Archive for the ‘Documentary’ Category

Essay on the documentary film Leviathan (2012)


Christopher Sciacca wrote an interesting essay

Toward a New Truth in Sound: Expanding the boundaries of Direct Cinema (2015)

available at

Since the emergence of Direct Cinema in the late 1950’s, documentary films have  presupposed a more accurate “claim of truth” over their subject matter.  Advancements in portable recording technology after World War II allowed documentarians to dissolve the line between subject and object using un-obtrusive camera and sound recording techniques, often regarded as the “fly on the wall”  style. From the Arriflex 35 and Nagra III audio recorder to the advent of the GoPro, direct cinema has evolved in concordance with the capabilities of new technology. Direct cinema’s attempt to display “reality” through a strict code of aesthetics not only relies on the visual “outside observer” model, but must also take into account an accurate representation of sound and soundscape. What role then does sound play in constructing reality where verbal narration and non-diegetic music is absent? The latest ethnographic film of Harvard’s Sensory  Ethnography Lab, Leviathan (2012) will be examined as the forefront of the new direct cinema style. This immersive film provides a heightened sense of reality remarkably without the aid of traditional sound design. Since the idea of film-truth is debatable, can artistic integrity outweigh the actuality of events, or is the concept of truth supplanted by a more visceral, experiential understanding through stimulating new camera techniques and rich soundscapes?

documentary sound


Sound provides the viewer with a sense of “being there“, as the documentary film maker Wayne Derrick put it. Sound is able to transcend the two-dimensionality of the image and create a sonic reality which is surprisingly similar to real environmental sound. A sound always expands in three dimensions, whether produced in real life or through a loudspeaker.

We understand well the designed nature of feature film soundtracks. But what is the sonic reality in documentary films? In documentary films the question of authentic sound becomes contentious, because a core feature of a documentary is the claim to be closer to reality than feature film. However, filmic reality is always a construct. In the first place, the analytic and selective nature of capturing sound on location already relativises what authentic sound could be. Even in the post-production of documentaries (essentially a synthesising process) sound design is used to enhance the filmic reality of the story through sound. I have observed a merging of the sound techniques of both documentary and feature films, which might partly explain the increasing popularity of documentary films.