Encounters of the third kind

From a more theoretical point of view, I suggest this is a new way to go beyond the all-too-simple dichotomies used as distinctions in documentary criticism between the controlled and the uncontrolled, the staged and the spontaneous (or between fakery and ‘sobriety’).

Trevor Ponech (What is non-fiction cinema, 1999) distinguishes

“between two main categories of plans, corresponding to two broad strategies of authorially determining the content of non-fictional motion pictures.”

In terms of intentionality, he argues,

“Type I Non-Fictions have only schematic plans and highly flexible commitments ... [T]hey might simply intend to show whatever it is that ultimately happens to be recorded on the resultant footage.

In contrast,

“Type II Non-Fictions ... result from intentions that are more rather than less restrictive of content” and “correspond to significantly more detailed plans.”

Ponech indeed suggests,

“... instead of looking for mutually exclusive classifications, it makes more sense to situate films somewhere along a gradual progression from minimal to maximal prevalence of authorial intentions. In all likelihood the majority of works are combination of Types I and II.” 

Such a view avoids a clear-cut opposition and thus gives a better account of the various documentary filmmaking practices.

What I propose however is to conceive a dialectical relationship between Ponech’s two types, between planning the events and facing the irruption of spontaneous occurrences. In other terms, the “authorial intentions” of the filmmaker may create a third category if the intention is to frame the unexpected, to facilitate the upsurge of the unforeseen, rather than control the flow of events.

Continued: Steps toward new strategies

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