On the Real and the Visible in Experimental Documentary Film

Daniel Jewesbury

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


    This chapter attempts to define a particular strand within contemporary artists’ filmmaking practice concerned both with formal experimentation and the critical documentation and examination of the conditions of the ‘real’. It briefly introduces a tension that can arise between these two aims: excessive formalism (perhaps based on a slavish adherence to earlier experimental film work or screen theory) sometimes goes hand in hand with a naively nihilistic refusal of ‘the real’ as an objective material category; to many documentarists, meanwhile, the work can appear self-indulgent or over-aestheticised. The paper presents certain works, including Duncan Campbell’s film Bernadette (2008) and the author’s own Gilligan (2009) and NLR (2010) as workings-out, or dramatisations, of these tensions; rather than attempts at ‘resolution’, they are explorations of the elusive character of the real, and of the inherently contested nature of documentary media. Crucially, however, they are attempts to find ways of politicising representation, rather than indefinite deferrals of commitment, or mere ‘representations of the political’ (as a self-contained, prior category, based on clearly definable ‘events’ or easily-representable confrontations). The paper interrogates how an audio-visual medium is able to approach the deep structure of the ‘real’, and to make perceptible networks of relations and power that lie beneath the superficially visible. It explores how the traditions of documentary have been extended and augmented, whilst also being critiqued, by visual artists, and it attempts to make a case for viewing the histories and concerns of the traditions in parallel. It also touches briefly on the problems of making ‘political film’ in contexts (such as Northern Ireland) that are already so excessively over-inscribed, politically.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationTruth, Dare or Promise: Art and Documentary Revisited
    EditorsCahal McLaughlin, Gail Pearce
    Place of PublicationCambridge
    PublisherCambridge Scholars Publishing
    ISBN (Print)1-4438-4959-6
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - Sept 2013


    • experimental film
    • documentary film
    • film
    • cinema
    • artists film
    • realism
    • duncan campbell
    • bernadette devlin mcaliskey


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