Documentary, Sport, sport documentary, film studies, cinema, documentary film,
The documentary sports film has evolved considerably since it first appeared in the 1930s. As was a feature of early documentary in the 1920s and 1930s, its first manifestations adopted a poetic approach to the subject, revelling in the possibilities that sport offered to exploit the growing range of capabilities of film in both cinematography and editing. Eventually an expository approach would come to dominate under the influence of the British school of documentary but also as the preferred televisual mode for documentary film, and it is in this mode that most television sport documentaries currently employ. In response to perceived weaknesses of the expository mode, and the advent of new technologies in the 1960s, filmmakers exploited an increasingly observational mode in their depictions, and this would also feature to a limited degree in depictions of sport. Directors of sport films have tended to prefer a participative (or interactive) mode in their approaches to the topic, exemplified in the use of the interview method as a means of exploring the subjects considered. However, increasingly, as with documentary films in general, the cinematic sport documentary employs aspects of several modes, particularly the participatory and expositional. While initially priding itself on its distinctness as a form that captured with integrity aspects of social reality, the documentary film has more and more in its cinematic form come to adopt aesthetics associated with popular fiction film. Though documentary has long being viewed as the form best placed to provide complex engagements and understandings of the social and political contexts of the subjects featured, this is increasingly no longer the case in its contemporary cinematic manifestations. Rather, the focus has moved to exploiting the dramatic possibilities of found footage or renderings of social reality rather than providing a means of understanding or engaging critically with such footage. The cinematic sport documentary film has instead focused, as in fiction film, on individualist tales of overcoming and achievement often configured within the familiar three-act-structure of popular cinema. As such, in the post 9/11 moment, the cinematic sport documentary film has provided, in common with its fictional counterpart, a further affirmation of the American Dream ideology in individualist tales of overcoming and achievement often against the most extraordinary odds.
Invited Lecture, Department of Media, Culture and Social Sciences, University of Stavanger, Norway,