“The machine makes us ashamed of man's inability to control himself, but what are we to do if electricity's unerring ways are more exciting to us than the disorderly haste of active men and the corrupting inertia of passive ones?
Saws dancing at a sawmill convey to us a joy more intimate and intelligible than that on human dance floors.   For his inability to control his movements, WE temporarily exclude man as a subject for film.  Our path leads through the poetry of machines, from the bungling citizen to the perfect electric man. In revealing the machine's soul, in causing the worker to love his workbench, the peasant his tractor, the engineer his engine ­ we introduce creative joy into all mechanical labor, we bring people into closer kinship with machines, we foster new people.
The new man, free of unwieldiness and clumsiness, will have the light, precise movements of machines, and he will be the gratifying subject of our films.”[1]
                                                             ~ Dziga Vertov, WE: Variant of a Manifesto, 1922.

Documentary and Post-Cinema:  Potentials and Uncertainties of Documentary in the Post-Cinematic Age.
                                                                                                                        by Nich L. Perez
            Dziga Vertov’s notion of the “new man” in his Manifesto resounds to the beat of the post-cinematic.  Known as one of the most formidable documentary filmmakers who used the earliest movie cameras to capture “actualities,” Vertov had foreseen the evolving subjectivity and processes in the realm of the realist tradition of filmmaking.    In today’s ground-breaking nonfiction virtual reality and other new platforms of documentary storytelling, we are able to witness the emergence of this “new man” in the “poetry of machines.” The democratization of cinema changes the terrain of crafting the truth; the genre has become more fluid, which brings this uncertainty to the documentary narrative as a result of the various shifts in technology and culture in this Post-Cinematic age, where the digital reigns and new platforms and multi-layered storytelling thrive.  The anticipation is rooted perhaps in these developments that are quite fecund to new possibilities of storytelling. Without the digital format, many filmmakers would not have the opportunity to make films in these past couple of decades.  Documentarians in particular have reaped the value of the post-cinematic, allowing them to shoot, edit and project digitally, liberated from the shackles of the reel and the photochemical process.  And the availability of affordable equipment and the enormous use of the Internet have allowed filmmakers and amateur media makers to achieve the shots that have never been done before and to distribute their work in a massive scale. 
            National Geographic photographer and conservationist, Paul Nicklen, in collaboration with research biologists, attached GoPro cameras to polar bears in the Artic sea ice in the northern part of Alaska to study the impact of Global Warming.  Scientists and media makers were able to capture on video the suffering and starvation of a dying bear in its last few moments, which has gone viral on the internet, giving attention to these documentary possibilities.   The customized “bear-cam” brought in hours of footage that gave the scientists a myriad of new data of not only the bear population but also the evidence for the need to reduce the greenhouse-effect gas emissions.[2]  These are exciting times for documentary filmmakers. The question for documentarians, however, in line with the surge of the redefinition of the cinematic apparatus and the evolution of the digital culture, lies in the rapidly evolving subjectivity in the form and content in the realist tradition of storytelling. The emergence of new documentary platforms presents abundant new possibilities in this genre, specifically how the narrative is captured, generated, enhanced and presented; but, at the same time, it is leaving behind some core values and fundamental documentary attributes that only the traditional nonfiction narrative allows audiences and filmmakers to experience.
            The validity of arguments as expressed in the authority of exposition and the evidentiary media are the essential elements of the documentary narrative, which can be in question with the dissolution of the apparatus.   How will this narrative be affected in this post-cinematic evolution?  Will the scope of documentary filmmaking change as the apparatuses advance in more convenient and voracious ways: highly portable and digitally enhanced?  And as we veer towards the post-human, how will the documentary subjectivity change?  And what might be the possible ethical implications in the art of crafting the truth in the age of Post-Cinema?  These questions are quite expansive for a short essay such as this, but this would hopefully highlight a few integral points to address the subjective framework in the post-cinematic documentary narrative.  The point here is not to prognosticate, but to offer a few insights as I delve into some recent works in the nonfiction post-cinematic realm and some of their implications to documentary filmmakers. 
