115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Seeing Today Yesterday: Why Documentary Films are Making a Comeback as the Iconic 'Language of Truth'

Dawn Dietrich, Western Washington University

I look at recent documentary films, such as Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (2017), 13th (2016), and I am Not Your Negro (2016), as a new form of political intervention that “shows” us our past as our future, particularly in relationship to Donald Trump’s presidency and other authoritarian regimes. By embracing an iconic “language of truth,” these films provide “hard evidence” to guide social justice interventions into political processes that may seem too global in scale to change.

Proposal: 

2016 is hardly the year one would imagine would be proclaimed the “Year of the Documentary,” but the historical forces that have led to documentary filmmaking as a recent cause célèbre are the same forces that have rendered 2016 an iconic year for the history books—“the unthinkable become reality”--with the election of Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency.   Drawing on documentary traditions and a newer understanding of the role of social justice filmmaking, I will look at the cultural phenomenon constituted by recent documentary films, such as Citizen Jane:  Battle for the City (Matt Tyrnauer, 2016); 13th (Ava DuVernay, 2016); and I am Not Your Negro (Raoul Peck, 2017).  Foremost, I will analyze the way in which these newer films embrace an iconic language of “truth” as a rhetorical posture and use historical examples to demonstrate how our current cultural moment was predicted (and over-determined) by antecedent events that have oddly seemed to predict the future.  This uncanny elision of the future by the past creates a filmic experience that both analeptically and proleptically connects past and present while providing “hard evidence” to guide social justice interventions into political processes that may seem too global in scale to change.

Topic Area: