First films (coursework).

My first film project at Royal Holloway (got an upper first for my first TV project - yay!).

The brief: A 1 minute Self Portrait Documentary.

Here are some excerpts from my film production essay:

This film is intended to be an exploration of self, as well as the medium of film itself. A piece posing existential and personal questions, as well as questions about  the constructed and performed nature of film – but also the constructed and performed nature of life.......

The title ‘This is not a Documentary’ is a, perhaps obvious, reference to Rene Magritte’s painting ‘La Trahison des Images’ (‘The Treachery of Images’) (1928-29). The painting is of a pipe, and underneath, it states: “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” (“This is not a Pipe”), and so asks the viewer to reassess their idea of what it means for something to be something. After-all, it is not a pipe, it is a painting of a pipe. This is not dissimilar to Aristotles’ theory of metaphysics – about the essence of being. ...

This idea relates to the theme that I intended to convey in this documentary. That ‘true’ documentary is not possible. It is not life, but a film of life. It is not reality in an empirical sense, it is a construction and moulding of reality. It is, then, not myself in this film, but a reflection, depiction and construction of self....

‘Mimesis’ was added to the title latterly, as it was suggested by a classicist, during an informal feedback session, that it might be an appropriate word to describe the project. Mimesis is a word that was used in Ancient Greek to describe art that imitates life. In art history, ‘mimesis’, ‘realism’ and ‘naturalism’ are often used interchangeably. (Gebauer & Wulf, 1992)

...Michael Davis, a translator and commentator of Aristotle writes:
“Imitation always involves selecting something from the continuum of experience, thus giving boundaries to what really has no beginning or end. Mimêsis involves a framing of reality that announces that what is contained within the frame is not simply real. Thus the more "real" the imitation the more fraudulent it becomes” (Davis, 1993) 

The theme of the constructed-ness of documentary film that I wished to deal with, is explained perfectly by Carlsen in ‘How to Invent Reality’:
“Documentary films that pretend to be just filming reality – without reality acknowledging the intrusion of the camera crew - are dangerous…We're all trapped in our own point of view. That's inescapable…I see documentary filmmaking as an art form…For me documentaries are no more real than fiction films and fiction films no more invented than documentaries… two different methods for describing our world” (Carlsen, 1996)

...Since the beginning of film, we have encountered the ‘problem’ that people, if aware that they are on camera, will behave differently. One of the earliest examples of this is ‘La Sortie de l’Usine de Lyon’ (‘The exit of the Lumiere factory in Lyon’) (Lumiere, 1895), where the workers obviously have been instructed to ignore and avoid the camera – so is therefore not a naturalistic depiction of workers leaving the factory. This is a problem explored through showing voyeuristic shots of people instead....

The train in the film is used due to its’ specific and unique relationship with film historically, for example ‘L'arrivée d'un train en gare de La Ciotat’ (‘The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station’) (Lumiere, 1895). The train was also felt to be significant due to the way that the windows and movement mimic that of a film strip itself. We only see moments, little windows, fragments of action and are constricted by them...

...(Thus, potentially, life imitating art?)...

In the opening shots, where the reflection of the camera is seen in the train window, I was influenced by Perlov’s films, and his use of mirrors. In an analysis of Perlov’s work, Shuka Glotman states that it is an:

“acknowledgment of the transience of the observer and of the eternity of the human gaze.” (Glotman, 2005). This links photographic exposure with exposure of self. There is, however, a paradox where photography is concerned:
“ the photographer cannot be behind the camera and in front of it at the same time…unable to participate in life itself and record it at the same time.” (Glotman, 2005)

The seemingly never-ending, ongoing movement of the train is used in ‘This is not a Documentary. Mimesis’, as a metaphor for life, and the way in which we are stuck with our own journey – we cannot experience anybody elses’ fully.
We can only understand others’ lives in snapshots or fragments,

....The aesthetic style is intended to be reminiscent of home-videos or low budget films, however, this could be construed as an inability to film technically ‘well’. The slightly shaky handheld camerawork, again could be seen as amateur, but is another way in which I try to evoke realism....

.....and creates doubt as to whether the notepad is in the present, or another memory.
The voice-mail or answering machine messages heard over the beginning of the film were added later in the film editing process. The fact that the phone-call has been unanswered, and that they provide an audio snapshot or sound-bite of others’ understanding of my life – is significant. The content of the messages also creates questions, like: why did she miss my call? Why is she worrying? Why is she repeatedly phoning? This creates a sense of disjointedness and disconnection with close ones. The change of tone in her voice between messages, yet repetition of content creates meaning is in the difference.
In terms of lighting, I purposefully used sun bleached scenes and use of glare – enhances the physical feeling of being there. The idea is that overwhelming ness of the light overpowers the camera and increases realism – as it is the same bleached-out momentary blindness that you would get with your own eye. It also serves as a defense mechanism and eases the vulnerability of the exposure of self. Glotman discusses the idea that Perlov used the camera as a means of defense both in his still photography and film work. Often using the flash on the camera to create reflection of glaring light, which would mean that the viewer could not see Perlov’s face, and sometimes even obscuring the camera (Glotman, 2005). It is also speculated that this was due perhaps to a shyness of Perlov.....

....Nevertheless, there are manifold weaknesses. It could be argued that it is too self-referential or abstract, resulting in the work being not accessible enough, yet too obvious for those within the art world. It is also possible that there was an element of cliché, or that the rhythm of the still pictures was jarring and did not work....

...This film can be seen as an attempt to address the ongoing issue of reality and ‘objectivity’ in documentary, but ultimately as a protection against the revelation of self.

Heart It


  1. I liked the clip and its warmth

  2. Congrats on your upper 1st!! Love the clip, especially the stop-motion frames.

    Fii x



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