The Evolution of Documentary:  The Content and Execution
            Documentary, historically a propaganda tool and “a form of cinematic pedagogy” as expressed by John Grierson, paradigmatically becomes a threshold for nonfiction cinema.  The goal of Grierson, as quoted by the cultural theorist, Pooja Rangan, is “social first, not aesthetic,” which means that documentary films for Grierson are meant to address the social problems to educate the public, considering that this was during the Second World War.[3]   Throughout the decades, however, documentary has transcended into various multimedia platforms, from reality television, web docs to nonfiction virtual reality; the narrative has jumped a long way from its genesis.  Almost eighty years after Grierson, documentary has ontologically transformed to something much more different than the Man with a Movie Camera, where form and content have evolved into a more complex documentary experience other than its social or aesthetic beginnings.  Its latter forms have become a staple for many, with its accessibility through streaming and handheld devices, and on the eve of Virtual Reality, its ubiquity is unquestionable.  This has allowed more media makers to be challenged by the post-cinematic culture and technology, in weaving new ways of presenting their narratives in ground-breaking platforms that somewhat differs from the long version cinematic experience.
Emerging Documentary Forms and Post human Subjectivity
            With these new platforms for documentary projects, the post-cinematic structure of documentary films has become much more diversified with the emergence of virtual subjectivity that Alisa Lebow unravels.  She posits that “the disembodiment of traditional cinema and video is further enacted, making questions of ‘autobiography’ and first person all the more abstract and unfamiliarised.”[4]  This is of course in the context of first person documentaries that has been exacerbated with selfies, video blogs and live streaming that somewhat fall within the realm of the documentary experience.  However, the question is:  will these be enough to investigate the ‘truth,’ which documentary filmmakers are fueled by? In a culture dominated with selfies and immoderate Epicurean drive for pixels, there seems to be a lacking of emphasis in the importance of taking time through an issue, which is necessary to gather the evidentiary media required in a solid documentary story.  The abstraction and unfamiliarity of the subject may come from the fragmented self that is represented in the snippets of personalized data and exposition in these emerging platforms.  In traditional documentary films, the filmmaker puts the subject through a more critical lens.  Subjectivity in this form can be more profound in the investigation of arguments, breaking down the facts with temporality and a solid in-depth narrative structure as allies.  Virtual identities and self-representations, in the post-cinematic documentary narrative may also bring one to question the veracity of its narrative due to its greater solipsistic tendencies.   The post human concepts advocated by Rosi Braidotti, however, may allow the documentarian to dig in deeper without the blemishes on the lens of humanism, with a materialist and vitalist posthuman subjectivity that stresses the need for “a vision of the subject that is ‘worthy of the present’.”  Braidotti underlines the posthuman attributes that can put more emphasis on the subject and challenges us to “leap forward into the complexities and paradoxes of our times,” which requires to have a “new conceptual creativity.”[5]  From a theoretical level as applied to the subject of documentary, these post human concepts may be able to suppress the abstraction and unfamiliarity, allowing a different level of intention in the process of storytelling.
            I believe this new conceptual creativity as applied to the documentary narrative can be an essential impetus to challenge its current structure.    The post-cinematic offers an array of possibilities for the documentary filmmaker in the format of its “creative expression of actuality,” as Grierson defined it.[6]   Fifty-three years later, Dirk Eitzen, a documentary filmmaker, writes about the infinity of “actuality,” which he affirms, can never be wholly represented.  He continues, 
“Any representation is a selective view of the world.  All representations of actuality must choose which aspects to  include and which to leave out.  Decisions are made to   emphasize one element and to downplay others, to assert some truths and to ignore  others.  First the documentary maker has to determine the what actuality is worth exploring.” [7]
This method of selection synergizes with what Braidotti describes as “vitalist materialism” which emphasizes the self-organizing vitality of all living systems and takes the focus off the anthropos.[8]   Such post-anthropocentric focus, I suggest, can be a unique way to process the subject, form and narrative of documentaries, adding another layer to how the documentary filmmaker crafts the actuality and changing the default settings of hierarchy in a more advanced and inclusive view of the world.  These new platforms have somewhat incrementally imbibed this theoretical concept of the post-cinematic as these new possibilities in the documentary field evolve.
