Home movies are Particiapatory?

This paper is to argue that Participatory mode can include the home movies. The way I will prove this is by the science of how it is shot. The science I have come up with draws down to 3 points: 1. The first person camera. 2. How home movies are archival footage. And 3. How participatory draws on raw-ness.

The main goal behind a participatory documentary is that it is shot in first person. With the examples of Sherman’s March as the main example. We can tell that it was shot in first person because the director/cameraman, Ross McElwee would communicate to his subjects from behind the camera, probably even treating the camera as part of him. Even if he was in front of the camera, he was the one who pressed record, and placed the camera where it needed to be. In fact, he was the only one in the room while recording. We can compare that to Dean Duncan’s home movies, which he placed on a website called fitforthekingdom.byu.edu. In it there is a movie about scripture study. We can hear Dean’s voice behind the camera. Nothing spectacular happens aside from asking his kids about scripture study. Or there is another little film about New Years. Dean is wandering the house and his action only resides on a few things, such as kids with sparklers, a sleeping child and a wife in the kitchen.

A direct quote from Nichols’ book:

“Participatory mode: emphasizes interaction between filmmaker and subject. Filming takes place by means of interviews or other forms of even more direct involvement from conversations to provocations. Often coupled with archival footage to examine historical issues.” (Nichols, 31)

Another example that is very prevalent in this argument is the film, The Maelstrom. The movie in its entirety, was based off of home movies strung together in a poetic formation to drive a point. Isn’t it interesting that The Maelstrom fulfils the definition given by Nichols? It is archival footage. Archival meaning saved, old, and put into a collection. As we have learned, the footage was saved, and placed into the ground, then unburied. Now we can all see that their family legacy was left behind. In the film world, they are still together. What else makes this film a partial participatory mode is that the family interacts with the camera. This is done from the start when everyone is waving at the camera. Looking deeper into this, I don’t know if the camera could record sound, or even if participatory documentary even came out until after sound. But from the overall look of the film- I gather that the filmmaker was interacting with the subjects by means of a conversation. At least, that would be my guess because I’m trying to prove a point.

I, too, have made some home movies. I have realized that the more I create, the more they turn out to be participatory. Even when I try to be more observational, it has participatory moments. The point is that participatory mode draws on raw sources. Raw reactions to the filmmaker or even raw film techniques that make everything surreal. I made a video diary of me and my wife while we have been on dates. They are raw because me and her have established the camera in the mix, which means our reactions and conversations are raw.

Therefore (the point to drive it home), because home movies interact with the camera, can be archival, and are raw, Home movies must be a participatory documentary.

Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington, IN: Indiana UP, 2001. Print.

Dir. Ross McElwee. N.p., n.d. DVD

The Maelstrom: A Family Chronicle. Dir. Peter Forgacs. 2008. DVD.


One thought on “Home movies are Particiapatory?”

  1. I really like this idea you put forward and I think it has a lot of merit. I have thought about this idea a couple times before and I think that for the most part I agree. There is very little difference between home movies and participatory mode. I myself am wondering how my next doc activity will be any different from a home movie. I will be going with my sister and her husband to get their new dog and I want to record the event as a participator. I think one difference I can think of though is the editing process. If documentary is the creative treatment of actuality then the problem with home movies is that there is very little creative treatment because they often remain as raw footage.

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