Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Role of the Documentarian

Unlike many documentaries, "My America" features the documentarian as a central figure, as opposed to a non-existant entity behind the camera. Throughout the film, you see Renee, you hear Renee, and you get to know Renee (to the point where I am now in a first name basis with her). Her life is portrayed unabashedly in "My America." Baby photos, old home movies, and even footage of her wedding are featured prominently, creating a unique relationship between the viewer and the documentarian. Michael Moore often plays a large role in his films, getting a good deal of screen time (probably because he's such a character). Renee goes one step further: she's not only in the documentary, she also uses her life as content. It's HER America. Renee's story functions in "My America" in much the same way as Victor Wong's or Yuri Kochiyama's. Indeed, Renee often draws parallels between her life and the lives of those she meets--she compares the death of her younger brother to Victor Wong's son's murder, Alyssa Kang reminds her of herself, etc...
What are the implications of this? Does it lend the film an authenticity? How would this film have been different had the documentarian been an invisible force behind the camera? Perhaps a more interesting question, how would this film have been different had the documentarian been non-Asian? Could it still be titled, "My America"?

No comments: