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Filmmaking tips for upcoming filmmakers…

Shared by Patrick Babu Kiruhura
A confession:Although I’ve watched—and enjoyed—documentary films for years, I’ve done almost no systematic reading about them as a form. But recently I found myself devouring two intelligent and lucid books by Bill Nichols, Introduction to Documentary (2001)and Representing Reality (1991). They make me want to revisit all the great docs I’ve seen so I can see them with a new set of eyes. And catch up with scores of canonical docs I’ve never seen.

Nichols proposes six types—or modes—of documentary. His classification scheme has been rattling around, throwing off sparks in my head, all week. Let me briefly describe it to you. I’m often paraphrasing Nichols below, and borrowing many of his example films.

1. Poetic documentaries, which first appeared in the 1920’s, were a sort of reaction against both the content and the rapidly crystallizing grammar of the early fiction film. The poetic mode moved away from continuity editing and instead organized images of the material world by means of associations and patterns, both in terms of time and space. Well-rounded characters—’life-like people’—were absent; instead, people appeared in these films as entities, just like any other, that are found in the material world. The films were fragmentary, impressionistic, lyrical. Their disruption of the coherence of time and space—a coherence favored by the fiction films of the day—can also be seen as an element of the modernist counter-model of cinematic narrative. The ‘real world’—Nichols calls it the “historical world”—was broken up into fragments and aesthetically reconstituted using film form.

Examples: Joris Ivens’ Rain (1928), whose subject is a passing summer shower over Amsterdam; Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s Play of Light: Black, White, Grey (1930), in which he films one of his own kinetic sculptures, emphasizing not the sculpture itself but the play of light around it; Oskar Fischinger’s abstract animated films; Francis Thompson’s N.Y., N.Y. (1957), a city symphony film; Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil (1982).

2. Expository documentaries speak directly to the viewer, often in the form of an authoritative commentary employing voiceover or titles, proposing a strong argument and point of view. These films are rhetorical, and try to persuade the viewer. (They may use a rich and sonorous male voice.) The (voice-of-God) commentary often sounds ‘objective’ and omniscient. Images are often not paramount; they exist to advance the argument. The rhetoric insistently presses upon us to read the images in a certain fashion. Historical documentaries in this mode deliver an unproblematic and ‘objective’ account and interpretation of past events.

Examples: TV shows and films like A&E Biography; America’s Most Wanted; many science and nature documentaries; Ken Burns’ The Civil War (1990); Robert Hughes’ The Shock of the New (1980); John Berger’s Ways Of Seeing (1974). Also, Frank Capra’s wartime Why We Fight series; Pare Lorentz’s The Plow That Broke The Plains (1936).

3. Observational documentaries attempt to simply and spontaneously observe lived life with a minimum of intervention. Filmmakers who worked in this sub-genre often saw the poetic mode as too abstract and the expository mode as too didactic. The first observational docs date back to the 1960’s; the technological developments which made them possible include mobile lighweight cameras and portable sound recording equipment for synchronized sound. Often, this mode of film eschewed voice-over commentary, post-synchronized dialogue and music, or re-enactments. The films aimed for immediacy, intimacy, and revelation of individual human character in ordinary life situations.

Examples: Frederick Wiseman’s films, e.g. High School (1968); Gilles Groulx and Michel Brault’s Les Racquetteurs (1958); Albert & David Maysles and Charlotte Zwerin’s Gimme Shelter (1970); D.A. Pennebaker’s Don’t Look Back (1967), about Dylan’s tour of England; and parts (not all) of Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s Chronicle Of A Summer (1960), which interviews several Parisians about their lives. An ironic example of this mode is Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph Of The Will (1934), which ostensibly records the pageantry and ritual at the Nazi party’s 1934 Nuremberg rally, although it is well-known that these events were often staged for the purpose of the camera and would not have occurred without it. This would be anathema to most of the filmmakers associated with this mode, like Wiseman, Pennebaker, Richard Leacock and Robert Drew, who believed that the filmmaker should be a “fly-on-the-wall” who observes but tries to not influence or alter the events being filmed.

