Anthology Film Archives


July 24 – August 13

This film series focuses on a very particular technique that filmmakers and screenwriters have adopted on rare but almost inevitably indelible occasions: drawing the dialogue or onscreen text verbatim from various written documentary materials – transcripts of interviews, cockpit voice recorders, public hearings, or (most often) trials. By incorporating these preexisting, documentary transcripts into fictionalized or re-staged contexts, films such as Bresson’s THE TRIAL OF JOAN OF ARC, Alice Diop’s SAINT OMER, Clio Barnard’s THE ARBOR, and Jeremy Kagan’s CONSPIRACY: THE TRIAL OF THE CHICAGO 8 blur the lines between documentary and dramatization, and call into question the nature of performance and representation.

Though this approach surfaced in the cinema early on – perhaps most famously in Carl Dreyer’s THE PASSION OF JOAN OF ARC – it has played a much greater role on the stage, where the genre of “documentary theater” has a long and fascinating history (especially in the UK, though theater artists such as Anna Deavere Smith have developed an important version of the form in North America). Nevertheless, various filmmakers – including auteurs like Robert Bresson, James Benning, Jean Eustache, and Chantal Akerman, and more recent luminaries such as Alice Diop, Elisabeth Subrin, and James N. Kienitz Wilkins – have mobilized the form to remarkably cinematic ends.

One of the primary goals of the verbatim technique is to preserve or privilege forms of language that are normally obscured, corrupted, or transformed by more conventional theatrical or cinematic conceptions of dramatic composition. The filmmakers who have experimented with this approach have often been motivated by a conviction that whatever might be lost in retaining the repetitiveness or inarticulacy of spoken language or the dryness of the language of official proceedings like trials or public hearings, something more important is gained: the authenticity and unique texture of vernacular speech, or the direct trace that comes from incorporating genuine, “found” language.

Paradoxically, many of the films here both reach towards a special “authenticity” by incorporating verbatim speech, while simultaneously re-distancing this language via various methods: having actors lip-synch audio recordings, setting interviews to music, reenacting documentary material, or utilizing highly stylized visual approaches. One way or another, the verbatim technique partakes of the tradition of reenactment or restaging, but with a special focus on written or spoken language, and a special insistence on the power of the word.

Special thanks to all the filmmakers, and to Brian Belovarac (Janus Films); Rebecca Cleman & Karl McCool (EAI); Kelly Copper & Pavol Liska (Nature Theater of Oklahoma); John Flahive (Wavelength Pictures); William Gruenberg (Strand Releasing); Joan Ma (BBC); Emily Martin (Video Data Bank); Seth Mitter (Canyon Cinema); Bill O’Donnell (Thirteen); Inney Prakash; Peggy Préau (Centre audiovisuel Simone de Beauvoir); George Schmalz (Dekanalog); Michael Silberman (Neon); and Anna Deavere Smith.

Upcoming Screenings

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