Documentary Mode 1: Poetic



Recently, events in my life have caused me to think about the how precious our time is, how irreversible it remains, and how it constantly moves. I’ve been thinking especially about how we, as college students, never seem to stop moving. Whether it is through our studies or our entertainment consumption, rarely do we ever stop and take a moment to stand still. Sometimes it feels like we’re automatic machines always moving, never pausing to take a breath or refresh.

I chose to explore this idea through the poetic documentary mode. In our class discussions we explored the idea of how documentary can convey a specific meaning through the use of rhythm and tone, like a poem would. Our class readings explain that the poetic mode allows the documentary filmmaker to illustrate their distinct point of view through this artistic medium. Techniques often used might include unnatural editing, using color to convey mood, juxtaposing images or sounds, or conveying a tone through the rhythm of the editing. In class we discussed how in poetic modes, sometimes the filmmaker engages more with the form of film than with any subject matter. By playing with the form of film itself, poetic documentaries allow filmmakers to have more creativity in their project.

With these specific aspects of the poetic mode in mind, I used certain techniques and made decisions in my short documentary to help convey my message. My main motive was to compare college students with machines. To illustrate this idea, I used certain juxtapositions of videos, moving students compared to clocks and other machines. I also relied on the use of sound to help create tempo and meaning. Underneath the footage I applied several audio pieces that I had recorded. I specifically used machine noises from car engines, ticking clocks, printers, computers and generators. Applying these automatic, non-stop noises to the motion of students walking on campus helped to tie these two ideas together – how we are just machines constantly running and churning forward. I also spruced throughout the audio, a ticking clock. I wanted to remind the audience that time will always be there, whether we are aware of it or not, it never stops moving. This allows viewers to think about how they might be choosing to spend their time, something that we can never rewind. The ticking of the clock also helped create an almost musical tempo for my video. Like our class reading indicates, my film also has no coherent continuity or specific location. Rather, it embraces my idea over a variety of moments and places.

One of my inspirations for my film was a short we watched in class – Rainby Joris Ivens. I was fascinated with this 14-minute doc that highlighted the rhythm of rain in a city. Without focusing on any particular subject or person, Ivens concentrates on the beauty of such a natural element, water. Citizens in the city are left as ambiguous figures. Like Ivens, I tried to steer clear of focusing on any single person or student that I filmed. I wanted instead to focus on the student body in general, even our society overall, or really anyone who might relate. As a result, I chose to film students’ feet or students from far away so they could remain unclear.

It was an exciting challenge to be able to use film in such an experimental approach. I found myself appreciating the mode of poetic documentary because it allows filmmaker’s with ideas to be able to creatively express themselves through authentic means. Poetic documentary, although somewhat unconventional, has the beautiful power to invite viewers to pause, and think.

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