4. Participatory documentaries believe that it is impossible for the act of filmmaking to not influence or alter the events being filmed. What these films do is emulate the approach of the anthropologist: participant-observation. Not only is the filmmaker part of the film, we also get a sense of how situations in the film are affected or altered by her presence. Nichols: “The filmmaker steps out from behind the cloak of voice-over commentary, steps away from poetic meditation, steps down from a fly-on-the-wall perch, and becomes a social actor (almost) like any other. (Almost like any other because the filmmaker retains the camera, and with it, a certain degree of potential power and control over events.)” The encounter between filmmaker and subject becomes a critical element of the film. Rouch and Morin named the approach cinéma vérité, translating Dziga Vertov’s kinopravda into French; the “truth” refers to the truth of the encounter rather than some absolute truth.

Examples: Vertov’s The Man with a Movie Camera (1929); Rouch and Morin’s Chronicle of a Summer (1960); Ross McElwee’s Sherman’s March (1985); Nick Broomfield’s films. I suspect Michael Moore’s films would also belong here, although they have a strong ‘expository’ bent as well.

5. Reflexive documentaries don’t see themselves as a transparent window on the world; instead they draw attention to their own constructedness, and the fact that they are representations. How does the world get represented by documentary films? This question is central to this sub-genre of films. They prompt us to “question the authenticity of documentary in general.” It is the most self-conscious of all the modes, and is highly skeptical of ‘realism.’ It may use Brechtian alienation strategies to jar us, in order to ‘defamiliarize’ what we are seeing and how we are seeing it.

Examples: (Again) Vertov’s The Man with a Movie Camera (1929); Buñuel’s Land Without Bread; Trinh T. Minh-ha’s Surname Viet Given Name Nam (1989); Jim McBride & L.M. Kit Carson’s David Holzman’s Diary (1968); David & Judith MacDougall’s Wedding Camels (1980).

6. Performative documentaries stress subjective experience and emotional response to the world. They are strongly personal, unconventional, perhaps poetic and/or experimental, and might include hypothetical enactments of events designed to make us experience what it might be like for us to possess a certain specific perspective on the world that is not our own, e.g. that of black, gay men in Marlon Riggs’s Tongues Untied (1989) or Jenny Livingston’s Paris Is Burning (1991). This sub-genre might also lend itself to certain groups (e.g. women, ethnic minorities, gays and lesbians, etc) to ‘speak about themselves.’ Often, a battery of techniques, many borrowed from fiction or avant-garde films, are used. Performative docs often link up personal accounts or experiences with larger political or historical realities.

Examples: Alain Resnais’ Night And Fog (1955), with a commentary by Holocaust survivior Jean Cayrol, is not a historical account of the Holocaust but instead a subjective account of it; it’s a film about memory. Also, Peter Forgacs’ Free Fall (1988) and Danube Exodus (1999); and Robert Gardner’s Forest of Bliss (1985), a film about India that I’ve long heard about and look forward to seeing.

Of course, these categories are—as Nichols might readily admit—not meant to be definitive. Instead, they can serve valuably as a catalyst for us to reflect on the documentary film genre and the various alternative approaches within it. I suspect it’s common for a particular film to be a hybrid of two or more modes, with one of them perhaps being ‘dominant.’

Abakozi bagera kuri 20 bashinzwe



Muri iki gihe, isi dutuye igeze ku muvuduko
mu bihe byashize. Imiryango itegamiye kuri Leta ikora byinshi kandi byiza byakwigirwaho n’abandi kandi byagira uruhare mu guhindura imyumvire
Inzobere mu gufata amashusho no kuyatunganya nizo

Phone: 2524865, E-mail adress:, Website:

ibijyana n’ihanahana makuru mu miryango itandukanye igize sosiyete
Sivili Nyarwanda bamaze icyumweru mu mahugurwa ku ikoranabuhanga ryo gufata amashusho no kuyatunganya hagamijwe gukora ubuvugizi.

