By Hamid Benamra

The word “Cinema” is derived from the Greek word “Cinematograph” which means writing motion; this clearly explains the essence of this art. Life is a mere continuous motion and the lens picks up some of it and holds it in a square or rectangular frame. The camera takes shots of space and time as if it steals life from ongoing events.

The first scene for Lumière brothers depicts workers leaving their factory in Lyon, as if the new invention, then, was more concerned with the natural progress of the normal life.

Was the filming of those workers on 35mm tape for not more than 45 seconds the first documentary film? Or was that process spontaneous without any preparation?

Ongoing questioning
Defining the essence of filming and the significance of the camera in recording life requires ongoing questioning more than the need for the dissertation taught in cinema schools.

 The documentation of any part of life doesn’t mean withholding certain time or place. It, also, isn’t a mere testimony saved on a raw material

Was Robert Flaherty the first to lay down the foundation for this art in his film Nanook of The North? Or was it his Soviet peer Dziva Vertov in his film The Cameraman the one who mastered the art of filming life without a pre-scripted scenario?

Has the documentary film peaked off with the work of Jean Rouch? He engaged himself in the life of Africans and shared their rituals to an extent he became one of them. Or, is this style still developing and turning into a new format with the emergence of more accessible filming devices?

Encyclopedias are full of names and it is difficult to mention all of them. Yet, shedding more light on the need of filming in recording the history of nations urges us to take more care of the power of this device and its implications on the education of societies and the policies of their countries.

History, at present, is not scripted only with ink. Rather, the camera has become much closer in preserving the memories of generations compared with its initial role.

Highlight or concealment?
Is cinema a window overlooking the lives of people or an influential entity on our existence?
Is it a light on a certain subject or would it be concealed just when more important one comes to being?

Is the incident the core of the film or what surrounds it is the subject of filming?
Does documentary cinema need guidelines to govern its methodology or does reality write the story?

This wasn’t possible before 1960 concurrent to the emergence of the first portable camera with 16mm caliber. It had a silent motor and the option of integrating images with live voices. Prior to that, the voice was either dubbed or substituted with music.

The documentary film is not just pointing the camera on a town, street, or face to cast more credibility on the image. However, it reflects the sensitivity of the director/ cameraman.

The documentation of any part of life doesn’t mean withholding certain time or place. It, also, isn’t a mere testimony saved on a raw material.
Does the inclusion of this raw material in a journal turn it into a documentary film?

- Does the inclusion of this raw material in a journal turn it into a documentary film?

Does reality cinema evolve through cinematic policy aiming at interacting with audiences and preserving their memory? Or is at a front for propaganda and politics that hides behind its beautiful scenes a message with profitable ends?

Flaherty didn’t respect the life of Eskimos, but he interfered with their behavior and used them for narration purposes. Moreover, he falsely convinced his audience with the marriage of his protagonist from a tribal woman.

The use of camera during world wars was similar to an authority dominating the feelings of people.

Leni Riefenstahl was brilliant in casting an epic nature on the Nazi army. Rene Vautier, the French national, is the one who heralded to the world the use of Napalm by France during the war in Algeria.
 Vautier is the only cameraman with camera shrapnel in his head; as the camera acted like a shield during a blast in the mountain. The surgeon wasn’t able to remove the shrapnel and it remained in his head until now.

So, does revolutionary cinema stand against colonialism or is it a means to forge events for the sake of a certain camp?

Is pushing people being filmed towards acting serve the subject dramatically?

Interrogation and investigation
Is employing the tricks of feature style to express internal and intangible feelings related to the daily life make documentary cinema biased?

If the questions put to the interviewee could steer him/her off their original thoughts, would it be better for documentary film to search for the truth rather than leading interviewees to a pre-scripted idea?

Does the skill of the cameraman and accuracy of his/her shots doubt the credibility of the documentary outcome or is it just a style of filming?
What is the difference between the police interrogation and the documentary cinema investigation when the film director violates objectivity?
- Is cinema a light on a certain subject or would it be concealed just when more important one comes to being? Is the incident the core of the film or what surrounds it is the subject of photography?
Is placing the person being filmed in another person’s place by the cameraman/ director can be seen as getting the latter to perform a role in the film?

Dufango Alexander, a colleague of Dziva Vertov, says “Everyone is able to perform a role –even once- in his/her life; our personal role”.

Yes indeed, being ourselves and nothing else. Is this really possible with the presence of the lens? This piece of glass has a memory.
Having this lens in airports, streets, shopping malls, and even in our computers makes this lens as the third eye.

Our innate curiosity drives us to get to know people through documentary cinema which takes us into people’s residences and makes us share their lives with them.


Why do we prefer to watch reality rather than living it?
If cinema is about writing motion, so this writing has an alphabet and rules which makes it a language with a complete system.

How would audiences read cinema without being aware of this alphabet?
Here comes the role of cinema as a tool of education and cultivation that we need to learn its rules in our primary schools.

Source : Aljazeera