TOP 5 BOOKS: ESSENTIAL READING FOR DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKERS /STUDENTS

The following list features five of the best books I have encountered during my studies. They are the books I would recommend any film student to acquire as they make valuable additions to any film buff’s library. As well as offering a comprehensive history of non-fiction film making, the codes and conventions of documentaries many of the books also provide insight into the mind of documentary directors.

Documentary Superstars: Marsha McCreadie

Documentary Superstars takes an in depth look at how documentary trends have evolved over the years, from cinema vérité to on-screen auteurs. The book features exclusive interviews from  Michael Moore, Albert Maysles, Lauren Greenfield, Henry Corra and Errol Morris.

Directing the Documentary: Michael Rabiger

This book was on the top of my MA course reading list, some say it is the best book ever written about film making. In this extensive guide,  it’s nearly 600 pages, Rabiger provides an in-depth analysis of the both the creative and practical implications of production. The book is filled with advice and resources for documentary filmmakers, including guidance on grant writing and fundraising, proposals and pitching. It also has a companion site that has a wide variety of resources including online film examples and production checklists.

Introduction to Documentary: Bill Nichols

If you have done any academic study on documentary it is highly likely Bill Nichols is a name you will recognise. His writing is very accessible, he breaks down several traits and conventions of documentary styles into a conceptual scheme he calls ‘modes’: the observational mode, reflexive mode, participatory mode, reflective mode and expository mode.  Whilst it would be impossible to fit every film perfectly into one of the six categories, these categories help scholars and makers alike understand different approaches filmmakers take to share their stories.   I believe this is the perfect book for someone looking to broaden their understanding of documentary form.

This Much is True : James Quinn 

Each chapter in this book is centered around a different part of the film making process and features an essay from some of, arguably, the best documentary filmmakers of all time. Nick Broomfield, Albert Maysles, Kim Longinotto and Asaf Kapadia are just some of the contributors to the book.

The book is more personal than the others on the list and features a more conversational style. I would recommend this book to somebody looking to gain insight into how well established documentarians think.

John Grierson: Life, Contributions – by Jack C Ellis 

John Grierson is thought of as the father of the non-fiction genre. ‘Documentary’ was actually a term he coined when talking about ‘Moana‘ a 1926 film directed by Robert Flaherty, not the Disney animation. This book is the only biography included on the list. It includes information about Grierson’s career and offers insight into the true contributions he made to documentaries.

 

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Generation Wealth

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‘Generation Wealth’ is a multi-platform project which includes a photography exhibition, a beautiful coffee table book and of course, the documentary film of the same name.

Director, Lauren Greenfield says that filmmaking is a ‘constant process’ (pg 219) and ‘the way she got good footage was by proximity to her topics for some long period of time and by gaining the trust of her subjects’. (McCreadie, pg 190) This film epitomises this approach to filmmaking, returning to previous subjects with whom she already has an established relationship with and following up on their lives.

The film is centred around her extensive personal photography archive, her audio recordings, some over a quarter of a century old and talking head interviews with the people featured in her photographs.

Greenfield uses both archival and modern interviews with the subjects of her photographs on the subject of wealth, beauty and power. The sheer number of participants in the film means she cannot analyse their characters in the same way she did with her previous film, The Queen of Versailles. However, this film takes a different approach examining microcosms  of society to tell us more about the world today.

A reoccurring theme through the film is that “Society acquires its greatest wealth in the face of death.” That by looking at spending habits of a few people around the world we are able to extrapolate a lot about the society in which they live.

The film suggests that thanks to the fictitious world created my the media having status is the new American dream. It is suggested that the porn stars, criminals, ‘rich kids’ and beauty queens that  are featured in this film see obscene amounts of money as the easiest way to reach that dream. And that they will do whatever it takes to accumulate that wealth. One could be lead to think that Greenfield is suggesting that these displays of wealth are an indication that America is heading for a fall.

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I really enjoyed the film, it was incredible to see such a large quantity of Greenfield’s photographic work presented in relation to a single topic and to hear more about her own life and approach to her work. Would definitely recommend! 

‘Generation Wealth’ is now in cinemas and available to watch online through Curzon Home Cinema.

King Doc UK

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Our latest production is in full swing and we will be filming in the last week of this month (January).

We asked drag kings and academics from around the world to tell us more about what drag performance means to them…

The documentary will explore the resilient spirit of the people who perform masculinity on stage. If you don’t already know, Drag Kings are male impersonators, often women, who embody the mannerisms of men. Our film will follow myself and a young performing drag king, Benjamin Butch, as we uncover the core reasons that performers choose gender impersonation as a form of artistic expression. Other contributors will include drag kings Sammy Silver and Wolfy .

We have 9 days left to raise the rest of our budget and we are offering a variety of fabulous reward in return for donations. If you would like to support us please visit: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1300988717/king-doc-uk-a-short-film-about-the-uks-drag-kings?ref=discovery .

We are also hosting a drag night in my university town of York, in a wonderful LGBTQ+ friendly venue Thomas’s of York . If you are in the area and would like to attend your name can be added to the guest list as a ‘reward’ for donating.

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While the film project is still dragging on…. You can follow our progress (and see pictures from the event) on our social media pages.

Find us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook using the hash tag #kingdocuk for updates on the project!