Beyond the image
Bissell, Owen Edward
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Documentaries with science and nature as their subject matter have a great, untapped potential for art virtually unexplored in the history of film. A look at the general trend of these films shows a steady progression attempting more subjective and reflexive treatments of material, but science documentaries today are generally stuck in the classical expository mode. This lack of progression in films with scientific subject (including nature and wildlife) subject matter is largely due to producers unwillingness to break from the conventions of genre. In their attempts to create art instead of craft, the next generation of science and wildlife filmmakers will recognize that the promise of art rests in its ability to restructure symbolic representation and therefore change how an audience understands the world. This restructuring of symbolic representation is important and necessary because of hidden and oppressive ideological forces in society ratified by normal symbols. The new generation of science documentary creator will discard the notion of film images as facts and instead pursue a more ambiguous goal of truth. This may involve fabrication; a lie that makes us know the truth. Several individuals serve as examples in this endeavor, such as Brecht, Bunuel, Morris and Herzog. In their works, these artists employ reflexive techniques that elevate viewers consciousness. My own thesis film project, The Last Run (2006), demonstrates some of these techniques more successfully than others. Creators of the new science and nature documentary must break step with decades of established conventions, moving beyond a literal, objective perspective and embracing an imaginative, subjective treatment of their material. These new artistic science and wildlife filmmakers will have three goals: 1) Escape from genre and its binary tendencies; 2) Make art by altering symbolic meanings or representations; and 3) Choose subjects of political (even controversial) or personal importance that are uncommon in todays television programs about science and nature.
The last run is a film that is part of the student's thesis project.