New Platforms, New Potentials, and New Narrativity in Presenting the Truth
            For instance, animated, interactive and web documentaries are amazing new platforms with this “new conceptual creativity.” The performative cartography, mobility and the interactive elements of these new forms have been groundbreaking in the realist realm despite the uncertainty in this post-cinematic media’s creative potential and often limited audience reach.  Sue Ding of the International Documentary Association explores the potential of Augmented Reality, which is “digital content overlaid on the physical world.” She also presented other advancing media technologies in the domain of virtual reality, like extended and mixed reality, that documentary has helped pioneer through these years and opens up a space for more people to participate.[9]  On the other hand, this form of transmedia documentaries is widely used by journalists and media makers to report painstaking analyses of different issues and actualities, setting a bar to a visual culture that is not primarily film-based.  Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck created a piece, which is considered an animated documentary for the New York Times Op-Docs in 2014 called, ‘Animated Life:  Seeing the Invisible.’ The animated piece explores the discovery of microbes through the story of the scientist, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, and digitally captured.  The narrative, however, is represented with papier-mâché on strings supported with the voices of different experts as they discuss the pivotal moments of Leeuwenhoek’s discovery and inventions.[10]  The documentary evidence here is persuasive despite its animated nature.  There was a sense of order in its narrative despite the alien nature of the texture, but the presentation of evidence dispels the ambiguity and sets the purpose of the piece. 
            Also, Web, Cross-platform and locative documentaries continue to be experimented and utilized, changing and challenging the traditional narrative of nonfiction cinema.  Extended reality, an umbrella term of experiences that combine the virtual and the physical experiences, can be accessed now through applications in tablets and smart phones, and documentary games have also come into this wave, adding into the realm of this narrative scheme.  This begs to question the depths of its immersion in the actuality and how documentary will evolve in this playing field. The web documentary of Miquel Dewever-Plana and Isabelle Fougère in 2013 entitled, “Alma: A Tale of Violence,” uniquely presents the story of a young Guatemalan woman who belonged to the Maras, a violent gang that plunged her into the Guatemalan underworld.  The merging of documentary film format and interactive web modules create a riveting pedagogical background to her story and an immersion of the violent subculture that she has experienced for five years.  Both of these filmmakers have devised an effective execution for audiences to understand why such violence occur in Guatemala and the possibilities of rehabilitation and prevention of the gang culture.  The narrative was structured and produced by the filmmakers, presented in an interactive web page platform that allow users to explore supplementary documentary footage as Alma tells her story.[11]  The level of its interactivity meshing with the didactic cautionary tale is unique, considering that through their site, viewers are able to download modules and have access additional literature that can supplement their inquiry and a definite way to link in to the call to action of the story.  However, to play devil’s advocate, an in-depth feature-length well-made documentary about Alma and the Maras, in my opinion, can have a wider audience in this streaming age and a deeper immersion into the experience. The “traditional” documentary film structure would have given a deeper look into Alma’s story as compared to a few seconds of supplementary media and animation as the viewers move the mouse pointer.  At some point, it can be a bit distracting, using the mouse to support the story.
            In some of these new platforms, however, the documentarian in a way disappears as they let the machine take over, in terms of how data is captured and presented.   And with the personalized and individualistic capture, the audiences become the participants; they become the center of the work.  Blast Theory, a group of interactive artists based in the United Kingdom has pioneered a variety of projects that pushed the envelope with a locative documentary narrative.  One of their primordial projects that started in 2007 is called, Rider Spoke.[12]  It is an interactive bike ride equipped with a smart phone, earphones and a microphone, that allows the biker to uniquely document “the relationship the people have with their own city,” as they answer the questions using their device; hence, the whole city becomes a documentary space.[13] This version of domestic ethnography or epistolary has transformed the narrative process to a more personal and locative-based media creation, as it explores “the documentary space as a lived experience.”  Documentary film scholar, Michael Renov, points out the impurity of documentary cinema.  The impurity of the “creative expression of actuality” from the Griersonian frame of thought, resides on the what is real for the filmmaker and in the crafting of these “actualities.”[14]  The exploration of the city and the biker’s testimony using Rider Spoke is phenomenologically a creative expression that creates this organic narrative in response to the apparatus and the environment that becomes a documentary space, which is the same concept used for the most recent media technologies.  Traditional documentary makers might disagree with this process, depending on the context of the narrative they are exploring, since a different level of collaboration takes place in the capture of evidentiary media between the participant and the filmmaker.   In its traditional sense, the evidence is not just captured as an individual collecting data but is a collaborative process, with the evidence painstakingly and aesthetically explored in a certain amount of time and with an experienced filmmaking team. It takes skills and experience to extract the truth of a situation without violating its mysteries, as Jane Chapman puts it when describing the process of Errol Morris’s films.[15]   In hindsight, the individualistic process of documentary capture also continues even on the level of live-streaming, or in the broadcast-yourself culture that is quite prevalent in today’s media culture, changing the way we acquire media assets and sets up a new approach to archival materials, which eventually might affect this genre’s central motivation:  the truth. 
