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[ecrea] CFP - Documentary and Entertainment
Wed Mar 08 11:30:47 GMT 2017
CALL FOR PAPERS - InMedia, the French Journal of Media studies
DOCUMENTARY AND ENTERTAINMENT
The purpose of this special issue of InMedia is to further the
understanding of the documentary by linking it to the notion of
entertainment, which has so far been underexplored in the expanding
field of documentary studies. Our aim is thus to study the strategies
and forms used by documentary filmmakers when they willingly choose to
inject entertainment into their film. InMedia, the French Journal of
Media studies, a peer-reviewed online journal
(https://inmedia.revues.org/?lang=en), is published by the research unit
CREW at Sorbonne Nouvelle University and was launched by Professor
Divina Frau-Meigs, Nolwen Mingant, and Cécilia Tirtaine in 2011. The
content of the journal is in English featuring articles by international
scholars. Its current managing editors are Clémentine Tholas and
The documentary, as a distinct film form, has often been associated with
what Bill Nichols termed the “discourses of sobriety” (1) and scholarly
works on the subject have emphasized the serious political or social
nature of the documentary, with a special focus on the rhetoric and
politics of documentaries. Starting in the second half of the 20th
century, “hard news” found in the news media was distinctly separate
from the “soft news” in the entertainment media. In that respect, the
documentary film form, whether for cinema or for TV, was principally
meant to inform its audiences about topics they were not aware of. The
technological and esthetic evolution of the documentary did not really
have an impact on the public perception of what documentaries could do,
as argued by Brian Winston, who contends that Direct Cinema is the
continuation of the Griersonian heritage rather than a radical break
from it. However in the last thirty years the media environment has
considerably changed, blurring the lines between hard and soft news, as
Delli Carpini and Willams clearly affirm: “…the form and content of news
and entertainment [have] come to resemble each other more closely.” (2)
These changes, mainly in the domain of television, brought about a new
hybrid form that combines traditional news with entertainment, a form
known as “infotainment”. If the authors now state that the term
“infotainment” has “outlived whatever usefulness [it] might have once
had (3)” historically it was widely used to describe influential TV
shows such as The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. In retrospect, it
seems that the lack of a comprehensive definition that would deal with
what these new forms of entertainment and information media could do is
linked to the historical evolution of their distribution platforms.
For feature documentary films, the groundbreaking film Roger & Me in
1989 by Michael Moore ushered in a new era where what was referred to
then as “infotainment” could now be found in documentary films, thus
departing from the classic models of the documentary film pioneers John
Grierson, Dziga Vertov, and Robert Flaherty among others. For Moore,
even the term “documentary” was anathema and should be replaced by
“movie” as he feels it is necessary to abide by “the tenets of
entertainment” (4). Thus, a documentary should both educate (following
the hard news principles) AND entertain, which is what soft news was
meant to do. As a result of this new interest in the relationship
between documentary and entertainment, we seek contributions that focus
on this unique combination.
One possible line of inquiry would be to look at the mutual influence of
“infotainment TV”, understood as a historically specific form, and the
documentary film: How has the documentary tradition and some of its
practices (compilation films, editing, voice-over, social commentary,
etc.) shaped the structure and esthetics of ”infotainment TV”? In turn,
how has the TV medium influenced the contemporary documentary (fast
editing, humor, overt bias, generalizations, etc.)? Is the
“infotainment” documentary a new genre, or mode, in and of itself? To
what extent is this new documentary film genre affected by the influence
of Television and its short information format? Are these current trends
in documentary film just a longer version of the television infotainment
format? Or, could we say that they are just the translation of a classic
documentary film with added elements from entertainment TV to bring it
up to date?
A second axis of investigation would be to consider documentary as
entertainment. Based on Annette Hill’s study of documentary modes of
engagement (5), how is it possible to rethink and reinvent the tension
between information and entertainment most people associate with the
documentary? What is deemed an entertaining documentary (fast-paced,
humorous yet informative)? How and why is it perceived as such? How has
the technological and cultural evolution of what constitutes
entertainment in our current society been incorporated into documentary
film? At the level of production, do documentary filmmakers include the
necessity to entertain (cf. Moore’s distinction between documentaries
and movies) within their feature documentaries?
Finally, a third thematic axis would be to examine the political
consequences of this new hybrid form between information and
entertainment? How have politics and entertainment been successfully
combined creating politainment, a new genre that has been gaining in
popularity? In what ways is entertainment a new way to get the spectator
involved in the political process? How effective is it in delivering
votes afterwards at the ballot box? From the political documentaries
that shaped the 2004 American presidential election, as studied by James
McEnteer, to the recent focus on Steve Bannon (6), Donald Trump’s Chief
Strategist, as a former documentary filmmaker, what are the links
between documentary, entertainment, and electoral politics? Has the
documentary caused the transformation of politics into reality TV – a
criticism that was already leveled, in different terms, against Robert
Drew’s political documentaries in the 1960s?
