Posted by: Jonathan Hinderliter | February 25, 2010

Guest film studies scholar gets to the root of documentaries

By Jonathan Hinderliter

Jaine Gaines of Columbia University helped kick off the True/False Film Festival Wednesday by leaving her audience with plenty of food for thought before the actual films are shown.

“Confessions of a True-Story Junkie” challenged listeners to consider the idea that there is no such thing as a true story.

“A true story is a contradiction in terms,” Gaines said. “Stories are remodeled by writers, producers and actors, putting the story at odds with itself.”

Gaines went on to describe a certain type of individual who understands this but will still strive to seek out the closest thing to truth as can be reasonably obtained.

These enthusiasts should understand that in order to find what seems most true, they must “stalk the contradiction,” Gaines said.

This idea encourages filmmakers and viewers to consider the context in versions of the story. One might come from witnesses or even filmmakers who craft their ideas into a documentary.

As a documentary unfolds, viewers expect to be told something they do not know. This assumes a  preexisting idea of what seems to be true, but viewing a given documentary raises the expectation that a new version of truth shall be revealed.

“These stories interest us in their contradiction of cultural truth-norms,” Gaines said.

While Gaines said she does not mean to devalue efforts to dig deeper and get closer to the truth, she reminded viewers to continue to keep themselves aware of watching a story within a constructed frame.

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