Nafasi Art Space workshop

Film vs Truth: The Art of Documentary Filmmaking

Film vs Truth: The Art of Documentary Filmmaking

One of the first films ever made simply showed a train pulling into a station; others showed ships docking, workers leaving a factory and other aspects of industrial life. These films were called “actualities”, a word that echoes “halisi”, meaning truth in kiswahili, and which –in the absence of single word for documentary– is often used to differentiate regular films (filamu) and documentaries (filamu halisi).

The Arrival of a Train, 1896, by Auguste and Louis Lumière


As documentaries developed the nature of the truth shown in these films became more subjective. Artists and Filmmakers depicting daily life wished to show not just what they see, but how they see it, leading filmmakers in the 30s to add more poetic elements to their work in pursuit of what early documentarian John Grierson called the ‘creative interpretation of reality’ –an approach that led to questions over what exactly the documentaries when meant to be documenting.

Direct cinema, and Cinema Verite, were the next iteration of the documentary and its pursuit to depict unadulterated life. Direct Cinema saw filmmakers move stories moved away from the excesses of large-scale and exotic decumentaries of the 30s and ignore commentary completely,  while Cinema Verite often used the same technique to for fictional movies. Both these techniques found their truth in simplicity, prioritizing pure, straightforward and spontaneous depictions of how life happens, whether or not the life is factual.

Out of all of this perhaps should come a recognition of the documentary as an art, as something invloving much more than camera-in-hand fact hunting. Bodil Furu, an Artist and Documentary fillmmaker who will be presenting her latest project, Copper Eaters, at Nafasi this Thursday July 5th this evening at 5:30pm puts it this way:

“Documentaries are the only kind of film where the subject is the expert. So must be prepared to take time to understand them and give them room to work”

For more tips on balancing truth in cinema join us at Nafasi Art Space tonight at 5.30 pm for a special Hangout with the wonderful Bodil.