Database Narrative
            From a documentarian’s perspective, this new kind subjectivity has tremendous permutations in crafting the truth in response to the world and the relationship to the subject.  The hard line in this, outside of the theoretical framework, is that eventually in the age of post-cinema, documentary becomes mere data; codes and algorithm taking form in the narrative.  Lev Manovich talks about database narrative in his book, “The Language of New Media,” as he explores how the changing narrative is structured and pieced together with the available data in the collection of media.  Manovich explains that narrative and database are natural enemies because in the cultural form “the narrative creates a cause-effect trajectory of seemingly unordered items,” unlike the database, it puts the representation of the world as an ordered list.[16] But with a database composed of data from surveillance, sousveillance and drone cameras added to the collection of personalized data, this takes us one step further into this evolving idea of the documentary narrative.   For a nonfiction filmmaker, depending again on the context, this is a pot of gold, piecing together documentary jewels in the digital archives of grains and pixels. This can ultimately become a new level of realism, a synthetic realism, which for sure has dire ethical implications that dispels the primordial responsibilities that the documentarian possesses.  And once we have delved further into this, authenticity will be questioned.  As documentary makers adapt to these new areas of narrativity, in the end, what always sets them apart in this post-cinematic adventure is their quest for the truth, but will these new ways of capturing and presenting truth become an impediment? Or will they empower them in this quest? 

The Conclusion:  The Documentarian’s Uncertainty in the Post-Cinematic
            In retrospect, there is much to hope for in these evolving technologies and processes that may revolutionize the realist tradition, but there are also lingering uncertainties in the future of documentaries in the post-cinematic age.    Even though many of these emerging media technologies offer a panoptic perspective and eventually eliminates the frame for an immersive experience, specifically with virtual reality, there is some level of loss towards the more cinematic experience of the spectator in its medium specificity.  This is not just a matter of psychoanalytic theories of spectatorship that Richard Allen dissects, because with documentaries, we are never depicting an illusion;[17] documentaries offer context to a complex situation that spectators can analyze.  But will these methods be enough to give justice to the stories that need telling?  With the traditional cinematic experience, there is a certain depth and temporality that serves an effective pedagogical and expositional operation.  For instance, the Kuleshov Effect may not be as effective when used in a VR documentary, and so as thought-provoking montage that a filmmaker like Jonas Mekas might create in his films.  In the VR documentary of Gabo Arora and Barry Pousman, the story of a 12-year-old Syrian girl in a refugee camp in Za’atari is told.[18]  Clouds Over Sidra is quite a unique experience compared to other documentary platforms for it shows the viewers the reality of the children in refugee camps, but it still does not give a deep understanding of who Sidra is and the quagmire of war as presented in her struggles together with her family.  Debatably, if crafted through a feature-length documentary structure, the process can wield a much stronger impact on telling her story.
            This is not to put down the potentials of VR or other media platforms, but in this way of just capturing moments and presenting a vague sense of reality “documentary skills” might be lost in the process.  Documentarians create a certain depth in their narratives as they weave the strands of moments of the participant and the situation. The grains, pixels and sounds captured in their apparatus create the meaning in the ordering of their sequences, in the nature of their soundtrack.  And the context through the ordering of the shots and various production devices make it clear, to give us the understanding of the function and beauty of what they create.  And such are made possible by the skills of filmmakers, a wisdom and competence harnessed through time and hard work, which may wane if we rely too much on a database and algorithms.