Iyi gahunda yatangiye ku wa gatanu taliki ya 27 Mutarama 2012, ikaba yaratekerejwe na OXFAM ari nayo yatanze inkunga kugira ngo iki gikorwa gishoboke nk’uko twabitangarijwe na Bwana Gatete Thierry, umukozi w’uyu muryango ushinzwe politiki no gushishikariza abantu kuyitabira. (Politic and campaign)

Mu bihe bishize, hahozeho OXFAM zitandukanye ari zo Oxfam Quebec, Oxfam
Novib, Oxfam UK, ariko ubu hakaba harafashwe icyemezo ku rwego rw’isi ko izi OXFAM zose zajya akorera hamwe ndetse zikanakorana n’abafatanyabikorwa bamwe. Muri rusange OXFAM yita ku guteza imbere uburenganzira ku bukungu n’umutungo, (economic Justice) mu kubishyira mu bikorwa hakifashishwa gahunda ebyiri:

1. Kwikura mu bukene mu buryo buhamye kandi burambye (Sustainable livelihood)
2. Ubuyobozi bugizwemo uruhare na buri wese(Participative gorvenance), uyu muryango ukaba ukora nk’imbarutso y’impinduka. uhanitse, n’ikoranabuhanga rikaba ryarateye imbere bitangaje. Uburyo bwifashishwaga mw’itumanaho n’ihanahana makuru bwagiye buhindagurika bikaba bigoye gukomeza gukora uko abantu bari basanzwe babigenza y’abaturage, iy’abayobozi ku nzego zitandukanye, n’iyabarema amategeko. Ariko kugeza magingo aya, myinshi muri iyi miryango ntabwo ifi te uburyo bugezweho bwo gusakaza ibikorwa byayo ndetse no gukora ubuvugizi (advocacy) nyamara ari bwo nshingano yayo nyamukuru. Iyi niyo mpamvu yateye OXFAM n’abafatanyabikorwa bayo bo mu miryango ya sosiyete sivili, gushaka uburyo bwo guha abakozi b’iyi miryango ubumenyi mw’ikoreshwa ry’ibyuma bifata amashusho byajya byifashishwa cyane cyane muri gahunda y’ubuvugizi.

Hirya no hino, ku bantu b’ingeri nyinshi, birakomeza kugenda bigaragara ko benshi batagifi te umwanya wo kwicara ngo basome inyandiko zigizwe n’impapuro magana abiri cyangwa ijana. (Benshi ngo banyuzamo amaso!) Nyamara hifashishijwe documentary Film y’iminota mike cyane, umuntu ashobora kugaragaza mu mashusho akarengane cyangwa se uburangare bwakorewe abaturage bukangiza cyangwa se bukadindiza imibereho

Eric KABERA set to receive the Africa Channel Visionary Award

LOS ANGELES – The Pan African Film Festival will honor award-winning actress Loretta Devine with its highest honor, a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work on stage, television and film. The award will be presented during the Night of Tribute at 8 p.m. on Friday, February 10, 2012 at the Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills 15 at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

After more than 30 years in the business, Devine nabbed an Emmy for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Dramatic Rolefor her work on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” last year. She received an Independent Spirit Award nod for Best Supporting Female for her role in “Women Thou Art Loosed.” And she has been nominated for a slew of NAACP Image Awards in television and film, grabbing two awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picturefor her roles in “Waiting to Exhale” and “The Preacher’s Wife,” respectively. She picked up three more NAACP Image Awards for her work on David E. Kelly’s Fox series, “Boston Public.”

Still, it was her breakout role on the stage that brought her to national attention. In the role of Lorrell, the Houston native was one of the three original “Dreamgirls” in Michael Bennett’s classic, award-winning Broadway musical of the same name. She followed that performance with a fiery portrayal of Lillian in Bob Fosse’s critically-acclaimed stage production, “Big Deal.” Other performances, including George C. Wolfe’s “Colored Museum” and “Lady Day at Emerson Bar and Grill,” which cemented Devine’s status as one of the most talented and versatile stage actresses.

Soon, film roles followed, and she’s appeared in some of audience’s most beloved movies, including ”Jumping the Brown,” “This Christmas,” Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls” and “Madea’s Big Happy Family, and of course, “Waiting to Exhale.” Other film credits include the Academy award-winning film, “Crash,” “I Am Sam,” “What Women Want” and “Stanley and Iris.”

