The cultural practices that sustain the documentary form in all its varieties have been in a rapid state of evolution during the era of digital production. During that era, documentary filmmakers have dealt with the difficulties of negotiating a shrinking list of marketplace ‘gatekeepers’, and coped with the precarity of their working lives. In this period public service TV has retreated from its decades-long role as the main sponsor of documentary, and documentary has made strides into cinematic and online distribution, and immersive technology. To some extent funders and audiences have followed this evolution, but at the beginning of 2020 the documentary community faced urgent questions regarding the monetisation of their work, and the future of their form.
Since then the COVID-19 pandemic has potentially radically transformed the media, and social, landscape, and presents a moment of significant social change, one whose implications are potentially far-reaching for the very sustainability of large-scale industrial media production. The pandemic has necessitated fundamental changes to media production practice, exhibition contexts, distribution arrangements as well as screen content. As the sector scrambles to innovate new distribution models and socially-distanced production arrangements, questions about the economic sustainability of media labour and the resilience of social support networks unbalance the creative work of media professionals.
Media producers have been forced to both interrogate their chosen professions and innovate with limited resources. Already, we are seeing new distribution and production methods emerge to highlight the importance of media-makers as essential workers as they are uniquely equipped with the ability to represent the various dialogues undertaken to respond to the cultural, social, economic, and political challenges the pandemic has foisted on global society.
In this context, how can documentary react to the severe and sudden challenge posed by COVID-19 to the community of practitioners who produce it? How will viewing documentary change? How will funding documentary change? In what Strate (2012) might call a moment of ‘punctuated equilibrium’, what strains within the documentary ecology will evolve, or become extinct? In which way will documentary as a form and practice mutate? And how might documentary production strategies premised on comparatively limited resources and a commitment to critical societal commentary provide models for a new media industry world order?
This collection is intended as a rapid-fire response book to the unusual and disturbing challenges of the pandemic. As such, the volume aims to both survey the immediate effects of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in documentary film cultures, as well as to provide a space in which the recent past and future of documentary may be unpacked in the context of the pandemic’s possible effects. It is published as part of Peter Lang’s Documentary Film Cultures series and reflects the value of documentary as an enduring and influential channel of media discourse, and community of practice.
Topics to be considered include following areas
- Recent pasts: where were we when COVID-19 arrived?
- Documentary futures: how could COVID-19 change documentary?
- Production arrangements and social distancing
- Representing a socially distanced society
- (New) technologies and (new) documentary forms
- The ethics of representation
- The documentarian as essential worker
- Amateur documentaries
- The documentary as ‘fake news’
- Social media as documentary
- Citizen journalism and the pandemic
- Policy and practice shifts in particular national/regional film environments
We welcome a range of written formats:
- Full Research Chapter: 7000-8000 words. These are traditionally formatted book chapters, with the depth and rigour expected of a chapter in a traditional edited collection.
- Provocation, Think Piece or Interview: 2000-5000 words. A shorter format for the positing of a set of questions or critical problems raised by effects of COVID-19 on documentary film. These pieces could also outline a particular perspective on the ‘here and now’ circumstances of coping with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Interviews should be with leading practitioners in the field of documentary making who have a specific and significant outlook on this issue.
Please send proposals of 200 words to Dafydd Sills-Jones (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Pietari Kaapa (P.Kaapa@warwick.ac.uk) by 30 June 2020 with full article submissions by December 2020. We expect publication to take place in September 2021.
Call for Essays