89). Wexler’s statement notes a striking veracity. Not only does the author have an ability to present information in a certain way, every decision a filmmaker chooses assists in presenting a certain perception on numerous elements within a film.

‘From a Distant Gaze’ – Film Technique

The 1964 short film, ‘From a Distant Glaze’ (directed by Jean Ravel, picture by Chris Marker and Pierre Lhomme, words by Louis Aragon, narrated by Jean Negroni and music by Michel Legrand) observes publics going about their general business in a busy, city environment.


The opening scene establishes an observational feel to the film with extreme close ups and close up camera shots amongst bustling streets. The camera intimately follows subjects through these congested, urban spaces. Narration enters shortly into the film – giving the camera technique substance and provides the film with an existential notion. We then know that it is the narrator’s observation and that he is focusing on individuals in the street. Effectively, the voice over foreshadows what is to be seen and determines the film’s theme.


The camerawork used throughout the film directs the viewer to certain items or a particular person seen on the street through swift camera movements. The camera technique used to do this is often a pan across, a pan upward or an extreme close up. Ultimately, the camera technique is important to the overall film as it gives the film an observation touch as well as insight into what the film is about.

Premier Keyboard Shortcuts

There are keyboard shortcuts for Adobe’s Premier for almost every editing function. I am forever learning and reciting them, however here is some useful shortcut commands that I’ll be sure to employ when it comes to editing our documentary.


By linking our audio and video clips, they will become locked together. This may come in handy when editing our documentary to assure the audio remains with its partnered footage on the timeline. This will be suitable when the film’s subjects are being interviewed and the audio is required to stay with the footage. The keyboard command for this is Ctrl+l

Grouping clips assists the editing process when you want to move or delete a whole grouped section. To do this select Ctrl+g

The keyboard commands for zooming in and out will be useful quite often. We will be doing this a fair bit, as sometimes you need to zoom in to view an element on your timeline. Zooming in also helps you edit more precisely and can prevent overlooking items. Additionally, zooming out helps you get a broader perspective of what’s compiled on your timeline. The keyboard shortcut for these are: Zoom In = and Zoom Out –

When exploring a new editing tactic, we may want to disable a clip while investigating a new approach. Disabling a clip means that it will not appear in your film when you export it. Ultimately, we may also want to enable the clip. To do this, select Shift+E on your keyboard.


Abode Premier also has a list of keyboard shortcuts on their website, I will be viewing this quite often over the coming weeks.

Sound Tactics Applied to Forbidden Lies

The audio utilized and applied in the excerpt provided from Anna Broinowski’s 2007 exploratory documentary titled Forbidden Lies, features a music track, sound effects, sounds recorded with a boom and a mixer whist capturing the footage along with additional sounds that were potentially recorded and applied to the documentary. The film also comprises of editing techniques, such as an audio lead or in editing terms, a ‘J cut’, layering audio tracks as well as muting audio footage to enhance the sound that is layered over the footage.


The first scene shown in the excerpt has applied non-diegetic sound, making the scene feel like a bit of a dreamscape (perhaps how Broinowski feel’s about the book under question). To assist this approach, a music track plays across the footage while the original sound of the footage has been muted. The sound affects of birds chirping occur as well as a dazzling sound, which is combined with a swirl transition into the next scene. The sound affects are nothing particularly fancy and could most likely be sourced online and are often available for free from sound affects websites.


Particular sounds have been recorded perhaps with a zoom recorder or sourced from established sound affects to draw attention to elements within the documentary that assist the narrative. These sounds are applied to be focal sounds and are used for the instances of car wheels on a dirt road, a burka being thrown and taken away by the wind and footsteps trekking through a windy desert.

 Screen Shot 2014-09-18 at 6.58.28 PM


Screen shot taken from Forbidden Lies

The editing techniques employed and sourced for the documentary perhaps draw the audience’s attention to the fantastical nature of Forbidden Lies as well as take the audience back into reality. At the end of the opening scene, a woman is walking through a windy desert when the sound of Broinowski slamming the subject’s book down on a table is layered with the footage. The sound of the book being slammed is immediately followed by a sound affect of what appears to be sand being broken down (or maybe foreseeing what is to ecome of the subject in question). There are a couple of ways to achieve this in the editing process, however the most logical way that I can think of is applying a J cut, layering the sound affect and lowering the J track’s volume to allow for the sound affect to be of focus. A J cut is often used as an editing tactic to assist with the transitions between scenes however in this instance, the sound of a book slamming as well as the chosen sound affect grabs the viewers attention and perhaps snaps them out of the dream-like introduction and into the theme of the documentary.