            Creative authorship might also be in peril as the voice of the documentarian continues to fade in some of these new processes.  The documentary experience in locative and augmented documentaries are innovative ways to address and capture reality; its participatory nature somewhat brings in a collaborative way to phenomenologically record and encapsulate an idea or experience.  But to be able to capture such ideas and experience through a filmmaker’s lens creates a distance between the participant and the filmmaker, the screen and the spectator, which again, debatably is far more effective.  Film professor and writer, Tom Gunning, points out an interesting argument with raw materials like this, that they are “too raw, too close to reality and bereft of artistic or conceptual shaping (compared to a more “cooked” documentary), (that) doesn’t take us very far.”[19]  I agree with Gunning’s insights and with post-cinema’s way of presenting such materials, we might lose the dialogical relations and the drama in the nonfiction 
narrative, and such requires the voice of the documentary maker to set up that space and interaction.
            Vertov’s new man might lose the frame in the post cinematic and the new apparatus somewhat becomes the new man.  Perhaps this is the new “electric man” that the Man with the Movie Camera tries to reveal.  And perhaps with this new conceptual creativity we may achieve a new creative joy.  Questions will always come with these uncertainties, and a sense of awe will arrive in the wake of its potentials, but all of these come as an adventure.    For the documentarian, my hope is that we will never lose that voice, and the truth that is the central motivation of their form, in the narrative of the future.
1. Dziga Vertov, Kino-Eye, The Writings of Dziga Vertov, ed. Annette Michelson (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 7-8.
2. Robinson Meyer, “What Scientists Learned From Strapping a Camera to a Polar Bear,” The Atlantic, February 1, 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2018/02/what-scientists-learned-from-strapping-a-camera-to-a-polar-bear/552083/
 3. Pooja Rangan, Immediations, The Humanitarian Impulse in Documentary (London: Duke University Press, 2017), 2-3.
4. Alisa Lebow, ed., The Cinema of Me.  The Self and Subjectivity in First Person Documentary (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 9.
5. Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman (United Kingdom: Polity Press, 2013), 53-54.
6. John Grierson “First Principles of Documentary.” The Documentary Film Reader: History, Theory, Criticism, ed. Jonathan Kahana, (London: Oxford University Press, 2016), 217.
7. Dirk Eitzen, “When Is a Documentary?: Documentary as a Mode of Reception,” Cinema Journal 35.1 (Fall 1995).
8. Braidotti, The Posthuman, 55-56, 82.
9.  Sue Ding, “Augmented Reality’s Documentary Potential,” Documentary Magazine, International Documentary Association, Fall 2018, 27-30.
10. Flora Lichtman and Sharon Shattuck, “Animated Life:  Seeing the Invisible,” New York Times Op-Docs, September 15, 2014, https://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/16/opinion/animated-life-seeing-the-invisible.html
11. “Alma:  A Tale of Violence,” Miquel Dewever-Plana and Isabelle Fougère, accessed December 6, 2018, http://alma.arte.tv/en/
12. “Rider Spoke,” Blast Theory, accessed September 18, 2018, https://www.blasttheory.co.uk/projects/rider-spoke/
13. “When Documentary Space Becomes a Whole City,” i-Docs.Org, accessed September18, 2018, http://i-docs.org/2011/09/08/when-documentary-space-becomes-a-whole-city/
14. Michael Renov, Lecture and Class Discussion, June 20, 2017.
15. Jane Chapman, Issues of Contemporary Documentary, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2019), 23-25.
16. Lev Manovich, The Language of New Media, (Cambridge:  MIT Press, 2002) 218-219.
17. Richard Allen.  Projecting Illusion: Film Spectatorship and the Impression of Reality. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) 3-10.
18. Arora, Gabo, and Chris Milk. 2015. “How Virtual Reality Makes the World a Better Place.” World Economic Forum, September 1, 2015. Accessed December 6, 2018. https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/09/how-virtual-reality-makesthe-world-a-better- place/.
19. Tom Gunning, “Before Documentary: Early Nonfiction Films and the ‘View’ Aesthetic.” In The Documentary Film Reader: History, Theory, Criticism, edited by Jonathan Kahana, 55-62. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

(c) Nich L. Perez 2019
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