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What is the future of documentary?

Tuesday 13 June 2017

Reading time: 2 minutes

Documentary is constantly changing, but good storytelling is always at the heart of it.

Documentary is the most marvellous film form. It always seems to be at the cutting edge of what is going on – constantly transforming and mutating.

It's a genre that has always reinvented itself. Look at Paul Watson's work Dispute: Round 1 and 2, which pushed the boundaries of vérité filmmaking by using new techniques to follow a trade union dispute exactly as it happened.

Or the work of Colin Luke and Mosaic films, where Colin and others effectively directed from the edit suite as teams of ‘artful dodgers’, as they were rather unkindly called, gathering material across the UK. As co-managing director of Mosaic films, Colin effectively acted as editor and director of a series of short films that, when viewed collectively, gave a picture of contemporary life in the UK. Was this documentary? What were the ethics? Both films have been widely discussed at Sheffield Doc/Fest over the years and have gone on to influence the direction documentary has taken.

I finished producing a film, Still Loved, that many said was impossible to make. A niche audience with very little funding – and yet with my director and the internet we made the film possible, crowdfunding its making and eventually selling it through traditional channels and online.

Video on demand has opened up new lines of distribution and viability, allowing new filmmakers and different voices in – a long way from the struggle Paul Watson had finding his form and convincing commissioning editors.

The internet and digital media has not changed everything – good stories and good storytelling are still at the root of a good documentary.

2016's virtual reality (VR) success Notes On Blindness came from Jon Hull’s audio tapes, which told the story of his progressive transition into blindness. Primarily developed using audio, you are immersed in John’s world as you listen to his words from the audio tapes and are able to experience his journey in a connected way.

VR is just one of the new frontiers. But with documentary’s constantly mutating form, there will be many more challenges and innovation to come. Watch this space. And that space. And that space...

Colin tweets about film at @ColinPons while his colleague Anne Doncaster, lecturer in digital media production, tweets about VR at @IMMDesigns.

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