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Monday, June 30, 2014

What is Cinéma Vérité

What is Cinéma Vérité

I’ve always preached the gospel of my understanding of what Cinéma Vérité is, according to how I comprehended it from textbooks and lectures in film school.
Every now and again I’ll run into a discussion with someone about it’s meaning and definition. So here, I will give you my side of the story culled with what I found on Wikipedia .

I always say reality shows are Cinéma Vérité because they instigate the desired outcome of the filmed subject. I use film as a term for any form of video capture because I’m old school, yup, I still sit in a directors chair with a megaphone and beret.

Some would argue that Cinéma Vérité is simply capturing film truth as it unfolds, but I tell you, that is called Direct Cinema. News gathering is Direct Cinema, so long as the subject being filmed has not been provoked to behave in a desired way to affect a desired outcome. For example, if you are shooting a riot as it unfolds, that’s Direct Cinema. As crude as it is, but those street fight videos on the internet, those are Direct Cinema when they are captured unbeknownst to the folks engaged in combat.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about Cinéma Vérité:

Cinéma vérité (/ˈsɪnɨmə - Keyvɛrɨˈteɪ/; French: [sinema veʁite], truthful cinema) is a style of documentary filmmaking, invented by Jean Rouch, inspired by Dziga Vertov's theory about Kino-Pravda and influenced by Robert Flaherty’s films. It combines improvisation with the use of the camera to unveil truth or highlight subjects hidden behind crude reality.[1][2][3][4]

It is sometimes called observational cinema,[5][6] if understood as pure direct cinema: mainly without a narrator's voice-over. There are subtle, yet important, differences among terms expressing similar concepts. Direct Cinema is largely concerned with the recording of events in which the subject and audience become unaware of the camera presence: operating within what Bill Nichols,[7] an American historian and theoretician of documentary film, calls the "observational mode", a fly on the wall. Many therefore see a paradox in drawing attention away from the presence of the camera and simultaneously interfering in the reality it registers when attempting to discover a cinematic truth.

Cinéma vérité can involve stylized set-ups and the interaction between the filmmaker and the subject, even to the point of provocation. Some argue that the obvious presence of the filmmaker and camera was seen by most cinéma vérité filmmakers as the best way to reveal the truth in cinema.[8][9][10] The camera is always acknowledged, for it performs the raw act of filming real objects, people, and events in a confrontational way. The filmmaker's intention was to represent the truth in what he or she was seeing as objectively as possible, freeing people from any deceptions in how those aspects of life were formerly presented to them. From this perspective, the filmmaker should be the catalyst of a situation. Few agree on the meanings of these terms, even the filmmakers whose films are being described.

Pierre Perrault sets situations up and then films them, for example in Pour la suite du monde (1963) where he asked old people to fish for whale. The result is not a documentary about whale fishing; it is about memory and lineage. In this sense cinéma vérité is concerned with anthropological cinema, and with the social and political implications of what is captured on film. How a filmmaker shoots a film, what is being filmed, what to do with what was filmed, and how that film will be presented to an audience, all were very important for filmmakers of the time.

In all cases, the ethical and aesthetic analysis of documentary form of the 1950s and '60s has to be linked with a critical look at post-war propaganda analysis. The best way to describe this type of cinema is probably to say that it is concerned with notions of truth and reality in film. Also feminist documentary films of the 1970s often used cinéma-vérité techniques. Soon this sort of 'realism' was criticized for its deceptive pseudo-natural construction of reality.[11][12]

As Edgar Morin wrote: "There are two ways to conceive of the cinema of the Real: the first is to pretend that you can present reality to be seen; the second is to pose the problem of reality. In the same way, there were two ways to conceive cinéma vérité. The first was to pretend that you brought truth. The second was to pose the problem of truth."[13]

So, according to the above Wikipedia page, my argument holds true. The biggest influence on my understanding of Cinéma Vérité came from one of the required text books from my film school (1992-1997 - also attended USC Film/TV for a brief stint) was Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film by Erik Barnouw

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About the blogger:
Stevie Mack is a blogger for many reasons, the main one being his love of entertainment. Visit his website here:

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