How do issues of form and content shape the documentary film? What role does visual evidence play in relation to a documentary’s arguments about the world we live in? In what ways do documentaries abide by or subvert ethical expectations? Are mockumentaries a form of subversion? Can the documentary be an aesthetic experience and at the same time have political or social impact? And how can such impacts be empirically measured? Pioneering film scholar Bill Nichols investigates the ways documentaries strive for accuracy and truthfulness and simultaneously fabricate a form that shapes reality. Such films may rely on reenactment to re-create the past, storytelling to provide satisfying narratives, and rhetorical figures such as metaphor or devices such as irony to make a point. Documentaries are truly a fiction unlike any other.
With clarity and passion, Nichols offers incisive commentaries on the basic questions of documentary’s distinct relationship to the reality it represents, as well as close readings of provocative documentaries from this form's earliest days to its most recent incarnations. These essays offer a definitive account of what makes documentary film such a vital part of our cultural landscape.
PART I. DOCUMENTARY MEETS THE NEIGHBORS: THE AVANT-GARDE AND FICTION FILM
PART II. THE AUDIO IN AUDIOVISUAL
PART III. BEYOND “JUST THE FACTS”: EVIDENCE, INTERPRETATION, AND SOCIAL CONTEXT
PART IV. ETHICS AND IRONY IN DOCUMENTARY
PART V. POLITICS AND THE DOCUMENTARY FILM
Bill Nichols is a leading authority on documentary film and the author or editor of a dozen books. His Introduction to Documentary is the standard text in this area. He lectures widely and consults often with documentary filmmakers on their projects.
“Bill Nichols, our leading authority on documentary film, says he is ‘taking liberties’ in this rich collection of eighteen essays from over four decades of viewing and thinking about nonfiction films. He speaks truer than he lets on, for this book is also about liberty—freedom for artists, thinkers, and audiences to engage with the world, with the political utopias that neither Nichols nor the films he writes about will let us lose sight of.” —Thomas Waugh, Concordia University, author of The Conscience of Cinema: The Films of Joris Ivens, 1926–1989
“The range of content and theoretical ideas in Speaking Truths with Film is simply outstanding, shaking us to consider documentary—both its practices and its epistemologies—anew. What impresses the reader is the astounding depth and staggering breadth of films, ideas, and debates probed in these compelling, beautifully rendered essays that simultaneously unsettle and clarify.”—Patricia R. Zimmermann, coauthor of Thinking through Digital Media: Transnational Environments and Locative Places
"Bill Nichols is uniquely equipped to trace the genealogy of documentary studies—after all, he pioneered the field. Speaking Truths With Film is proof that he has yet to quit; filled as it is with his half-century chronicle of developments in both filmmaking and scholarship, it demands to not only be read, but also put to use."—B. Ruby Rich, Editor of Film Quarterly