Can the documentary be useful? Can a film change how its viewers think about the world and their potential role in it? In Kill the Documentary
, the award-winning director Jill Godmilow issues an urgent call for a new kind of nonfiction filmmaking. She critiques documentary films from Nanook of the North
to the recent Ken Burns/Lynn Novick series The Vietnam War
. Tethered to what Godmilow calls the "pedigree of the real" and the "pornography of the real," they fail to activate their viewers' engagement with historical or present-day problems. Whether depicting the hardships of poverty or the horrors of war, conventional documentaries produce an "us-watching-them" mode that ultimately reinforces self-satisfaction and self-absorption.
In place of the conventional documentary, Godmilow advocates for a "postrealist" cinema. Instead of offering the faux empathy and sentimental spectacle of mainstream documentaries, postrealist nonfiction films are acts of resistance. They are experimental, interventionist, performative, and transformative. Godmilow demonstrates how a film can produce meaningful, useful experience by forcefully challenging ways of knowing and how viewers come to understand the world. She considers her own career as a filmmaker as well as the formal and political strategies of artists such as Luis Bu uel, Georges Franju, Harun Farocki, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Rithy Panh, and other directors. Both manifesto and guidebook, Kill the Documentary
proposes provocative new ways of making and watching films.