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Visual & Performing Arts
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Exploring the Fine Line Between Truth and Reality in Documentaries (Research Paper Sample)


Final Draft of Research Paper: , including a
Works, Cited list of 5-15 sources. We have 4 pages before.
And I got some comments from my Professor. Then we need
to work for 4 more pages. And then I need 2 pages reflective
essay. I will attach a picture of my professor's comments. He
mentioned that we could use the website (Named: How to
write good thesis) he offered to structure our thesis. Here is
the website:
Final Paper:
Please attach a commentary of 1 to 2 paragraphs to your
research paper (use a different color please), in which you
explain your writing and research process. Comment on what
works well in your draft and what can still be adjusted or
revised; this allows me to get a clearer glimpse of your overall
work and to assess for commitment to the writing process.  
Reflective essay:
If you are asking, What information do I put into my reflective
essay? consider answering a number of the following
questions (those most relevant to you): 
1. How have I grown/developed/evolved as a writer during
this term?  
2. How has a focus on the topic of documentary film (and any
related theoretical issues, such as bias, perspectivism, ethics
or technical elements, such as editing, lighting, interview
processes) supported my growth as a writer? 
3. How has my attitude toward writing changed?  
4. How have my writing (and thinking, reading, viewing)
habits changed?
5. Which homework assignments and/or classroom practices
have stimulated my learning process?  
6. Have I finally learned to appreciate the importance of
revision in all of my writing? 
7. How has the practice of writing
casually/freely/creatively/without prompt affected my
understanding of writing as a daily process?  
8. Address your input of labor. A polished final product is
easy to judge. However, labor is not always evident, so it is
important for you to communicate to me any obstacles,
challenges, and triumphs (or failures) within the writing and
research processes you have had that I may not readily
gauge from your drafts.  
Be specific in your reflection, since specificity and details are
worth gold. Generalities, as you know, are pointless.  
Those are two separate works. Thank you for your hard


Documentaries and Balance: Exploring the Thin Line between Truth and Reality
Cinema’s capacity for realistic representation is the foundation of the popularity of films. The documentary genre has demonstrated to be the most effective, and most contested, form of relaying the reality of world events. For early documentarians, the authenticity of the outcome outweighed the authenticity of their methods. These filmmakers, such as the Maysles brothers, thought little of using voice-overs, editing, or reconstruction. They captured live events with a camera to reduce the interference between the audience and the subject, with the belief that this approach conveyed the truth of reality more effectively. However, contemporary documentarians such as Errol Morris do not advocate for direct-cinema. The basis of Morris’ approach is that a documentary cannot show reality, but is instead a construction whose truth depends on the filmmakers or viewers perspective. Documentarians endeavor to achieve balance in their films, but the evolution of representational methods used in documentaries has led to fabricated constructs presented to the audience as either truth or reality.
People have different beliefs and opinions due to their cultural diversity. The issue with balance is that the audience does not share similar views on various topics and may disagree with other people’s beliefs (Wagner 1479). Errol Morris, 1988, The Thin Blue Line, presents an excellent case study for the research considering the time of its release. The documentary formed the foundation of a new documentary-style by taking on expressionist aesthetics such as slow motion, staged reenactments, and film noir. It tells the story of Randall Adams convicted of the murder of Robert Wood, a Dallas police officer, which he did not commit. Morris examines the circumstances and testimonial evidence that led to the conviction of Adams through various cinematic techniques without undermining the possibility of knowing the truth. Filmmakers have to approach the issue of balance with an open mind to find common ground.
The documentary’s concerns are truth, innocence, and reality. It presents cultural and philosophical issues that are worth exploring. From a philosophical perspective, skepticism is inevitable since the audience does not know whether what they see is the truth. From a cultural perspective, the film portrays the injustices in the judicial system that withholds data, hides motives, and questionably interprets facts. Each interview arguably creates more questions than answers. Documentarians have convictions that may prove damaging if they approach their production with partiality – remaining true to the story, and the truth is vital.
Conquering the element of uncertainty is imperative in creating a compelling documentary. Filmmakers can use aesthetics, such as sound elements, montages, variable lighting, voice-overs, or interviews (Corner 19). In the film, Morris does not ask his subjects questions but allows them to tell their stories at length. The camera setup allows the characters to speak through the lenses and make eye contact with the audience, a cinematic style known as Interrotron. The subjects’ testimonies are pieces of evidence discovered through Morris’ research. Morris lessens his subjectivity by appearing at the end of the film and focusing the rest of the documentary on the witnesses’ statements. He allows others to give the narrative while he creates the artistic artifact.
There is a thin line between truth and reality, and documentaries differ in how they present their truth claims to the audience. Some documentaries affect cultural and societal norms and present reality in a format that the director deems fit (Wagner 1481). The Thin Blue Line gives the audience a dreadful insight into crime and a corrupt judicial system. While Morris uses cinematic techniques such as the Interrottron, his counterparts such as Michael Moore interrogate their subjects via a conversational setup. Both directors are successful with their approaches and thus present a good comparison platform for the effectiveness of both techniques.
Morris achieves a pure referential record in telling the story of Adams. By holding the film’s subjective narration through memory only, Morris creates an aesthetic that he can claim to be objective. The staged interviews are each witnesses’ truth. The ‘document’ in the word documentary is open to reassessment and alteration without changing its original meaning or context (Bruzzi 419). In The Thin Blue Line, the document is each witnesses’ account alongside various crime-scene montages that create a visual connection given the narrator’s recollections. About five minutes into the documentary, viewers see the police officer, Robert Wood, lying dead on the road with a burning flashlight beside him. However, a few minutes later, the audience sees only the flashlight falling to the ground while its light burns out once it hits the concrete; the screen goes almost completely dark. These images contrast the same event by dramatizing Mr. Wood’s death, and in turn, connect with the audience. Morris fulfills his ethical responsibility of presenting reality to the audience by promoting visual reenactments of the event.
On the other hand, Moore is an interrogatory documentarian who attacks with words. Moore’s Oscar-winning 2003 film sensation, Bowling for Columbine, has some fascinating interviews. He asks questions, agrees and disagrees with his subjects, and even ambushes some of them. For instance, during the interview with Charlton Heston, Moore does not agree on anything with him about gun laws. Moore has the charisma of a showman; he barges into people’s houses to determine whether they lock them. His film is more entertaining since Moore pulls off stunts that other documentarians consider reserved for different genres such as action or drama films. While some schools of thought disapprove Moore’s methods, the film’s message bears consideration.
There is little consensus among documentarians on balancing narratives and ethics. Some of them advocate for creating a strong story regardless of the ethical repercussions while others promote balancing the narrative and ethics to present a neutral perspective (Koehler 55). Filmmakers exploit captured footage with an array of tools to create a final story. Making documentaries is a serious, respectable pursuit whose foundations should remain intact to avoid tarnishing the genre. A healthy balance of visual storytelling with ethical principles appeals to diverse audiences. For instance, a documentarian whose aim is entertainment rather than social concerns approaches the same situation with a different ethical lens.

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