On the small screen, Devine can be seen regularly in her Emmy-winning role as “Adele,” on ABC’s hit medical drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” Just announced, she’s set to co-star with Jennifer Love Hewitt in Lifetime’s new series, “The Client List.”
“Ms. Devine is probably one of the hardest working women in show business,” said Ayuko Babu, founder and executive director of the Pan African Film Festival with a chuckle. “She is an extremely gifted and versatile actress, creating soulful characters in some of our favorite televisions shows and films.” He added, “Through her craft, she is an amazing storyteller, delivering memorable performances and portraying characters with a richness and vulnerability that connects with audience on many different levels.”

Produced by the Africa Channel, the Night of Tribute honors world-renowned actors, filmmakers, community leaders and fine artists for their contributions on stage, television, film, the arts and the community. Previous recipients of the Lifetime Achievement Award include Oscar-winner Louis Gossett Jr,, Tony award-winner Phylicia Rashad, Emmy award-winning actor Glynn Turman, the honorable Ambassador Andrew Young as well as award winning actresses Marla Gibbs and Dr. Della Reese — just to name a few. The ceremony will be recorded and televised by the Africa Channel, which is broadcast in major markets across the United States and the Caribbean. Visit

Other honorees include:

•• Meagan Good | Beah Richards Rising Star Actress Award – a rising star in television and film. She rose to fame in the family drama, “Eve’s Bayou” with Samuel L. Jackson. Today, she’s one of the most sought after actresses with a string of film credits, including “Jumping the Broom,” “The Unborn,” “The Love Guru,” “35 & Ticking,” “Video Girl” as well as fan favorites, “Stomp the Yard” and “You Got Served.” Good will appear in the film adaptation of “Think Like a Man,” based on radio host Steve Harvey’s best-selling book. *

*Programming note: The comedy, “Think Like a Man” will premiere as the festival’s opener on February 9. The movie is scheduled for theatrical release on March 9, 2012.

• David Oyelowo | Canada Lee Rising Star Actor Award – named by the Los Angeles Times as one of the ”Faces to Watch in 2012.” Oyelowo’s credits include, “The Help,” “The Rise of the Planet of Apes,” and the indie, “96 Minutes.” Currently, he can be seen as one of the Tuskegee Airmen in George Lucas’ bio-pic, “Red Tails” currently in theatres.*

*Programming note: The film, “96 Minutes,” will be screened during the festival. Visit for screening times.

• Mr. Leon Garr | Community Treasure Award – an entrepreneur and philanthropist. Garr launched Garr Construction, contributing to the architectural fiber of Southern California. While semi-retired, at the age of 76, Garr purchased the failing Founders Savings and Loan, and transformed it into Founders National Bank – i.e. the only African American-owned commercial bank in Southern California. Today, he’s 88.*

*Programming note: Leon Garr’s life story will be told in the film, “This Life of Mine,” directed by Antwone Fisher, during the festival. Visit for screening times.

• Jewel Thais-Williams | Community Service Award – a club owner and health care practitioner. Williams is celebrating 39 years of business with her night club, Jewel’s Catch One Night Club, affectionately known as “The Catch.” She founded the Village Health Foundation to offer health and hope to the un- and under-insured. But more courageously, she befriended the LGBT community — initially hit with HIV/AIDS pandemic – providing a safe haven for those stricken with the deadly disease.

• Van Vicker | The Africa Channel Creative Achievement Award – one of Africa’s hottest movie stars, he’s one of the most sought-after Nollywood actors. The award-winning actor has appeared in more than 100 movies, including “Paparazzi: Eye in the Dark,” “Royal War,” “Broken Tears,” “Return of Beyonce” and “Princess Tyra.” He’s been nominated twice for an African Movie Academy Award.*

*Programming note: The film, “Paparazzi: Eye in the Dark,” starring Van Vicker will be screened during the festival. Visit for screening times.

