Memory and testimony in Documentary film:

Rosanne Kennedy criticizing Atwood view on the complexity of historical discourse and his skepticism towards the authenticity of individual as well as collective memories; as well as Roxana Waterson arguing against MacDougall’s criticism of documentary films and how their multidimentionality blending visual images with sounds, words and feeling making them dream like, both bring to light the importance of individual and collective memory to human history and the critical use of individual narratives in documentary film. We can not deny that written history can be distant from the public because of its complexity and lack of communication at the individual level.

What written history lacks of discourse and dialogue is brought into existence with documentary film. It does allow history to become more democratic by embracing the collective participation of tell history through first hand lived stories and narratives and not through the eye of a third person who might be only concerned about telling the overall political piece of it.

What Documentary film makers bring into table while searching for the truth is the investigator and activist role of correcting past events in the present and bringing justice, such as the case of Keith Beauchamp investigating Emmett Till murder and help opening the case in court and many others. Or Young-Jooo Byun’s trilogy which gave agency to the Korean elderly women, liberating them from their past by empowering them through sharing their own stories.

On the other hand, I do think that MacDougall and Atwood argument bring to our attention, as visual documentary makers (film or still photograph), to be aware of fabrication of story that visual material can permit. Image, as much as it portrays the truth, it can also convey subtle messages that can lead to manipulation of internal beliefs and attitudes. The case of European colonial representation of Arab women, justifying the European presence in Arab countries, is haunting the media and public opinion in global North until today. Images does perpetuate the trajectory of a memory so we need to be critical and question our interpretation of those me memories and bare in mind Hayden White argument:  facts do not give rise to their own meaning; rather, meaning is a product of the combination of a choice of plot-structure, an explanatory framework, and an ideology.

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