Facilitation on Nicholas

by Cody Goggins

In the “Domain of Documentary” written by Nicholas, he brings forth Documentaries in order to examine them. To see what they are made of and how they are driven, viewed and used in our society. With Documentaries, they are given three formal definitions to be used and interpreted.

The first being Documentaries as an institutional practice. Essentially stating that in order for a filmmaker to get their point across by any means necessary. Even if that means manipulating the evidence in order for them to create the best possible argument. This can be seen in Katie Couric’s gun control documentary where she posses a question during an interview with several pro-gun people and there is a palpable silence in the room before the scene cuts and a revolver is being loaded. This was an example of recontextualization as in the original before editing one of the interviewees responds almost immediately. Now, it’s a recontextualization as if she allowed the interviewee to answer in her documentary it would’ve opened the door for a discussion or argument in this case but since she didn’t it was never allowed. Which in turn got her point across which is the whole point of documentaries as an institutional practice.


The second definition is through text; Corpus of Texts (as the text calls it). It revolves around informational Logic. Thus requiring a representation, argument and/or case about the purpose of the film whether it be about gun control, food shortages in 3rd world countries or teenage pregnancy and its consequences. With that being stated on how documentaries are structured in that sense it would lead to the actual documentary in 4 steps for the whole thing. 1st being the establishment of the documentary (what it’s about), discussing what it’s about in its current context in the world, the background of it, and then the conclusion where a solution is offered towards fixing the problem the documentary is about if there is one to fix at all. A great example of this being the Super Size Me documentary that we watched parts of as a class and the entirety of in our own time.

Then, of course, there are different types of Documentaries. Examples being Band of Brothers could be considered a historical documentary, while a documentary about how Trump won the 2016 election could be an informational documentary. There are many different types or “modes” as the text calls them for documentaries but they can still overlap each other and be compatible with one another. The two examples just used are an example of that. Both historical (although recent history, it is still history for one of them) and both informational. Link below for the Trump doc.


The final definition is through the viewers. How our psychology when watching a documentary and how that is exploited by a filmmaker make a documentary so much more powerful/influential. One such way is to give motivation. Mostly through realism, an example of this being the Beaches during D-day; specifically Omaha Beach. Link below if you haven’t seen the scene.

Moving on another way they do this is through “teach a lesson” within the documentary whether it involves history or anything else. A good example of this being in The Big Short


In short, the final definition for Documentaries is how exactly to affect the audience and influence them in order for them to learn from the documentary. In whatever manner that may be.

As for the core of what Nicholas was getting at; it is all about knowledge. The knowledge that comes from the documentaries we see, no matter where or what format they’re in. What we learn and subsequently “know” and how we use that “knowledge” we have. Where is our “knowledge” from and can we trust it? Knowledge then becomes a source of a guilty pleasure and can be manipulated.

14 thoughts to “Facilitation on Nicholas”

  1. I really like how Cody emphasized three different definitions of what documentaries entail. I find recontextualization most interesting because of the idea of manipulation. When we think of rhetoric as a form of persuasion, we identify recontextualization with not only persuasion through the content but the manipulation through film techniques. Documentaries specifically highlight that.

  2. I think this facilitation points out an important idea that documentaries have the power to convince viewers of truth simply by existing in this genre. We as a public take documentaries to be based in fact and will take them under the assumption of truth unless told otherwise. There can be an argument on both sides whether or not this should be the case. This carries over to how news is broadcast in the 21st century, people view the news from the perspective that they prefer, thereby only watching self-gratifying news. For example; very conservative people will only watch Fox News and get the perspective and ideals they share while far-right politically minded people will do the opposite.

    The issue is when documentaries are biased by filmmakers, for example in his documentary Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore has an anti-gun agenda and edits his film to this end. If a viewer didn’t know this and simply watched the documentary they could be unknowingly convinced of an agenda.
    In this trailer Moore is shown getting a gun for simply opening a checking account, what Moore doesn’t show is that the bank required a background check prior to him receiving a gun.

    It’s clear that documentaries can be problematic because we have a tendency to take them as truth while they can be edited to an individual’s agenda. We in America have a habit of only catering our news feeds and social media to show us only things we agree with and documentaries can do the same thing.

