Authenticity Sucks! A Biased Manifesto from Future Documentarists

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Students taking the course on Documentary Forms (Film 125 / German 184) in Fall 2022, taught by Deniz Göktürk and Qingyang Freya Zhou, discovered possibilities of engagement with the world through documentary cinema, old and new. The class conversations culminated in a manifesto in which future documentarists contest all obsessions with the burdened concept of “authenticity.”

Every film is a documentary.

Documentary cinema is not simply a record of life as it is.

Documentary does not deliver information as unfiltered truth.

There is no truth, only perspective.

We agree with Trinh Minh-ha: fiction is at the heart of documentary.

Form matters.

Performance and self-reflexivity also matter.

The camera intervenes, interacts, disrupts.

Cuts make connections. Montage sutures.

The documentarian is always biased.

The filmmaker has an ethical responsibility – they need to figure out to whom.

A neutral cinematic language is an impossibility. Neutrality is not a smart goal to strive for (although direct cinema documentarians might be offended).

Listen to the images!!!

Showing is better than telling.

Every film needs a voice (not a voice-over).

Description is a start; analysis must follow.

An argument is a statement with which readers can agree or disagree.

Every essay needs to have a point.

Clarity and poetic flow must be achieved through organization, structure, and polish.

For any new idea, there have been many previous articulations. Creative use of archives is key.

Make sure to have fun… within reason!

About Qingyang Freya Zhou

Qingyang Freya Zhou is a PhD candidate in German Studies, with a Designated Emphasis in Film Studies, at UC Berkeley. Her research focuses on the intersections between socialist internationalism and postcolonial studies, particularly the literary and cinematic interactions between Germany and East Asia during the Cold War and beyond.
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