The Documentary Tradition in the Digital Age / by Verena Kick

The Documentary Tradition in the Digital Age

Verena Kick

This paper asks how and to what extent web-native documentaries (web docs) continue the documentary film tradition in the digital era. Web docs are not documentaries that are streamed online, rather, they operate within the framework of a website. Images, text, audio, video, animation, maps and infographics are embedded in a database that displays a layered, non-linear narrative. Is such a database narrative still a part of the documentary genre? The most prominent features of the documentary genre are authenticity, evidence, authority, rhetoric and performance. And yet, the web doc does not primarily concern itself with any of these issues. Rather, web docs rely on an interplay of computational databases and narratives, performed in turn by the filmmaker, the user and the pre-programmed database. When the focus of narrative relies more on this interplay and the relationship between the elements of the web doc than on the events depicted, issues of performance become even more important, subordinating categories of authority, evidence and rhetoric. Why, then, do filmmakers still call their work web documentaries? How does a narrative change when it is based on a computational database? How does the author still shape or control his story? When rhetorical strategies shift, what kind of truth and evidence do web documentaries provide? This paper will explore these general questions with the example of the leading German practitioner of web docs, Florian Thalhofer, and his most recent work The Money and the Greeks (2013) that covers the euro crisis in Greece.

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