  3. I think making a reference to the D-day scene here in “Saving Private Ryan” is an excellent way to display what Nicholas meant in his final point over audience’s developing ‘skills’ to consume and/or make sense of a documentary. The graphic images and sorrow of the scene leave a mark on people who watch the scene, whether they realize this or not. In less graphic documentaries, film makers are able to utilize this hidden mark on people when generally speaking about such an event, without needing to go into graphic details or unsettling themes. They expect that “the product of [the audience’s] previous experiences” (The Domain of Documentary, Nicholas 24) in regards to said event, such as the D-day landing and its bloodbath, will be enough to set the mood of their documentary/scene and keep the audience firmly locked onto it without them needing to go too far into it and risking to lose their audience.

  4. I really appreciated Cody’s examples in his facilitation; they really helped me better understand the text as well as the different definitions discussed in the reading. Through my own reading, specifically the second to last paragraph, Nicholas uses titles of documentaries to plainly show how biases are injected into documentaries. through the reading we uncover different types of ways that documentary filmmakers use the power of the audiences own subconscious and consciousness to implant their ideas, opinions and biases on the subject matter that is based on a real life events or situation. I also enjoy the fact that Nicholas made an effort to discuss humans constant “epistephilia” or ‘wanting of knowledge’ and how that correlates with the topic of how audiences view and decode documentaries. This article also had me thinking to myself after “what even is a documentary nowadays?” The fact that filmmakers shape their documentaries to suite their opinions and ideals (maybe/sometimes in hopes to gain an audience)turns me off of wanting to watch them! But at the same time I want to go watch every Vice documentary right now because of how nicholas teaches us to analyze and decode the information being thrown at us. Nicholas helps readers understand that yes, you can still watch and gain from documentaries, but only by being knowledgeable in how the film industry twists perceptions, in this case the opinions we get from watching documentaries. I believe Nicholas’ work stands as a guide to how to understand, interpret, and decode any type of documentary.

  5. Katie Couric’s deceptive editing was honestly a brilliant example of the amount of control a a filmmaker has over the meaning or message their documentary carries. I think it’s really interesting how you highlighted this control as being part of the Institutional qualities of documentary, because of how much the definition of a documentary has changed due mainly in part because of our current documentary filmmakers. Nichols gave us a good summary of what documentaries were in the old institutional form : “Guided by a fundamental preoccupation with the representation of the historical world…”. As clearly evident by your examples of documentaries, the group of people who claim their works are documentaries, are actually rhetorical devices used to propel their own beliefs or agendas. Fake news almost. As an example of a documentary that exhibits these now dead values of what it means to make a documentary, I implore you to check out “This is the Last Dam Run of Likker I’ll Ever Make”, a documentary covering the last moonshine operation undertaken by Popcorn Sutton. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=glQjCKAI4gA

  6. In the article Nicholas explains the three different types or “definitions” of documentaries. He says the three different types are shown through the industry, text, and finally through the viewer. The first type, industry, states that documentaries are trying to argue a point and may manipulate the film to help prove their point. The second type, text, is used to help explain the story at hand. The third is through the viewer, which is used to help influence the viewers to change or learn from the film through powerful stories. In short, Nicholas is trying to display that documentaries are used usually to present an argument and back it up with information, however documentaries are misleading because they can be manipulated to influence a viewer. I liked how Nicholas’s facilitation used the beach scene from “Saving Private Ryan” because the film displayed very powerful scenes to resemble a real life occurrence that may influence viewers in some way while also adding in professional acting, editing, and music to make the scene even more impactful. This is a perfect example of a film exhibiting immense terror in an awful time to further provide an argument to viewers, while manipulating the audience through cinematography.

  7. The most interesting part of the reading to me was the discussion of camera angles and how the influence the way we perceive the documentary. This relates to our class discussion as well, where we talked about how camera work and other media elements influence the viewer. This also goes along with what Aminson was saying, that documentary makers may be attempting to influence us is in the same way that news and other media does. This can even be seen in mockumentary, such as The Office, where the camera moves freely and shows each important moment, whereas if you were really there you would likely only witness a fraction of the things that happen. One of my favorite documentaries, Kobe Bryant’s Muse, uses some similar tactics. It picks and chooses clips from his career, including a lot of shots from when he was in high school. The video quality is poor and he looks young, but the viewer slowly watches him dominate. Then, when the film cuts to Kobe talking, he is in a dark environment that makes him look big and important, even legendary. The way the film shows Kobe makes him look superhuman.