• Jimmy Jean-Louis | The Africa Channel Diasporan Award – one of the most popular and recognizable actors in Africa and making his mark in television and film in Hollywood. The Haitian actor is best known to American audiences from his stint on NBC’s “Heroes” and as the romantic lead in “Phat Girlz” with Oscar-winner Mo’Nique. His Nollywood credits include “Toussant Louverture,” “Sinking Sands,” and “I Sing of a Well.”

*Programming note: The film “”Toussant Louverture” starring Jimmy Jean-Louis will be screened during the festival. Visit for screening times.

• Eric Kabera and the Rwanda Cinema Centre | The Africa Channel Visionary Award — an acclaimed Rwandan filmmake and documentarian. His credits include “Africa United,” “Through My Eyes,” “Keepers of Memory,” and “Kist Towards a Brighter Future.” Kabera founded the Rwanda Cinema Center, which trains young filmmakers and promotes the art of movie making in Rwanda. He is the founder of the Rwanda International Film Festival, which is organized by the Rwanda Cinema Center. *

*Programming note: The film “Africa United” produced by Eric Kabera will be screened during the festival. for screening times.

PAFF, America’s largest and most prestigious international Black film festival, will take place February 9-20, 2012 at the new Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills 15 at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The theatre is situated on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between Marlton Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard)

It has selected a total of 160 films, representing 30 countries, 91 feature length films (narrative and documentaries) and 67 short films. The festival will hand out prizes for Best Documentary Feature, Best Documentary Short, Best Narrative Short, Best Narrative Feature, and Best First Feature Film, as well as audience favorite awards at the close of the festival. For more information, including how to purchase tickets, please visit or call (310) 337-4737.

About the Pan African Film Festival

The Pan African Film and Arts Festival (PAFF), America’s largest and most prestigious Black film and arts festival, is gearing up for its 20th year of screening more than 150 films made by and/or about people of African descent from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, South America, the South Pacific, Europe and Canada. PAFF holds the distinction of being the largest Black History Month event in the country.
PAFF was founded in 1992 by award-winning actor Danny Glover (“The Color Purple,” “Lethal Weapon” movie franchise), Emmy Award-winning actress Ja’Net DuBois (best known for her role as the busybody neighbor Willona in the tv series, “Good Times”) and executive director, Ayuko Babu, an international legal, cultural and political consultant who specializes in African Affairs. PAFF is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the promotion of ethnic and racial respect and tolerance through the exhibit of films, art and creative expression.

The goal of PAFF is to present and showcase the broad spectrum of Black creative works, particularly those that reinforce positive images, help to destroy negative stereotypes and depict an expanded vision of the Black experience. PAFF believes film and art can lead to better understanding and foster communication between peoples of diverse cultures, races, and lifestyles, while at the same time, serve as a vehicle to initiate dialogue on the important issues of our times.

For more information, please visit or call (310) 337-4737.
The Pan African Film & Arts Festival is an official event of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa’s Celebration ofAfrican American Heritage Month. PAFF is sponsored by Macy’s; Wells Fargo Bank; AIDS Healthcare Foundation; City of Los Angeles; Los Angeles County Arts Commission; as well as Los Angeles Council members Bernard C. Parks (District 8), Jan Perry (District 9), and Herb J. Wesson Jr. (District 10); Sony Pictures Entertainment; The Brotherhood Crusade; The Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, The Africa Channel; South African Airways; The Directors Guild of America; and The Water Replenishment District of Southern California.

Special support provided by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
About The Africa Channel

The Network’s premiere on September 1, 2005, marked a milestone in U.S. television history. For the first time, American audiences were able to experience the daily successes, celebrations and challenges of people living throughout Africa, all via a general entertainment network. The Africa Channel is broadcast in the United States through national distribution deals with the four largest cable MSOs in the country; Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and Charter, as well as other cable systems. It’s distributed in the United Kingdom by BSKYB. The Channel is also available in the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, Jamaica, Barbados, Bermuda and Grenada. The network was founded by longtime television industry executives James Makawa, Jacob Arback and Richard Hammer. Partners include former United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young and his company, Goodworks International; NBA stars Dikembe Mutombo and Theo Ratliff; Williams Group Holdings; and former U.S. Senator Donald Stewart.