Ph.D by Publication, 2019.

Goldsmiths, University of London


Emotional truths in documentary making



The abundance of documentary making and instability of ‘truths’ in the current ‘post-truth’ era suggests a need to reconsider past and present epistemological claims by non-fiction.


Past burdens of documentary ‘truth’ were shed in favour of subjective ‘truths’ advocated by film makers and subjects. Documentary ‘truths’ may be defined as performative but we should accept the possibility of ‘untrue’ performance. Audience interpretation of performative ‘truths’ also proves to be relative to belief and emotions. This unstable plurality of ‘truths’ calls for renewed trust in film makers, subjects and audiences.


When seeking to understand trauma in subjects, ‘emotional truths’ may result from feeling the subject’s trauma while acknowledging filters of pain on memory. The process requires an exchange based on an empathetic, non-hierarchical encounter. I examine how these ‘truths’ are constructed through ‘performative collaboration’ and how they manifest in the work. I cite similar and contrasting examples of ‘emotional truths’ while being critical of films and film makers refusing empathy towards subjects.


Finally, catharsis may occur variably for the subject, film maker and audience as trauma is re-contextualised through performed emotions in the film. Ideally, ‘emotional truths’ might be experienced by feeling - rather than merely gaining knowledge about - trauma.


Keywords: emotional, truths, documentary, making, post-truth



Full publication here