BILL NICHOL’S BOOK REPRESENTING REALITY: ISSUES AND CONCEPTS IN DOCUMENTARY.
Prof Dr Fatmir Terziu
Three important books on issues and concepts of documentary have been published in recent years, all of them by pioneer in the field, Bill Nichols. Two of these books were written in a short period time; Ideology and the Image: Social Representation in the Cinema (1981) and The Voice of Documentary(1983), while Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary was published in 1991, a decade after the first of Nichol’s books on the issue. Bill Nichol’s, whose groundbreaking Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentaryfirst appeared in small parts as “The Voice of Documentary”, which was published in Films Quarterly 36, no.3 (Spring 1983), has pulled together all of his writings, from Questions of Magnitude, and The Documentary and Mass Mediato Pornography, Ethnography, and the Discourses of Power, “originated as a term paper by Catherine Needham and Christian Hansen in [Nichols] Fall 1986 seminar on ethnographic film at Queen’s University (Nichols, 1991:Xvii). This triple publication, then, provides an occasion for looking back as well as forward. Concepts from academic documentary theory have been productively introduced into other fields of film, notably film history, drama and reality TV theory, where new work on concepts of representing reality is derived from the ideas of Nichols. And yet a number of questions concerning the cultural implications of early theorists work on the representing of reality in documentary remain unsolved. As Nichols sees it, “the invocation of, and promise to gratify, a desire to know”, is of that contemporary condition which scholars lead by Bruzzi, Carroll, Platinga, Izod, Kilburn and others see as an acceptance of “that a documentary can never be the real world” (Bruzzi, 2000:7). So, ‘representing reality’, the title and focus of Nichols work is an implicated term. In one sense it refers to ‘the images of things’, which invoke different conceptions of filming events: the image as the ‘real’ twist of the visual representation made meaningful through ‘our hunger for Truth’; reality as an ordered story of the event, authorised by domestic documentary-making procedures. For Nichols, representing reality is a boundary that depends on ideology of images and the imaginary:
“Documentary realism also presents a pointedly historical dimension. It is a form of visual historiography. Its combination of representations of the world and representations about the world, of evidence and argument, give it the ambivalent status that the word “history” also enjoys: history is at once the living trajectory of social events as they occur and the written discourse that speaks about these events” (Nichols, 1991:177).