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Case Number 17514: Small Claims Court

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Capturing Reality: The Art Of Documentary

First Run Features // 2008 // 97 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // October 20th, 2009

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All Rise...

Next, Appellate Judge James A. Stewart will write a review of reviews.

The Charge

"Real life is so much more interesting and so much more bizarre than anything you can make up."—Kevin MacDonald, director of Touching the Void

The Case

With all the documentaries coming out on DVD, it figures that there'd be a documentary about documentaries among them. Capturing Reality: The Art of Documentary, from the National Film Board of Canada, captures the reality of documentary directors, including Werner Herzog, Errol Morris, Albert Maysles, and Manfred Becker, talking about their craft.

It's a minimalist film. The directors are mostly seen against a neutral background, not in their work or personal environments, which is ironic, since Nick Broomfield mentions the importance of the environment for context in his comments. It includes clips of numerous documentaries, including well-known ones like Grey Gardens and Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, but they're brief, so mostly you'll see directors talking.

Casual viewers will likely be bored, but if you're fascinated by the documentary form, there are some interesting insights to be had on both the ethical aspects and the nuts-and-bolts aspects of sound, editing, and filming.

Film students will treasure the bonus disc of extended discussion segments with twenty or so directors, and discussions of various topics touched upon in the main film. There's a "play all" option for each director or topic, but you'll have to navigate from director to director or topic to topic yourself. As a reviewer, I didn't care for that setup, but most viewers won't try to view hours' worth of the segments in one shot. Among the most interesting filmmaker moments were Malcolm Clarke's discussion of getting close to "compelling" evildoers, Patricio Guzman's recollection of his joy upon receiving his first canisters of new film, and Michel Brault's anecdote about his misconceptions about wrestling, and how a conversation changed his angle on a documentary he was doing. The pauses between segments are noticeable, but the segments are usually interesting. There's a lot of overlap between director extras and topic extras; again, I didn't care for that much, but it's aimed at film students, who'll likely be watching over time and going back to key segments anyway.

There's not too much to say about the picture quality of talking-head shots, but I was annoyed by freeze-ups in three of the individual director segments, those of Jennifer Fox, Scott Hicks, and Sylvain L'Esp e rance, and several of the topic elements. Everything's set up in both English and French.

Although I watched more quickly than I would have liked, Capturing Reality provided some interesting points to ponder about documentary and introduced a few directors I'd never heard of, piquing my interest for later. While its talking-head style might irk documentary purists, the substance of Capturing Reality will interest would-be documentarians and avid documentary viewers, especially with a bonus disc that goes beyond the basics.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 87

Perp Profile

Studio: First Run Features
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
• English
• French
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary

Distinguishing Marks

• Extended Discussions

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