We welcome individual proposals pertaining – but by no means limited –
to the following thematic areas and their intersections with
entertainment and documentary film: ● The role of television in
the evolution of the documentary
● The fictional dimension of the documentary
● The use of humor in documentary films
● The emergence of entertainment TV elements in documentary film
● Recent developments of ”infotainment” strategies in documentary
● The role and effectiveness of politainment in documentary film
● The use of music in documentary films
● The documentary and the shortening attention span of the modern
● Characteristics of the documentary of the 21st century
● Reception studies of the documentary as entertainment
● The “boring” documentary devoid of entertainment
● “Mockumentaries” and their esthetic strategies, in film or on
● The representation of documentary filmmakers in fiction films
and TV series ● Documentary parodies in the Documentary Now!
series ● The typology of information and entertainment in
Although the journal is written entirely in English, the documentary
films under study can come from countries that are not English-speaking.
We are open to all types of approaches (formal analysis, political
science, media studies, semiotics, gender studies, race studies,
etc...). Proposals should not exceed 300 words, should include a short
bibliography and should be sent both to David Lipson
((lipson.fr /at/ gmail.com)) and to Zachary Baqué ((baque.zachary /at/ neuf.fr))
before September 8th 2017.
(1) Bill Nichols, Representing Reality p. 29
(2) Delli Carpini and Williams After Broadcast News,p. 164
(3) Delli Carpini and Williams, p. 10 and following
(5) Annette Hill, p. 217, based on an expression by Bill Nichols
BARNOUW Erik. Documentary, A History of Non-Fiction Film, New York and
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974, 1983, 1993.
BAUDRILLARD Jean. Simulacres et simulations, Paris: Editions Galilée, 1981.
BENSON Thomas W. & Brian J. Snee (eds.). The Rhetoric of the New
Political Documentary, Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 2008.
DELLI CARPINI, M. and WILLIAMS B. After Broadcast News: Media Regimes,
Democracy, And the New Information Environment New York: Cambridge
University Press. 2011.
DELLI CARPINI, M. and WILLIAMS B. “Let Us Infotain You: Politics in the
New Media Environment.” In BENNETT L. and ENTMAN R. (Eds.), Mediated
politics: Communication in the future of democracy (pp. 160-181). New
York: Cambridge University Press. 2001. DEBORD Guy. La Société du
spectacle, Paris: Gallimard, collection « folio », 1967, 1992. GOODWIN
Andrew, WHANNEL Garry. Understanding Television, London: Routledge, 1992.
GRIERSON John. On Documentary, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.
HILL Annette. “Documentary Modes of Engagement.” In AUSTIN T. and DE
JONG W. (Eds.), Rethinking Documentary: New Perspectives, New Practices
(pp. 217-231). Maidenhead: Open University Press, 2008. HOLBERT R.
Lance. “A Typology for the Study of Entertainment Television and
Politics,” American Behavioral Scientist 49, n°3 (2005)
KELSO Tony. “And now no word from our sponsor, How HBO puts the risk
back into television” in LEVERETTE Marc, Brian L. OTT and Cara Louise
BUCKLEY (eds.), It’s Not TV, Watching HBO in the Post-television Era,
New York & London: Routledge, 2008.
McENTEER James. Shooting the Truth: The Rise of American Political
Documentaries, Westport CO and London: Praeger, 2006. MENAND Louis.
“Nanook and Me: Fahrenheit 9/11 and the Documentary Tradition”, The New
Yorker, August 9-16 2004, 90-96. , accessed January 12, 2014.
NICHOLS Bill. Blurred Boundaries: Questions of Meaning in Contemporary
Culture, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994, 2001.
NICHOLS Bill. Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary,
Bloomington : Indiana University Press, 1991.
NICHOLS Bill. Speaking Truths with Film: Evidence, Ethics, Politics in
Documentary, Oakland: University of California Press, 2016. NINEY
François. L’Épreuve du réel à l’écran, Essai sur le principe de réalité
documentaire, Bruxelles: De Boeck & Larcier, 2002, 2004. NISBET Matt.
“That’s infotainment”, The Skeptical Inquirer April 30, 2001 accessed
November 11, 2016,
WINSTON Brian (Ed.) The Documentary Film Book, London/Palgrave
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