What is a good documentary film?

The easy answer to this question is “Any film that (your name) makes.” Most people like their creative efforts, and the more effort people make to complete a project, the more they like it. These “rules” especially apply to documentary films, which require a lot of time and a lot of money. Since filmmakers seldom earn back their investment, their primary reward is an appreciative audience. So would-be film critics should tread lightly. Critics should be especially careful if they might show their own films within the upcoming year(s).

Susanna and I saw three short documentary films by Go Group Media (http://www.gogroupmedia.net/NewDefault.aspx). Go Group Media is an NGO in the Caucasus region that “unites professional and citizen journalists documenting real-life stories.” It has a worthy mission—challenge stereotypes, smooth tensions, and support civil leaders. I absolutely love this type of organization.

The three films were made by journalists in North and South Ossetia. North Ossetia is a republic in Russia, and South Ossetia is a disputed region that declared independence from Georgia in 1990. Georgia responded by trying to retake the region by force in 1991 and 1992. Other wars followed in 2004 and 2008 and its borders with Georgia are closed. As a result, Georgians might be uninformed or misinformed about the region.

In each film, viewers hear an individual talk about repercussions from the 1991-1992 war. The three Ossetians have suffered from the disruption to their lives and they have been hurt by insults and prejudicial actions. We can relate to them; we feel for them; but . . . . I want more. Rather than simply hearing their stories, I’d like to see their lives. If you watched the films without sound, I don’t think you’d gain an understanding of these three people. I’d also like the last two films to follow a storyline; for example, each person has a perfectly good life; then Ossetia and Georgia fight a war, which brings hardships and challenges; but then each individual uses his/her wits and hard work to meet those challenges and return to a “normal” life. The first of the films has a story, but it could be strengthened.

It’s easy to be a critic and difficult to be a filmmaker. I tip my hat to Go Group Media and hope they continue to produce documentary films–they’ve already made 200!

(My computer is very sick 😦 so there is no photo)

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About keithrkenney
Keith Kenney is a professor of visual communication at the University of South Carolina. He is living in Tbilisi, Georgia, for a year. This blog is about several topics. "CSJMM-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the Caucasus School of Journalism and Media Management in Tbilisi, Georgia. "USC-Journalism" is about the students, faculty and staff members of the School of Journalism and Mass Communications (SJMC) at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC. CSJMM and SJMC are recipients of a "Journalism School Partnership" program grant from the US Department of State. The purpose of this $750,000 grant is to improve CSJMM and ensure its sustainability. "Tbilisi, Georgia" is about Susanna Melo and my experiences in Tbilisi. "Columbia, SC" will be about our experiences in our home town--Columbia--when we return home. "Georgia" is about Susanna and my experiences when we travel in Georgia outside of Tbilisi. "United States" is about our experiences traveling in the US. "Films and Photography" is about two documentary films I'm working on in Georgia. One story follows how Adishi handles the rapid tourism that is being developed in Svaneti. The other story follows Tamaz Jalagania, who is a craftsman of swords and guns, an opera singer, and an extraordinary storyteller. "Scholarship" is about my current books, articles, reviews, and grants.

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