It seems we’re approaching the point where a documentary has been made about practically everything, so it only makes sense that eventually we’d get a documentary about documentary filmmaking! The meta-ness is mind-blowing! For documentary fans and filmmakers, Capturing Reality is a great resource and starting point for discussion of the techniques and ethics of non-fiction filmmaking. For the casual viewer, it’s probably boring as hell. For me, it was a chance to get some insight from some of my favourite filmmakers on one of my favourite forms of storytelling.
There’s a lot of debate within documentary circles about the idea of truth in non-fiction filmmaking, and it’s certainly given some screen time in this film. In particular, I found it interesting hearing stories about the staging of certain scenes from Werner Herzog’s ‘Little Dieter Needs to Fly’ and Errol Morris’ ‘Gates of Heaven’. Two films from two of my favourite filmmakers, both sidestepping the rules of documentary in pursuit of great cinema. To me, these little manipulations are as harmless as telling a white lie; when a close friend asks ‘do you think I look good in these pants?’, it might better for both you (the filmmaker) and your friend (the audience) if you just say ‘Yes. You look great’, regardless of how frumpy his/her ass may look. Back to films; as long as the broad factual elements are sound, a cinematic presentation at the expense of some documentary conventions is fine by me. ESPECIALLY if it elevates the medium in a fresh and exciting way.
Capturing Reality really benefits from the DVD format in that it’s a film that can work as a reference guide. The menu seems to encourage unusual timeline navigation, taking in the information however you might like to. The bonus disc is comprised of hours of extra materials (more interviews) that are separated by subject and filmmaker. Very handy and all very interesting. It’s also worth mentioning that the National Film Board’s official website for the film is pretty mind blowing and contains a great deal of material as well. Again, this material might not transcend its subject matter and audiences uninterested in documentary filmmaking will likely be checking their watch. The good news is there’s tons of great clips from documentaries scattered throughout the film, so the talking head interviews are given a rest now and again.
Overall, Capturing Reality is a great release that’s packed with interesting content, making it a worthwhile purchase for anyone interested in documentary filmmaking. The film is available for purchase through First Run Features in the and Mongrel Media in Canada.