The power and potential of performative documentary film

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Arts & Architecture


In this thesis, I argue the performative mode of documentary filmmaking is an emerging, intrinsically powerful and virtually unexplored weapon in the arsenal of science documentary. Through selected theoretical and academic writings, I examine origins and pathways of documentary film that ultimately lead to the performative documentary. I contrast the performative mode against a common paradigm that documentary, and particularly science documentary, demands a filmic text that embraces traditional conventions of narrative, realism, empiricism, causality and evidentiary truth claims. I then analyze the utility and application of common elements in performative documentary films including my performative science documentary, At the Risk of Being Smote.
I show that viewers are uniquely able to assemble their own meaning from an adiachronistic structure of associated but fragmentary filmic events. Each person's mind weaves together patches of representation, fictive or not, into a tapestry of aesthetic response of knowledge and rhetorical truth. After discussing the current state of performative filmmaking tools and techniques, I look into the future of performative science documentary. Based on evolving trends and technologies, it is possible that audiences will not just view films, but rather participate in a multi-sensory experience. I conclude that performative science documentary is an immensely powerful, emerging tool that allows the viewer to perceive personal authorial control and voice that allows the boundary between discourse and intuition, between fiction and 'reality' to dissolve. Ultimately, this approach takes the filmmaker out of the role of interlocutor, giving the viewers a sense of invisible omniscience as they experience the filmic panopticon.


At the risk of being smote is a film that is part of the student's thesis project.



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