Social Sciences Spain , Madrid, Tuesday, May 11 of 2021, 11:01

A research study analyzes the mingling of documentary and fiction in movies and series

Systematically resorting to “facts” and “true stories” generates a false sensation of transparency and diminishes fiction’s artistic, political and reflexive potential

UC3M/DICYT The hybridization of documentary and fictional discourses has recently adopted very specific forms with clear political and cultural implications. Continuously invoking “actual facts” in fictional audiovisual production goes beyond a mere strategy to endow the narrated story with greater authenticity. Systematically resorting to “facts” and “true stories” generates a false sensation of transparency and diminishes fiction’s artistic, political and reflexive potential, by turning it into merely “relating” some de-problematized facts and which are taken as a given (obviously, these supposed “facts” conceal very concrete discourses and which are heavily biased). This dogmatic turn in fiction is related to a progressive restriction and depletion of ways to narrate and telling, in the guise of audiovisual diversity that supposedly characterizes the digital multiplatform environment. These are some of the conclusions from a study by Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (UC3M) professor, Pilar Carrera, who analyzes the proliferation of para-documentary resources in audiovisual fiction.


Documentary and fiction are not antithetical discourses (something that the opposition “fiction/non-fiction” insinuates) differentiated by their links to the categories “reality” and “truth". In fact, in both cases, they are narrative constructions whose essential difference lies in the mode of reception that they activate or induce. That is, if a fiction film is presented as a documentary, it is interpreted as such. “The difference is not in the content referred to but rather the position of the spectator in the interpretation process”, pointed out professor Carrera, who has recently published her studyon “documentary inscription in film” in the journal Studies in Documentary Film. The proliferating “ideology of transparency” within the context of mediatic and audiovisual discourse, is, according to the researcher, “one of the greatest dangers facing democracies today”. “This paves the way for a dogmatic relationship with the entire discursive ambit, so that the so-called “actual events”, discursive and ideological constructions themselves, could end up being the only ones accepted by the public as a touchstone for the truth.


All of this is produced through a double movement, according to this study. On one hand, assuming that documentary must be a faithful reflection of reality, when it is in fact a narrative with a determined focus. On the other hand, when this supposed truthfulness is extrapolated, attempting to endow and enhance the fictions that use the factualist documentary formulas with the “effect of truth” of the documentary narrative. In this way, they seek to shield the discourse from criticism through an effect of referentiality, alluding to some supposedly objective facts that would have preceded the discourse, when in reality, the effect of truth they incorporate is the result of a discursive operation, and not the other way around: “The discourse of fiction would display a realism based on facts that would convert it into justification for a determined status quo, instead of defending fiction’s critical and subversive potential”, she explained.


However, this dogmatic form of realism is not the only one possible. The author points out that there has always been a place for “radical anti-dogmatic realism, which politically and artistically questions the dominant institutionalized narratives”. In fact, there are many antecedents of documentaries that have explored this subject in depth through discursive staging of the effects of truth and the myth of “objective reality”. Some of these include Tierra sin pan (1933) by Luis Buñuel; Night and Fog (1956) by Alain Resnais; Fata Morgana (1971) by Werner Herzog; Met Dieric Bouts (1975) by André Delvaux; Une sale histoire (1977) by Jean Eustache; and Arabescos on the Pirosmani theme (1985) by Sergei Parajanov, among others.