The Personal Documentary

Instructor: Cecilia Aldarondo

Historically, documentary has been a genre known for championing disinterested objectivity in the pursuit of truth. Personal experience was considered a suspicious and illegitimate subject matter for documentary, relegating autobiographical filmmaking to the avant-garde or the home movie. However, since the 1980s personal documentary has emerged as a robust film mode with wide mainstream appeal, as evidenced by the success of such films as Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March and Nathaniel Kahn’s My Architect.

In this course, we will survey the terrain of personal documentary in all its complexity—its experimental roots, and its current mainstream appeal. We will ask a number of important questions: is personal filmmaking inherently narcissistic? What tools—such as voice-over, archival materials, and interviews—do filmmakers employ and why? What is the relationship between personal and collective memory? Why has the personal register been so central for feminist filmmaking? And perhaps the question every personal filmmaker has to answer—why should anyone care about my life? Drawing from readings in documentary studies as well as cultural theory, we will examine concepts such as the performance of identity, the archive, and collective memory, as well as related documentary modes such as the home movie, the video diary, and the essay film. From the wry self-deprecation of Alan Berliner’s Nobody’s Business, to the DIY confessionalism of Sadie Benning’s Pixelvision video diaries, to the genre-bending fantasy of Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg, we will develop a sophisticated understanding of a filmic tendency that has been around as long as the camera, but is rarely given the depth of study it merits.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm
October 14 — November 04, 2014
4 weeks

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