    Link to a clip from Kobe Bryant’s Muse: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a16mZy9gYTE

    These are just a couple examples of how documentaries can influence the way we perceive things, and it’s important for viewers to think about these things so that they are not influenced in any harmful ways.

  8. The gun control clip is a very good example of how documentaries sometimes are used as an institutional practice. Nichols says, “One common but misleading way of defining documentary from the point of view of the filmmaker is in terms of control; documentary filmmakers exercise less control over their subject than their fictional counterparts do,” which is a common misconception we as an audience usually tend to have. The editing in the gun control clip allows for the documentarian to get the point across that the far right has no response to the lefts argument. This creates the message that the documentarian set out and manipulates the audience into thinking that that’s what the alt right is like.

  9. Cody’s facilitation really reinforced the idea of a documentary as a rhetorical argument in my mind. I was particularly interested in the concept of recontextualization that Cody illustrated with the video from the Katie Couric documentary—it got me wondering to what extent documentary style filmmaking still misrepresents reality. I think we tend to assume that documentaries follow a sort of linear structure—that the sounds we hear occurred at the same time as the images we see—when in fact, they are often carefully edited to construct a particular scenario for the viewer. I think we tend to overlook the biases of documentary filmmakers, simply because the word “documentary” signifies “truth” in our minds—we do not stop to consider that the documentary is actively trying to convince us of something, rather than represent reality objectively (which, if you ask me, can’t be done anyway).

  10. I really like how the 3 definitions of documentary are all explained and given their own examples in order to enforce the point of the facilitation. Recontextualization is really interesting to me and can be really powerful if used the right way, especially in the example provided with the revolver being loaded. Its also interesting to think about how just by labeling something as a documentary, it already creates a whole layer of realism for the audience. When a consumer sees the word “documentary” they instantly relate it with reality. “What does characterize documentary filmmaking generally is its status as an institutional formation” (Nichols). This is a powerful standpoint for documentaries to be at, gaining validation just by labeling itself as “real” or as a “recreation” of events that were real.

  11. The video on gun control documentary clearly illustrates what Nichols outlines when he states, “ Documentary film structure generally depends on evidentiary editing in which the classic narrative techniques of continuity editing undergo significant modification.” (Nichols, page 19) Where in the gun control documentary they chop up this audio in order to “open the door for discussion or argument” (Cody Goggins) which is a continuity technique. Another example could be Super Size Me where the we are shown a series of cut scenes of doctors’ dialogue. Were the scenes played in chronological order? What happens between each appointment? This is all done in the purpose of continuity. Showing what happens between each doctor appointments would increase belief but destroy coherency and divert attention. If the scenes were to be played chronologically then the film would not have been able to emphasize the similar things the doctors states. For example at the beginning, the first check ups it flashes back and forth between the doctors stating “perfect”, “great”, “healthy” in terms of his body condition in contrast to hearing that unedited, the viewers would have not been able to quickly draw this connection. This raises the question, how much editing voids truthfulness?

  12. “Documentary form may also incorporate concepts of character development and subjectivity, continuity or montage editing, and the invocation of off-screen space.”- Nicolas
    I found this quote interesting because the author draws similarities between documentaries and fiction and gives examples of how documentaries also rely on the elements of narrative and therefore show that narrative is not synonymous with fiction. It seems to be expected that fiction and documentaries are two completely separate concepts, that fiction relies solely on subjectivity while documentaries rely on objectivity, but Nicolas gives examples in this quote of how documentaries and fiction are similar. Also, the word subjectivity in the quote stood out to me because you expect documentaries to be objective, but they will also have a bit of subjectivity.

  13. What I liked most about Cody’s facilitation is how he talked about manipulation and the fact that people only show you what they want you to see. You would think that people wouldn’t hide the truth and show misrepresentations but in reality, people are trying to convince you of something and will do anything to get their argument across. I also really liked how Cody used Katie Couric’s gun control documentary and how when she tried to ask a question about gun control and then they just cut to a shot of a revolver being loaded, because the people editing respond to this almost immediately so they can move on and hope that the audience didn’t catch that. Another example of this is reality TV because they say that all of the things happening on the show are true but in reality, they are only showing us what they want the viewers to see.

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