Can you clearly state the difference between “documentary” and “fiction” in film? What shapes a film into either a “documentary” or “fiction”?
Imagine a fiction film, that is to say, comprised of a narrative, characters, climaxes, etc. A world, indeed, but an imaginary world – it doesn’t exist in the reality that we physically inhabit and consider…real, but is made up, most probably, out of it. However, things get vague when the correlations are substituted:
THE FILM : OUR REALITY = FICTION (1)
THE FILM : ITS [THE FILM’S] REALITY = DOCUMENTARY (2)
The film reel is a document. It preserves an, otherwise, temporal experience – the film viewing (as planned by the filmmaker: similarity to music and theatre, opposition to literature and painting). It’s a constant: THE FILM or THE DOCUMENT. The two variables that form two different fractions are the two REALITIES. But how exactly are they in a correlation to THE FILM?
(1) Is the fraction correct or should the numerator and the denominator change their positions? I say “no” and here’s an argument: the more OUR REALITY is expanded, the less are we prone to perceive film as fiction. If we have had experiences on different levels and in different dimensions, if we have thought – which is the main expanding force for trying to grasp the richness of realities, - failed and tried to think again outside OUR REALITY, which is impossible, of course, then it’s much more likely to perceive a fiction film as less fictional. Juxtaposed to OUR REALITY it will always remain FICTION, but the degree is lessened.
(2) Now, thinking for a while, one could say we ended up in a contradiction here: how can you expand the film’s reality since it is already fixed into the document of THE FILM itself? The characters cannot go or think through different experiences than the ones determined by the hermetic datum of the recorded reel. Just as, when we talk about fraction (1), we take not reality in general, but the snapshot of our momentary reality and thus, at one point or another, the degrees of our perceiving the same film as fiction may differ. Here, we take the cinematic reality, visibly perpetuated : nothing can be added - the acting, the narrative, the set, the music, the dialogue, the gestures – nothing that can be seen or heard can be reduced or added up. What expands, though, and what ultimately makes a piece of cinematic art truly everlasting is the potential, the hidden space (Pedro Costa said in a lecture that cinema is more about what is hidden than about what is shown) – the possibility for enrichness that is fulfilled or, at least, exists within the visible reel. To fulfill these possibilities would mean that the spectator needs to enter. But then, if what expands THE FILM REALITY is OUR REALITY, the fraction is no longer valid and should be trippled, thus fictionalising THE FILM REALITY – for what we contribute to THE FILM REALITY is FICTION correlated to THE FILM. So, if, when the reel starts rolling and the film starts existing on its own, without a viewer, if then the film has been engraved with endless possibilities of expanding ITS REALITY, it could grow out of the limits of the filmic document. Those possibilities needn’t be fulfilled, otherwise, as we noticed, the result is FICTION. When in the reality of the filmic document underlies the vastness of a “subsoil” reality of possibilities, the film itself can no longer envelop that space, thus lessening the degree of documentarity. Nevertheless, the result remains for the correlation is preserved. Ideally, in an all-out film that hides nothing, the fraction should equall “1”. Just as, commonly speaking, documentaries are supposed to strive for “1:1” representation.
Now imagine a documentary film that captures the process, circumstances, reactions, consequences of, say, a natural disaster. Through montage the phenomenon is thought into FICTION. It’s no longer the document it tries to be, but a fictionalisation of it – it has been subjectivised. It aims at OUR REALITY, by trying to preserve IT as a document, but turns into FICTION. Let’s say, then, that the director decides not to use montage – to film the whole reel in a single shot. Has he avoided montage? I say “no” and here’s an argument: he still needs the inside-montage of the frame space in order to create cinema – how it’s been cropped, what has been omitted and, eventually, documentalised. Shooting through “the eye” of the camera is already creating FICTION.
Therefore, it seems to me, that the “ideal” (the closest we can achieve) DOCUMENTARY should not be seeked only in the documentary sphere, but also in the field of fiction. We need FICTION in order to have a complete DOCUMENTARY and we deffinetely do not need the spectator. THE REALITY of the documentary film is always a FICTION of OUR REALITY. If, by using a single shot, the director has filmed OUR REALITY as truthfully as possible (minimally using the possibilities of manipulation through inside-montage and camera movement), what he has done, in fact, is deprive THE FILM REALITY of it’s possibilities for expanding. Thus, whenever the fraction is formed (the reel is rolling), the result will be as closely to DOCUMENTARY as you can get. But, only because THE FILM REALITY is, in fact, a FICTION of OUR REALITY (for it can never be cinematically or artistically entirely grasped). If we suppose that the cinema could film OUR REALITY, then THE FILM REALITY would be as rich as the universe. In a documentary, THE FILM REALITY is the snapshot that has been taken of OUR REALITY and which eventually became FICTION. The more rigid THE FILM REALITY is, the purer the DOCUMENTARY is.
A DOCUMENTARY is a chronicle, a cinematic report, a filmed journey, a story of OUR REALITY told in moving images, but it is also the most plausible historical or biographical picture. A true DOCUMENTARY is born when THE FILM is correlated to ITS REALITY.
A FILM only becomes a DOCUMENTARY on its own, when the viewer is excluded.